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Wendy Williamson

It was June 2009 that I was lying in the hospital bed awaiting results on a ct scan after having a back operation that did not solve the pain I was having. My husband Tony, was up in the Midlands looking after the hotel we had, and he was returning that evening. The news was not what I was expecting when I received it... "You have a tumour" he said, and "you need a surgeon"! Cool, calm and collected I was, not registering what had been said, the doctor left and returned the following morning to ask if I had found a surgeon! It was then that the penny dropped so to speak and I asked if it was cancer. He said he did not know.

Tony was devastated and found a well known surgeon who saw me that afternoon. Biopsies were done the following day and revealed a GIST. Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumour Stage 111B.

Very rare as only 3 people in South Africa were known to have this cancer. Very little known about this, and even doctors when you tell them I have GIST don't know what I am talking about. So I knew that I had to find a specialist in this field. Oncologist, Surgeon and Doctor have to be in my team and work together. Their was only one chemotherapy known then to shrink the tumors which was called Imatanib a target therapy.

I think of that day often, wondering how many cancer patients all across the globe have heard similar prognoses, believed them, and surrender to them as if they were a death sentence written in stone. Since that day I have watched friends and friends of friends as they heard similar words... It's malignant or its cancer.

We are going to fight this war! I say.

Side effects were horrible, puffy, bleeding eyes, excruciating cramps, nausea, heart issues and fatigue. I took this 400 Imatanib bullet religiously every day for 4 months till the tumour shrank to 28 cm, it was then removed along with half of my pancreas, half stomach and spleen. I continued on the Imatinub for a further 2 years every day and the toxic reactions were getting so bad I just did not want to go on.

The oncologist then gave me a break for about 18 months which helped but when the next scan came along so did the next tumour!

A recurrence! Up in the diaphragm, still growing out of the wall of the stomach but too dangerous to operate on so back on Imatanib so it could shrink. A month later into theatre for the operation but unfortunately all my muscles collapsed and I was put onto life support. I was coma induced for two days.

That was that, inoperable so now Imatanib for life.

What can I do now I asked myself? Not going to lie down and die! No!

I can enjoy life with my husband, family and friends

I can watch my beautiful grandchildren growing up

I now am very grateful for the Gift of Life.

After seven years, I still hate cancer. I've become a faithful advocate for anyone who is recruited into this War, using the knowledge I acquired in my battles to help others in theirs. I still shed a tear or two for those people whom I've grown to love along the way, who have lost the battle against this beast. Yet I've come to realize how immensely blessed I have been, knowing each day that I, live with cancer. Life is a gift, we are all one day closer to the end of our life when we awaken to greet a new day, but most of us live in the wonderful world of denial, completely ignoring that basic fact. We assume that tomorrow we'll greet the day as we did today. We take for granted that the people we know and love will be in our tomorrow's as well.

My big fat belly was a small price to pay for the intensity of which I experience life, God has given me a great gift, and when he finally heals me I pray I may never lose the lessons this cancer has taught me and that is, remembering the value of each moment of this life.

May everyone of you be blessed and may you not need the "blessing" of a cancer to bring you to the realization of what is important, what has value, what a Miracle this thing is, that we call life.

Live life not cancer.

Wendy Williamson

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