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Sharleigh Wilken

Being able to sit in the sun, feel the breeze on your face, taste different flavours and be surrounded by voices of loved ones is often taken for granted but it is those very privileges that makes one dig deep and fight for when being diagnosed with a life threatening disease.

I was diagnosed with acute Myloid Leukemia in 2011 at the age of 33. I had taken my son to the GP as he was suffering from bronchitis. The doctor noticed large bruises on my arm and leg and mentioned that I may be anemic and suggested I go for blood tests.

Putting it down to just being tired and perhaps bruised from mountain biking, I delayed the tests for a week. Life gets busy and we often put others needs first.

The tests revealed that I had a blood disorder. My platelets were 17 and my white blood cells were under attack. I was admitted to an isolation Ward in Westville hospital immediately to begin chemotherapy, blood and platelet transfusions and was discharged 4 months later baled, weak and frail.

The tests revealed that I had a blood disorder. My platelets were 17 and my white blood cells were under attack. I was admitted to an isolation Ward in Westville hospital immediately to begin chemotherapy, blood and platelet transfusions and was discharged 4 months later baled, weak and frail.

The relief of being home was indescribable. I returned to work as quickly as i could and continued life as normal as possible while still having oral chemotherapy and steriods delivered to my door every 3 months for a two year period. Decisions that would seem normal to some families were hard for ours. Is mom well enough to go out? Can we book or will you be busy with chemo? Can we have salad or sushi or is your immune system to low?

Being advised on the risks of flying also limited how and where we would travel.

Those two years were difficult. Everything seemed like a blur. I couldn't taste anything, my head pounded viciously day and night, my vision was distorter and my body was not my own.

The two years were up and I was due to have my final bone marrow biopsy. I still felt somewhat somber and had suffered two strokes. My wonderful husband accompanied me to the Dr Singhs rooms as we were told the news that the cancer had spread to my spinal fluid and was putting pressure on my brain.

Again, we refocused and set the target at completing 11 lumbar punctures and more chemotherapy. All seemed to be going well until my port was inserted. I had had a few ports and didn't over think this procedure much. The doctor was a kind gentle man. Little did we know that during the insertion, they had punctured my lung.

I lost air and couldn't breath. I begged the nurses for more oxygen and then a few days later... silence.

Silence while I was put on a ventilator, silence as they rushed me to ICU, silence as my family from all over the world was called to say come and say goodbye but silence as faith was stirred and hope rose while i lay in a coma.

I get asked many questions like "did you hear anything?", "Did you feel anything?", even "did you meet Jesus?". I wish I did. But I just lay there cut off from the world, 11 pipes in my body as the doctors fought on my behalf and my prayer warriors parents, family and very special friends marched on in prayer stating "you don't know our God!" One morning, after 3 weeks, I awoke to the loudest most memorable sound of glass smashing. I was alive and repeated over and over "HE SAVED ME! HE SAVED ME! HE SAVED ME!" For a short period.

I was awake and alive but I was paralysed from the neck down and could not talk which is really hard for a women. A new journey started as I learnt to talk, move, walk, eat and do simple things for myself again.

Going home after 194 days in isolation was one of the best days of my life. I was with my family and could feel the sunshine on my face. I recovered well as the search started for a bone marrow match. I knew I had less than 1 in 100 000 chance of finding my perfect match so we decided to use my own stem cells for a transplant. This is a miracle on its own as my bone marrow regenerated to give me life again and on the 1 October 2014 I recieved a second chance.

After going through a trauma, one always tries so hard to go back to your normal old life as if nothing has changed. You just want to go back to the person you were but you are not that person any more. Cancer changes you.

People often ask what I thought about and did for so many months in hospital. Other than trying to keep my mouth shut to keep the vomit in or dig for the strength just to have a normal conversation with a person other than a nurse, I thought about how quickly we can die and how in an instant or a sentence, ones whole life can change.

During my journey I was never far from God. I held onto Psalm 91 and remembered the Sunday school song "Jesus loves me this I know" and my heart knew that as long as He loved me I would be OK.

I also thought about how everyone has a choice. We make choices every day and every choice affects our life. Nobody can make that choice for you and nobody should judge someone else's choice.

Let's see each other through eyes of love. Perhaps ones hair is short because they have lost it, perhaps they walk funny because they are recovering from paralysis, perhaps they avoid something because of fear or perhaps one is angry because of lack of love.

Laughter is a great medicine! My wonderful husband and amazing young boys are incredible. The strength shown and support offered cannot amount to anything. I will always feel guilty that they had to go through this with no choice given to them but am grateful that they have been taught faith, endless compassion and bravery which can never be stripped from them.

Live your life smelling the roses because you can! Tasting the food because you can! Dancing wildly because you can and loving life because you were given it!

Find out where your limits are and start from there. Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day!

Shalom Mkhize


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