A 2nd Chance

On 27 June 2012 I was lucky enough to celebrate 5 years of remission which, naturally, has caused me to reflect on how this disease has affected and changed my life.

According to my dermatologist, as a ginger, I had already received a lifetime of sun by the age of 13. I have had a special relationship with the ocean since I can remember and took up every water sport I could find. That all changed when my doctor explained to me, with tears in his eyes and a candy in hand to console me, that the fever blister on my lip was in fact a late
stage of Squarmous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), the most aggressive form of skin cancer he had ever come across.

I was dumb struck, thinking that this sort of thing only ever happened in the movies and can’t possibly be real! I lost one third of my lip tissue in the first operation, the second operation (after the cancer had spread to my lymphatic system) was a bilateral neck dissection which left me looking like a bad Frankenstein poster child. Finally I received radiation therapy across my jaw which took my taste away for six months and has consequently stunted my beard growth for good.

To my surprise, my oncologist dropped another bomb when, after a year beyond the diagnosis, he suggested that I get back into the water, but with respect for what I had gone through. All my doctors are the most incredible men and my oncologist knew the ocean is where I heal myself. Unable to surf my short boards because of the invasive nature of the neck operation and loss of ligaments, my friends got together and bought me a long board. Five years later the ocean is still my church where I feed my soul and I have subsequently taken up kite boarding. A new sanctum has entered my life with running. I started running to distract and clear my mind during my healing process, but now it too feeds my soul, it has helped me break through my perception of what is possible.

When I was a kid, I was a big Comrades Marathon fan. My dad told me that I had inherited his knees and that I would never be able to run a marathon, a truth I would have believed had it not been for cancer. I have since completed two Comrades, one Iron Man and have finished two of the toughest trail runs in South Africa. My perception of what is possible has been altered for good.

Before cancer I daydreamed of starting my own business but lacked the courage to take the leap. My business celebrated 5 years recently, having started it from my hospital bed after the bilateral neck dissection surgery. My second business launches this summer with an innovation that is directly related to preventing skin cancer. A product of passion to be honest! It is ironic that a disease that came so close to ending my life was also responsible for giving me new life. Although I have had a traumatic journey, there is nothing I would change.

My family has also been affected by cancer, especially breast cancer. I have lost many friends and family due to the disease. I have subsequently adopted Breast health as my cause of choice. I now run in pink and raise money for organizations who support breast cancer awareness.

I will be running the 2013 Comrades Marathon for the Pink Drive using a website I created called www.causewecan.org.za to create awareness and raise funds. The site will be live in December should you wish to donate or follow our journey.

Brett

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