Life after being diagnosed with cancer – Survivors share their stories
He led a healthy lifestyle and had no family history of cancer. He became a volunteer to help cancer patients. Little did he know he would soon be diagnosed with cancer… and so would his wife just a few years later. As part of its cancer awareness campaign ER24 spoke to Martin Kriek and his wife Elsabe to find out how being diagnosed with cancer impacted on their lives. Martin became a volunteer for the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) in 2009. “I became a volunteer because I had empathy for people with cancer. I had a friend who died of cancer at the age of 49. I wanted to devote my time to a cause and chose Cansa. I went for training and learnt about the different types of cancer. I was trained on how to talk to people who have cancer and how to bring about awareness. “Never did I expect to be diagnosed with cancer especially as I led a healthy lifestyle, did not feel sick and none of my family members, not even extended family, had cancer. I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2010. I also never expected my wife to be diagnosed with cancer. We were both in excellent health,” said Martin. He said all he experienced prior to being diagnosed, was some pain and bowel movement changes. “Other than that I felt fine. I consulted a general practitioner about the pain and bowel movement changes. I was referred to a gastroenterologist,” said Martin. A gastroenterologist examined him. A colonoscopy was done and the doctor suspected Martin had a malignant tumor. He was told he needed to have blood tests done. “I laughed and told the doctor I went to a urologist six weeks prior and no cancer was detected. I did the blood test anyway. When the report came back from the pathologist I was shocked. I found out I had cancer. I thought to myself that it could never be,” he said. Martin was advised that he would have to undergo an operation and use a colostomy bag. He accepted that he would have to undergo the operation. He did however have problems coming to terms with wearing a colostomy bag. “I thought about my situation and went for the operation. Prior to the operation I informed the surgeon that I would not use a colostomy bag because I would not be able to handle it. There was no way I was going to use it,” he said. Martin said he underwent a seven-hour operation and 22 centimetres of his colon was cut and removed. “I had stage three colorectal cancer. I was glad the operation was over but was told that I had to use the colostomy bag. “I was upset about it. I never expected to walk out with the bag. However I had to decide… It was either the colostomy bag or the box (coffin). Using a colostomy bag was something I would have to cope with,” he said. After the operation Martin underwent chemotherapy and radiation. “I did not have a problem with chemotherapy but radiation made me feel sick. I also lost about 27 kilogrammes. I had to adjust my lifestyle after the operation, chemotherapy and radiation. “I was fond of swimming. I had to cover myself and jump into a pool quickly or maybe swim when no one was around due to the colostomy bag. I had no other option but to get used to wearing the bag,” said Martin. With Elsabe’s support and his positive thinking, Martin was able to quickly adapt and continue living a normal life. “Apart from using the colostomy bag, life was and still is quite normal. I felt good and still do. There is little I cannot do,” said Martin. A few years later, in 2014, Elsabe was diagnosed with breast cancer. The couple was shocked. “I went for a check-up and it was discovered that I had breast cancer. I underwent a mastectomy. This was followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Chemotherapy was difficult for me,” said Elsabe. Although difficult to hear that she had to undergo a mastectomy, Elsabe said she realised that it had to be done. “It did affect me emotionally but it was something I had to deal with. I realised that my chances of surviving without doing it were slim. Another difficult thing for me to cope with was my hair loss. Even when it started to grow again, it was different from what it used to be,” she said. Although each of them had their own challenges to deal with, it was strength, the support from each other and family and belief that got them through their struggles. “Martin and I grew closer to each other. When he was diagnosed I was there for him. He did the same for me. He still does a lot for me. Support is very important,” said Elsabe. She urged people struggling to come to terms with their diagnosis, to be positive. “Do not give up. It is difficult but you have to be strong and keep going on with life. My advice to others is to go for regular check-ups. If you find out you have cancer early enough it can be treated and cured,” she said. Martin’s advice to people who have been diagnosed is to have faith. “It is all about you. People who are diagnosed with cancer go through a lot of emotions. People ask themselves why me, what did I do wrong… I do not know why it happened to me. All I know is that it came my way. You have to have faith and believe that you will be okay. When you are diagnosed with cancer it does not mean that it is the end of the world. Be positive. The cure ratetoday is better than it was years ago,” he said. ER24 urges people to educate themselves about cancer and to go for regular check-ups. To find our more about cancer, to volunteer or for information on counselling and support groups visit www.cansa.org.za ER24’s Emergency Contact Centre can be reached 24 hours a day on 084 124 for any medical emergency.