Harry Cronje | Rectal cancer

Fortunately, I could draw strength from the unshakable love and support of my beloved Liza, my Rock of Gibraltar. We decided beforehand to see this thing through together, and despite her fears and trepidation, she stood firm.

Sentenced to live

On August 2nd, 2012, I was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Remedial surgery would involve a permanent colostomy and complete removal of my rectum.

My wife, Liza, arrived to take me home from the gastroenterologist’s rooms, and once alone in the elevator I blurted out: “I’ve got cancer.”

Once I’d uttered those dreaded words, the full horror of the situation hit me. I think it hit my beloved Liza even harder. She first looked at me, admonition, almost, in her eyes. “Please don’t joke about things like that,” her eyes said. Tears welled up into her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. She flung her arms around me and we just held each other. She knew this was no joke.

By Saturday, I told Liza she needed to unwind. She prescribed for herself an aggressive course of retail therapy. I call this the ka-ching, ka-ching phenomenon. Her mind made up, she sped off to spend a path through every shopping mall within a day’s drive from home.

I relaxed on our bed in the sun with an Mp3 disc playing my favourite music. The first song chosen at random by the player was Kris Kristofferson's, "Why me, Lord? What have I ever done to deserve even one of the pleasures I've known..." I realised anew how many tremendous and undeserved blessings I've enjoyed during my life, and I thanked God profusely. Up until now I’ve enjoyed 66 years of robust health and an unchallenged viral immunity. As a child I shared a room with my late brother while he had diphtheria and scarlet fever. I didn’t even sneeze. The worst illness I’ve ever suffered from is a hangover, not contagious, but debilitating nonetheless. It dawned on me that I’d been asked to pay a price in return for my life. The price being a small bag carried against my abdomen. Surely this was the bargain to beat all bargains.

On August 13th, 2012, I underwent surgery. Complications arose during surgery, and as a result I spent nearly two weeks in the Acute Care Unit before finally being discharged. At times it seemed that my chances of survival were slim. I had to fight for my life.

Fortunately, I could draw strength from the unshakable love and support of my beloved Liza, my Rock of Gibraltar. We decided beforehand to see this thing through together, and despite her fears and trepidation, she stood firm.

Big Sis Lulu told me once that: “Courage is not the lack of fear and trepidation. It is pressing on in spite of...” and this is exactly what Liza did. I made up my mind to do the same, and to live for her.

I’ve been home now for just over two months, and in that time my recovery has been remarkable. I wash the cars, I mow the lawn and I hit golf balls at the driving range. I started an exercise program, walking briskly for about 45 minutes each morning. This may not seem like much, until one considers that 6 weeks ago I weighed only 58 kilograms, 20 kilograms less than before, and I couldn’t walk without a walking stick.

There are some drawbacks. Obviously I must wear an ostomy bag for the rest of my life, and my stoma sits exactly where I used to wear my belt. I now wear braces, and look a bit like Huckleberry Finn, albeit a much older version. My bladder control is still a bit dicey, but hopefully this will problem will rectify itself in time. Despite these drawbacks, I’m very fortunate. There are many people who are much worse off than I am, and who must cope with problems far greater than mine.

There’s so much for which I can be grateful, and for that I thank God. I’m alive, with the prospect of living a normal active life for many more years to come. I love an exceptional woman, and she loves me. I have two sons of whom I’m indescribably proud. I have the finest of daughters-in-law, four grand children and three sisters, all of whom I love dearly, and who love me in return. I have a lovely home. I drive a decent car. I’m debt-free. I’ll play golf as badly yet as enjoyably as before. We’ve enjoyed tremendous love and support from friends and family, even from people we hardly know. And that’s not all. According to my latest full-body PET scan, I’m cancer-free at present. The surgeon managed to remove every single cancer cell. So what if he damaged my urethra in the process.

I’m not naïve. I know full well that there’ll be bad days. I’ll become despondent and despair of my situation. So I’ll take it one day at a time (another invaluable piece of advice from my Big Sis, Lulu), and try to always remind myself of a very important fact — I’ve not been sentenced to death, or to life. I’ve been sentenced to live.

PS: Outcome of Liza’s retail therapy session — I’ll not run out of sleeping shorts or shirts until well into the next century.

Harry Cronje

Author of: Fanyana talks to the Animals

A beautifully illustrated book of animal rhymes for children

Publisher: Random House Struik

ISBN No: 978-1-77007-165-0

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