“Never for a single minute did I believe I’d ever get cancer. It was something that happened to other people,” says Jane (51) from Muizenberg, an art director, and a breast cancer survivor. “Obviously I was shocked when it happened, but I quickly started focusing my energy – and still do now – on being healthy, staying positive and being grateful. I don’t spend much time questioning the ‘why’ of my breast cancer diagnosis.”
Anjolien (38) from Krugersdorp found herself on the other side of a cancer diagnosis. She had to be both carer and loved one when her husband, Stephan (40), was diagnosed with skin cancer – a tiny bump on the side of his nose changing the course of their lives. “Twice the doctors told us it was not skin cancer. My husband even called me paranoid. But the third doctor we saw was a plastic surgeon. He took one look at Stephan and confirmed what I suspected. Three days later Stephan was in surgery.”
Anjolien has a background in oncology nursing and she says, “That’s why I kept disagreeing and pushing him to get checked out. But it just goes to show that this is a disease makes no distinctions.”
The outcome of the operation was not what they had hoped. A section of his nose had to be removed and reconstruction could only take place after six months, to give his body time to heal. The family would have to find ways to cope.
Thanks to her nursing background Anjolien was able to do the wound care herself and she involved their two children to make them part of Stephan’s recovery. This drew the family closer together as they gained strength and support from each other.
Jane says, “Cancer does not play in the quick-fix arena. I had no choice but to take each day as it came. My approach was to talk to and trust my doctors, to focus each day on being positive and believing I was strong enough to deal with this – no matter how overwhelming. I didn’t waste energy on ‘what if’ or on trawling the internet.”
Anjolien believes faith and family carried her through in terms of supporting her husband. “My approach was living in the moment every day, concentrating on the six-month goal of reconstruction, staying positive and keeping the faith that he would heal. Every patient, carer and loved one needs a solid support system. Mine came from my family – my husband and two children, my mother, my twin sister (also an oncology nurse) and my older sister. They kept us positive and kept us in their prayers – so important and so necessary.”
Jane says her cancer journey has changed her in an unexpected way. “I’ve come to realise that everyone, everywhere carries their own story. And these stories can feel just as scary as mine, but less identifiable and more difficult to put into words. I don’t get extra street cred because my diagnosis came with a capital C and major surgery. Everyone can do with a bit of kindness and so I’ve become gentler and more empathetic.”
For Anjolien and her family practical things have changed. “We no longer leave any changes in our bodies without seeing a doctor. The kids are telling their school mates about prevention and early detection, and they help out as cancer awareness volunteers. With my husband now also working in cancer awareness and teaching people to be sun safe at sporting events that he organises, we are really living our brand,” she laughs.
Jane says the overriding emotion for her has been gratitude. “I am eternally grateful. For access to immediate medical care and the financial means to pay for it, for a clean bill of health two years down the line, for generous, supportive, loving, spirited family, friends and colleagues. And most of all that my husband and I get to see our precious little girl grow up together.”