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Michelle Luyt

I have always believed that ‘everything happens for a reason’. Who would ever have thought that simple old Normacol (a dietary supplement) would save my life?

Funny enough, I have always looked forward to turning 50 – somehow fifty comes with being so completely relaxed about who you are and having inner peace. So, in 2012 on 10 September I turned 50.

My darling husband had decided that after a big celebration with friends at a local restaurant – three ‘chill’ days in Cape Town would be a wonderful way to round off the celebrations and so as part of my birthday present – we could visit wine farms, go up Table Mountain, eat good food and drink copious amounts of really good wine.

Yeah right! The first night we went out for dinner and on our return I decided to take some Normacol (as you can imagine being on a mini break gives one the right to eat as much rich food as you can).

Now normal people would drink it down with one or two glasses of water – but not this clever, at peace, mature 50 year old – I decided that swallowing it with wine would be an exceptionally good idea! Wrong – what I hadn’t realized is that Normacol is a bulking agent which is meant to travel down into ones stomach and then start bulking!

The wine supplement didn’t work as the entire dosage stopped halfway down my esophagus and was stuck there. This was the most uncomfortable feeling I have ever experienced – and the more liquid I drank (to try and get the goo down) the more it bulked! I tried everything, putting my finger (gross) down my throat, jumping up and down – you name it, I tried it!

The following morning it felt as though an elephant was sitting on my chest. Luckily I could still breathe. I couldn’t wait for the Pharmacy to open so I get some antacid medication to try and alleviate some of the discomfort. Nothing worked so by lunch time that day, Wally and I were driving around trying to find a hospital. Thank goodness for SatNav on IPads!

We found a Medi Clinic somewhere close to the mountain. At emergencies I was given an injection to relax the esophagus - but after 45 minutes the doctor on duty could see that this ‘bulk’ was not going anywhere! Fortunately, a scope machine was available and after being given a sedative the doctor tried to insert the scope down my throat to try and dislodge my gooey mess.

I have an incredibly strong ‘system’ so the sedative did not quite do its job. I wasn’t sedated enough and kept wanting to rip the scope out. Yet once again lady luck was smiling on me as due to the fact that I hadn’t eaten anything since the previous night, I could be anesthetized and a theatre and anesthetist were available, woo-woo – lucky me!

Once I had ‘come around’ the doctor explained that he had quite a time trying to dislodge the ‘bulk’ and recommended strongly that I stay overnight for ‘observation’. Next thing I was booked in for a scan.

Unbeknown to us the doctor was concerned that he had nicked my esophagus and was worried that I could be leaking fluid into my body – a little ‘oops’ that in most cases is fatal. My scan came back clean with the exception of a small spot on my right lung which the doctor suggested I have seen to on my return.

We are so fortunate to have one of the top Thoracic Surgeon’s in this country as a friend and he ‘squeezed me in’ early morning on Tuesday 25 September 2012. After studying the scan he suggested they operate and do an ‘in theatre’ biopsy. On 26 September I was wheeled into theatre (still not too concerned that there was anything seriously wrong with me – as I had no symptoms of anything for heaven’s sake and even though I was a smoker – as the old saying goes... it will never happen to me)!

After 3 hours of surgery my husband was given the bad news that I had stage three lung cancer and as a result they had to do a lobectomy on the right lung. For some strange reason the cancer had bypassed all the little filters in the lung and had gone straight to a gland which I understand is incredibly hard to find.

Thank goodness my surgeon’s mentor had taught him to always go in search of the elusive gland as it is in this gland the cancer normally goes and hides! So, in a matter of 7 days I had gone from sipping champagne to lying in ICU with pipes and drips and stage 3 cancer – bizarre!

It was a long painful recovery process – not so much the actual operation but the physiotherapy to inflate the lungs and to heal the broken ribs (caused by the lobectomy). Wally and Declyn (our amazing son) were great and as a family we simply decided that this disease would not break our spirit and that it wasn’t paying rent so had no place in our lives.

I will never forget Declyn asking me whether having had half a lung removed could result in my sense of humor disappearing as well. The strangest thing I observed was people shying away from me because they didn’t know what to say to me and when they happened to bump into me they had the sad/concerned ‘cancer face’ expression. All understandable but not necessary I promise you...

After 6 weeks I was able to start my chemotherapy and radiation. I have a fantastic oncologist who put me onto an eating routine – steak, eggs and chips! I am very blessed in that I never once felt ill and so could quite easily stick to this eating plan. For me it was mind over matter – I was not going to allow this to get me down and I was determined to have a sense of humor about it and words from the song: ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ has a whole new meaning for me.

The chemo suite was like a tea party with special friends. There was always someone bringing biscuits or offering you a cup of tea. Cancer was chatted about like we were talking about the weather – quite amazing! My dear friend Di and my hubby took turns sitting with me, laughing with me and making me tea.

I think the only time I felt like punching something was when my veins started collapsing and the little blood suckers (Lancet) couldn’t find a vein – I eventually knew which little suckers would find a vein without trying too many times! Amazing enough though the nurses at the chemo suite got it right most times.

I am still on the ‘every 3 months watch’ and am going for my second PET scan in a few days’ time. I know however that I will be given the all clear – I am a survivor and I KCB – Kicked Cancers Butt!!! I know that mine is not a special case and like many others – I had a lot of good luck and so many prayers. The only point I stress is that I never believed it was a death sentence.

It can be so tough on families and as a family we have had to watch too many loved ones succumb and there is still no magic cure – the issue is how we deal with it.

Things are back to normal even though there is no ‘normal’ in ‘Cancerland’, I have had to define a new sense of normal and most times what is ‘normal’ for me is alien to others – understandably so. So with a huge sense of humor, wonderful family and friends I move on – I have been given a second chance and I have grabbed it with both hands. LG – LIFE IS GOOD

Shalom Mkhize


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