Dealt with a double blow – cancer survivor Moshe’s story

My story is similar to a lot of people out there, who may have been
diagnosed with any type of ailment, it is a story of how many of us
take for granted the warning signs that our bodies tell us. Had I heeded the warnings at an earlier stage I would have discovered my prognosis and begun my treatment plan that would have effectively stopped the malignancy of my cancer. But this was not how it happened… Photo right: Moshe signing the World Cancer Declaration for a cancer-free world. You can also sign up today!

One day, I awoke from a semi-coma. I was greeted by the attending oncologist in charge of my case at the Johannesburg Hospital. Still in a drowsy state and confused because of the drugs, he abruptly told me I have a rare form cancer of which 15% of the population worldwide is affected. (Mostly found in pre-teens and young adults). You can imagine my amazement when at the tender age of 19, I was told that I was one of the unsuspecting hostsof this cancer, popularly known as CML (Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia).

In my pain and confusion I felt bombarded by all the medical terms, jargon I had never heard of, except maybe in a couple episodes of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and the season premiere episode of Grey’s Anatomy! I was completely clueless as to what ailment I had and where it stemmed from. In this momentary void of confusion, I vaguely heard the only words that made sense to me – this mysterious disease was merely a form of blood cancer.

I was perplexed at the time, because I only knew of two forms of cancer, namely breast cancer and prostate cancer. In my bemused state I started thinking to myself how many forms of cancer there could be. I still ask that question to this very day, knowing that I will never find a conclusive answer.

As you can imagine, hearing that you have this foreign disease inside of your body is an earth shattering experience, one that the most scientifically advanced Richter scale wouldn’t be able to calculate. The news alone sent tremors down my spine, the seismic wave of this colossal life changing event began to resonate clearly to me. The news came at a time where I was still trying to adjust to the sudden shock of my hearing loss. Then to make matters worse, I had this acute form of cancer that sounded like an engine part for an old Volkswagen ‘78 beetle waiting to explode!

In the space of a week I had gone from a hearing person, with fully functional hearing, to being hard of hearing and having complete loss of hearing in my right ear. I can’t fully articulate the sensation one goes through when one loses one’s hearing. It is an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. In a matter of two weeks I had lost 98% of my hearing in my right ear and 45% in my left ear.

I was terrified – I wasn’t scared of the disease, but more of the impact it would have on my life. Would I ever be able to hear the sounds of the birds in the garden, the kids’ wails of excitement in the street, the roar of the crowd at the Soweto Derby, my friends’ laughter, my  family’s voices or terms of endearment from my girlfriend.

These are all things I felt that I lost in my battle with cancer. I can’t lie and say I never had thoughts of ending my life. There were many days where I felt alone and couldn’t explain to anyone around me what I was going through, being the first person in my family to experience it. Through the Grace of God I did not take my life and I endured. My family and my friends endured.

To sum up my experiences of treatment in one phrase, I would equate it to the moment the Titanic hit the tip of the iceberg. I was in a living tomb, drowning in the nausea, the many pills and unforeseen side effects, the many blood tests and needles, the lack of attention and sensitivity shown to me by the nursing staff and because of those who didn’t know how to assist me through my illness, due to ignorance.

In the end though, the treatment saved my life. The support I received from various spheres in my life, including from my oncologist, was a fundamental stepping stone towards my recovery.

While watching the First for Women advert where they say there aren’t any happy endings, it struck me – would I say that I have experienced a happy end to my battle with cancer? Yes, I would say that I have, considering the many life lessons and the different path I get to travel every day, being a cancer survivor and a CANSA employee. I am at the forefront of the battle against cancer in South Africa, spearheaded by CANSA we are launching a full frontal attack on this dreaded disease. It hasn’t been easy at times, but I’ve been given a mandate not only by CANSA, but also by God and the other cancer survivors to bring about awareness of this disease and to bring to their attention the support and resources that they have at their disposal.

My story doesn’t end here – with great friends at home and work, a beautiful girlfriend, a career in an organization I love – even if the great William Shakespeare had to write a sonnet on my life, he would fail to find the words that describe the warmth and camaraderie that I have here at CANSA. We are all family and this is the MESSAGE OF HOPE I want to send out to you the reader, “You are not alone. There is a place where you can go to be educated and supported regarding cancer. CANSA is there to lend a helping hand to you regardless of your age, gender, race or social standing.”

My name is Moshe Nchwe and this is a short autobiography of my life with cancer, my ups and downs, my trials and tribulations and ultimately my victory through perseverance and the will to overcome this disease. This is my story of how I survived the battle with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia and how I lived to tell the tale.

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