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Sharon Van Straaten

On a routine visit to the GP for my son Jarrett, I casually asked our doctor to look at a small swollen gland in my neck, which did not cause me any concern.

After two courses of anti-biotics it had increased in size so he immediately performed a manual biopsy, in his rooms, by extracting fluid from the gland

24 hours later, these words turned my life upside down... "the cells are A-typical... it's Cancer". I was in hospital 3 days later... 3 infected glands were removed, of which the largest one had burst and "squamus" cancer cells were now in my bloodstream... known as stage 4.

To make matters worse, the glands were the secondary site where the cancer had spread to... The primary site was discovered in my throat, the hypo pharynx... which was inoperable!... and at stage 2.

I will never forget the moment when the specialist sat on the end of my hospital bed and explained that the cancer was fast growing and that I had one year left to live... That moment changed the course of my Life!

From somewhere deep within, a fighting spirit, I never knew I had... found its way to the surface and said... "NO... I have an amazing husband and two young teenage children who needed me, so... NO, I will do whatever it takes!

My days were not mine after that moment, they were dictated to me by doctors, specialists and oncologists, all planning the best course of attack. The only choice open to me was a combo of chemo and the highest dose of radiation available, on a daily basis, for the next 3 months. I only had one chance at this!

I was warned by the oncologist that within a few weeks, I would loose my ability to eat, speak and taste due to the damage of the radiation treatment. I did not want to face this alone, so I contacted all my friends and told them that I needed them to keep in contact with me and not feel obligated to leave me alone because I had cancer... they did not let me down!

The first few days, I cruised through chemo and radiation wondering what all the fuss was about with my skin sporting a healthy red glow like a day in the sun... Wow!... Did I get a wake up call by the end of two weeks of this onslaught!

My voice and taste buds were dead, My saliva had dried up, My neck was burnt black from radiation, I could no longer eat because of the pain ... and my swollen stomach was multi-colored from two injections each day to counteract the effects of the intense radiation.

It was at this point that I decided to separate my body from my mind... I handed my body over to medical science, as I had no control over it being bruised, burnt and poisoned... But I could take control of my thoughts!

So when I was scared, broken, in pain, angry or frustrated, I used to acknowledge how I was feeling and by deciding whether that thought was healing or harming to my survival... I would only hang on to HEALING thoughts.

I dressed up every day to go to treatment... did my make- up and my hair... as I truly believed that... "if I did not LOOK sick... I would not BE sick". It took a little practice though to walk in high heels while violently vomiting into my trusty green bucket which accompanied me every day to treatment.

The most difficult and heartbreaking decision I had to make... was whether to write letters to my children... just in case I did not make it. I remember sobbing so hard over this decision that I could barely breathe... but I decided NOT to!

I believed with all my heart that my body would follow my mind and I could not bare the thought of confirming in writing, that I would be only words on paper at the most precious stages of my children's lives... I wanted to be there in person!... THAT was THAT!

I tried so hard to keep to keep my fears and emotions under control but, one day it all bubbled to the surface and I erupted like a vicious volcano, spewing hatred and anger at the one person who did not deserve it... my mom. I poured all my frustration out on her and hurt her terribly... She did what all mothers do and loved me anyway.

So now... I will spoil her for the rest of her life to make up for it.

I love and admire my husband Craig so much, for believing as much as I did that I would SURVIVE... He allowed me to express my thoughts... no matter how hard they were for him to hear... Not only did he take me to treatment every day, protect the emotional well being of my children and my mom... Cope with his job... know every medication I was taking, but also... deal with the relentless hailstorm of bills.

I had morphine 5 times a day to see me through... he survived on sheer WILLPOWER.

When we stood at the alter as a young couple and said our vows "In good times and bad... in SICKNESS and in Health..." I never realized those words would mean... Craig setting his alarm for 2a.m,... walking around to my side of the bed to give me my 5th morphine dose for the day so that I did not have to get up. Stroking my cheek gently and saying "Go back to sleep Babe...". That's TRUE LOVE!

I have been Cancer Free for 4 years now and will be in Remission by my 5th year. I have chosen NOT to allow "Oncophobia" (the fear of the cancer returning) to influence my plans for the future. I realize that living "Cancer Free" is a privileged that I no longer take for granted.

I follow my dreams and ambitions with enthusiasm and if I fall... I will pick myself up... If I could fight and survive cancer... Anything seems possible if I put my heart and mind to it!

I started Pink Phoenix Cancer Foundation with the purpose of one day opening a "Cancer Centre"" to provide support to cancer survivors on how to recognize and learn to manage "oncophobia" to obtain nutritional advice and group support in order to lead full and productive lives under the threat of cancer.

How has surviving cancer influenced my life?...

I tell my family and friends that I love them, I value my time and do not waste it on things and people that do not matter, and the most important thing that I learnt... I am loved and needed!

Shalom Mkhize


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