I am currently 47 living in Josey and was diagnosed with Burkitts lymphoma Leukaemia in Sydney, Australia in May 2003 at the age of 39.
It was an interesting time in my life. I Was living in Sydney Australia and was in the process of repatriating myself and the family back to South Africa. I had also started my own business in Sydney in March 2003. My wife and kids had returned to South Africa on 22 April 2003, and I was to return in mid-May.
My life was pretty hectic at the time and I had circumvented the world in March (Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, LA, Chicago, London, Geneva, Johannesburg and the back to Sydney. This was a 10 day trip, required to close a business, and open one of my own. When I started feeling like I had a stomach ulcer, I was not surprised.
I went to see my GP to follow up on my reflux/stomach ulcer which did not appear to be getting any better. She thought that my ulcer looked a little more serious and she ordered an ultrasound examination the following day. When I went to see her for the results, she was quite brutal about informing me that I had “cancer”.
This was a big shock to me. I never get sick and lived a healthy lifestyle. The first thing I did was call my mom in Cape Town, who was quite strong and simply said “Col, this is just a new challenge for your life, be positive and you will work through it”!
A Gastroscopy followed, and over the next 7 days, my health deteriorated rapidly, and really badly. I was admitted to Westmead Public Hospital (haematology ward), where I was diagnosed, and put on the Hoelzer Protocol. I was treated over a 7 month period with CHOP (A concoction of a hectic Chemo drugs) as well as 8 lumbar punches.
After 7 months, a CT scan revealed that I still had some scar tissue in my abdomen, which they decided to surgically remove and biopsy. Flip, they found a tiny amount of disease in the scar tissue and decided that I should undergo an Autologous Stem Cell transplant. More Chemo (ICE), Full Body Irradiation and the transplant followed, and I was discharged on 19 January 2011. (is this date correct?)
Throughout my treatment, I kept my self busy, talking to patients, running my new business from hospital, and even recall writing a proposal to start a new business in South Africa while on a serious dose of Morphine.
I believed that I should respect the guidelines given to me by the doctors, to avoid getting infections after receiving chemo, but give no place to the disease itself. I had a wife and kids that depended on me, so giving up just wasn’t an option.
I kept a journal throughout the treatment, and published it on a website for all my family and friends to see. There was no Facebook then!
One of the things that really helped me through the treatment was talking to survivors that had gone through the very same treatment as my self. Hearing and seeing survivors gave me incredible hope, and made me more determined to get through this. I have always been a bit afraid of sticking my hand up to share my stories with others, just in case I jinx myself.
Once I was given the all clear, I stayed on in Sydney for another 15 months to obtain Australian citizenship for my family and myself, before moving back to Johannesburg. I thought, whats the point of staying in a country where you have security, freedom, education and incredible medical services but no access to your family and friends in SA.
The disease was definitely life changing for me. Taking risks presented no problem at all and any planning that I do is generally short term. I had no issues hatching a plan to start up a business in SA 4 weeks after my transplant. The business was managed remotely from Sydney for a year before I returned to Johannesburg with my Family on July 2005.
It’s been 6 years since I have been back in SA, I got divorced, built the business up, and sold it in February 2010. My biological son lives with me and my partner, I cycle regularly, completed the Argus, 94.7 Cycle challenge and then some. Life’s good and I am really enjoying being back in South Africa with all my family and friends.