Radiation Therapy and lessons learnt

During one’s journey to rid the body of cancer cells, radiation may be a proposed form of treatment. Like chemotherapy, I did not know what this was, neither how it would be done nor what effect it would have on me.

Medical science has developed in leaps and bounds over the last decades.

I was about 6 years old and in standard one, when one weekday morning, I remember my father getting dressed in “church clothes” and not his usual work attire. I later learnt that he was to attend my grandmother’s funeral.  Ma ‘Lizbeth, whom I had visited occasionally by bus in Central, Port Elizabeth, had passed on as a result of cancer. She had a double mastectomy and I guess, due to late diagnosis and/or a lack of appropriate treatment at the time, had passed on.

I doubt the advances in cancer treatment had reached the developed stage it has today. Nonetheless, I’m grateful it has. And more grateful to be alive.

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My radiation treatment card with start and finish dates.

Radiation is rather interesting.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy particles or waves, such as x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams, or protons, to destroy or damage cancer cells. The treatment itself is painless. Body cells normally grow and divide to form new cells. But cancer cells grow and divide faster than most normal cells. Radiation works by making small breaks in the DNA inside cells. These breaks keep cancer cells from growing and dividing and cause them to die. The body then rids itself of these damaged cells.

Radiation in my case was used on my former-breast area and in my armpit – the areas where the cancer originated and first spread. Doctors are of the view that radiation is necessary in these areas as it kills the possible cells, which cannot be detected by scans.

The obvious consequence of radiation is that normal, healthy cells in the treated area are killed in the process too. Most nearby, normal cells however recover over time and go back to working the way they should.

Radiation has multiple functions. It may also be used to cure or shrink early-stage cancer, stop cancer from coming back somewhere else in the body and to treat symptoms caused by advanced cancer. 

The other methods are internal radiation (during which a radioactive source is put inside the body into or near the tumor) and systematic radiation (i.e. the use of radioactive drugs taken orally or put into a vein to treat certain types of cancer.

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Laser lights are used to ensure one is correctly postioned and aligned thereby ensuring the same/correct area is treated.

In order to commence external radiation, a planning session is conducted at the radiology department. This session involves a scan to determine the exact area for treatment and the placing of permanent markers (tattoos) on my body. I later learnt these tattoos where critical for my placement and alignment during treatment.

Treatment in my case happened every weekday morning for five weeks and about 10 minutes each day. We had planned it this way as I would drop my boys at school, have treatment, then jet off to work.

Every day’s routine was the same: come in, greet the staff, take off my top and any other distracting jewellery, lay on the hard bed facing the ceiling, get aligned with the use of laser lights lining up with my tattoos. The staff would confirm my position as correct and off they would go into the neighbouring room to commence treatment, which was controlled by computers. There I would lie – dead still – for my daily 10-minute treatment.

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Getting ready for radiation.  The ‘Meneer’ tentacle is overhead.

As a gadgets person, watching this huge device do its thing was most interesting:  This telescopic device would reach out its ‘tentacles’ toward me, rotating my body – here in my (personal) space! Some days, the x-ray tentacle would reach out first. It would take its snaps and retreat to where it came from. Then the ‘Meneer’ tentacle would come close. I could see into it, but not too far. It first stops on my right side, under my armpit, where I can’t see it because my head is turned left so that the treatment reaches the lymph nodes in my neck area.

OMW! how intimidating this was for the first few days! This same huge, round, ‘Meneer’ tentacle then makes a soft sound indicating its inner parts are sizing up and moving into place, focusing in on the area to be treated.   Thereafter, for 30 seconds or so, it delivers a sound similar to the drilling during a root canal. This is the actual treatment taking place. I still feel nothing but continue to lie still for my own good and incase this machine decides to attack me (that’s just me overthinking it).

The ‘Meneer’ tentacle then moves across my chest to my left. Now it’s in my view. It repeats the process. It then moves above my chest. The re-sizing and drilling sound repeats. When this is done, I know the session is completed. I hear the sound of shoes hitting the room floor and I can tell by the sound which one of the staff is approaching and will advise me: “That’s it for today Mr. Venturini. You may relax your arms.” All this time, my arms had been above my head nestled in arm-catchers. My treatment card then gets signed, or if signed already, is given to me. I get dressed and off I go.

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The effect of 25 radiation sessions on my skin.  This should fade over time.

Radiation, like chemotherapy, had a start date and an end date. Trouble and troublesome times generally do. It comes, and goes.

We however must believe that every challenge comes with a blessing embedded in it.

Both those experiences are now memories from ‘yesterday’. Whilst both these treatment plans were not pleasant and an inconvenience, it certainly came with the blessing of a longer life, essentially granting me more time to live abundantly, love lavishly and learn expeditiously.

 

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The Wits Donald Gordon Radiation Oncology Centre in Parktown, Johannesburg has this ‘tree of life’ in its reception area.  All patients who have completed their treatment are allowed to place a flower on the tree.  This is me, privileged to have a turn!

CANSA Mens Health Infographic - 2016 Social Media.cdr

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CHASING SUNSETS

At the end of August I had my last chemo-session; this phase of my treatment lasted six months.  It certainly is not the end of treatment.  I can however attest to the fact that keeping a positive state of mind, remaining optimistic, and being surrounded by many people, who support and love me, helps a lot.  

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Doctor’s script for weekly chemotherapy.

It feels like yesterday when all this started. 

A doctor’s visit to check on an inverted nipple.

Tests. Painful tests.

Waiting for results.

Diagnosis.

Chemotherapy.

Waiting for the results of chemotherapy.

It’s as if your entire life is in a state of “repair”.

 

Some days are just about fulfilling a routine.  That’s about as much energy one has.  And then there are other days when enough hope rise to conqueror the world.  The realisation that this journey is not a bad dream, has long faded.  And from time to time it feels like… chasing sunsets

I consider myself an avid, aspiring-amateur photographer.  I’ve got one incomplete photography course to my name, and coupled with that, loads of gusto to snap up everything around me, especially nature.  Sunsets and pics just before sunset are my particular favourite.  In this respect, I consider myself a sunset chaser. No doubt.  I will snap the same sunset today, tomorrow… next week…

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A poolside sunset pic taken recently.

The dictionary defines CHASING as “pursue in order to catch or catch up with”.  Strangely, life can feel like a CHASING of sunsets.  Hear me out.

Day in and day out. Routines become habits… habits become lifestyle.  

Before you know it, days – no, months have passed.

And all this chasing in the hope of experiencing what some call  “break through”, “a big break” or “my time to shine”.

Summons

One of several summons received during my days of “balancing the budget”. Tough times don’t last; tough people do.

Ordinary work-life becomes so hectic at times.  Challenges seem insurmountable at the most awkward moments.  I remember days where falling asleep at night was like being rescued from that day!  If it continues for another hour or so, I’d probably break.  And then there’s that month end stress! Oh my word! “Can month ends rather not come!” I’d think.  “Not only does it test my financial balancing skills, but it also comes with those dreadful phone calls (if my balancing did not work).”

Those days honestly felt like a chasing – a constant pursuing to at least catch-up.        

Day in and day out…. same, same.  

All with the hope that by some miracle it would change.  Thank God, for me this has changed.

Having ended many days feeling like I’ve just chased another sunset and using sleep as a means of escape, I’ve learnt that a brighter tomorrow is largely influenced by my perception of my current situation.  How I view what I’m faced with today.  

I’ve noticed that sleeping it away actually does not work.  Sleep provides me with new gusto to face what I did not face yesterday.  Yesterday is not gone.  It’s like an unpaid bill.  It wants to be settled – paid – paid in full.

My challenges have taught me that my perception of it (my challenges) either sets me on a path of defeat or victory.  My perception is largely influenced by how I deal with it in my mind; how I think about it and toward it.  Challenges not dealt with (in our minds) therefore have the ability to propel us or take us down and out.

Here’s a story to explain this point:  I was never a sporty-child at school simply because I thought I would not amount to much and therefore would fail anyway.  The idea of trying was least appealing. (These thoughts originated from somewhere.  That’s a story for another day).  My resistance to participating in sport obviously spilt over into other self-confidence issues in various other areas of life.  I perceived I would amount to nothing and as a result, I underachieved and even abstained (from sport in particular).  This only changed when I started dealing with my issues later in life.  

Sadly, our society produces many people who are not dealing with their childhood issues. As a result, yesterday’s perceptions of self plays a big role in how today is lived (and not lived).

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My parents and I in the late 80’s

You’ve heard the saying “perception is reality” or “as a man thinks, so is he”.  This is true.  

How we perceive and process our challenges either takes us through the situation or leaves us circumventing (bypassing/evading/dodging) it.

Dr Caroline Leaf, in her book ‘Switch on your brain’ says it this way: “What you are thinking every moment of every day becomes a physical reality in your brain and body, which affects your optimal mental and physical health.  These thoughts collectively form your attitude, which is your state of mind, and it’s your attitude and not your DNA that determines much of the quality of your life.”

Approaching and dealing with one’s own issues, challenges, troubles are easier said than done.  It may even seem easier to evade it and pretend it does not exist.  If it’s something far back in the past, it may be tempting to leave it because who wants to open old wounds?  The mere fact that it’s a wound means that it requires healing.

In conclusion: Let’s deal with our challenges as it comes, as opposed to chasing sunsets and just getting through each day.  There’s more to life than chasing sunsets.

Those things that bother us may seem small or insurmountable but rest assured, God’s got this.  He has your back and your best interest at heart.

Here’s some wise words I was reminded of and I hope it’s of encouragement to you:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.”  (Romans 12:1-3, The Message).

#Godsgotthis

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This Felt Like That

I recently went for my 10th chemo session. I had passed the halfway mark but with this particular session I felt very lousy; even frustrated to some degree despite me receiving good news about my condition being “stable” and improving.
 
Many questions came to mind on this day:
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Why is this taking so long?  
It’s been more than 10 weeks already!
Why must I come to this same place every week, only to be pricked, drugged and made to feel like a zombi?
Why this horrible feeling of tiredness after each session?
This is such an inconvenience!
Many would call this “reality settling in.”
Prior to this occasion, I’ve always been in a good frame of mind; positive and optimistic.  
Different people, overtime, have asked me whether I ever get into a space of feeling down and cry; whether the reality of my situation hit me so hard that I just break down.  
THIS FELT LIKE THAT
Questions running through my mind. 
A feeling of disgruntlement and why me, why now…
These feelings and attempts of discouragement I believe are real emotions we all go through.  Similar to any successful achievements – be it studies, family life/relationships or work.  We all feel like giving up at some time. How much more with the burden of a disease!?

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Here’s the interesting part and how I’ve dealt with this:
When we embark on a journey in life, we know the start and we have a good idea when it will end.  We are so well informed and resourced these days, we even know what potential hurdles we will face.  In my case, my first chemo session was in March 2017; I knew it will run for 3 weeks at a time, with a break after each, and I know when it will end – September.  Despite this, discouragement, doubt and frustration came knocking at my door as if I did not know where I’m heading.
 
For many of us, derailments even happen whilst we journey.  The unexpected, most bizarre things happen and in these moments, we even doubt ourselves and the plans we’ve made.  It’s like divorce: I believe no one get’s married with the intention to divorce.  Similarly, I don’t get into my car and drive it with the intention to crash it, we don’t commence studies toward a degree and at the onset, plan to throw in the towel halfway through the course, we don’t plan to go on holiday, pay the cost upfront and at the same time of payment, decide that we’ll give-up on the holiday whilst driving or flying to the destination.  It’s all just crazy you might say.

 


When we embark on journeys such as studies, marriage or business – like I’ve embarked on chemotherapy – it would be prudent to keep the end in mind.  In other words, the reason for the greater journey – irrespective what the “potholes” entail.  Given that we’ve started these journeys having calculated the cost, we know that it will take time, effort and perseverance. We further know that derailment or delays may occur and we know that most of it will not be smooth sailing.  The purpose. Why we’ve embarked on it, and we know the goal is because of the purpose.


But Tony, you may say, a dreaded disease like cancer is not something you’ve ask for or planned to have?  True indeed, I say.  I too had other plans for life.  Plans which excluded cancer.  
Within the journey towards the many goals I’ve set for myself and my family, cancer happened.  A derailment occurred, arguably. Or we can see it as “life happened”.  Irrespective – whether derailment or life – I’m of the view it’s to be used as part of my purpose (becoming evidently clearer and accelerated) woven into my everyday, ordinary life to achieve a greater good.  
It reminds me of this Jesus, whom many regard as Saviour.  His death meant life for all.  A bad thing turned out to be good and beneficial.  (That’s a blog for another day)
Here’s a scenario to consider:  If you were driving for many hours toward a holiday destination and whilst going there, you see the most beautiful scenery, a waterfall and breathtaking greenery.  Are you just going to pass it by due to the long drive or will you stop and take pics – even a selfie!?  Or better still: you get to the cashier to pay for your goods and as you pay the cashier tells you, because you are customer number 100,000 you have been awarded 10 times the value of your goods. Will you refuse that gift? You instead instantly forget the pain and time it took to get to the store, go aisle-by-aisle shopping, and standing in a long queue to pay.  
See, as humans we are quick to recognise the good in good, heartwarming experiences but slow or even blind to see the same in so-called negative situations and experiences.
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My scars tell a story… They are reminders of when life tried to break me, but failed.

More than often purpose and destiny has thorns on its way up to the ‘rose’.  We must   accept and get pass the thorns to appreciate the rose.  

Dead-ends does not necessarily mean its the end.  Ask Moses who had the Red Sea ahead of him, surrounded by mountains and chased by Egyptians with no way out. 
Detours also don’t mean its time to give up because its taking too long.  Ask the Israelites who travelled through the desert for years on a journey which was suppose to be days but eventually accessed the land of milk and honey.  
I’ve come to believe that our everyday challenges, dead-ends and detours – including a diagnosis – are opportunities and stepping stones to fulfilling greater, beautiful tomorrows.  Purpose. It’s how you and I see it that matters.
So, I will no longer ask “Oh God, why me!?”
I’d rather state the following in faith: “Why not me, God!?”
I will not die in the middle of my destiny.
God’s Got This.
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Cannabis Oil / Chemotherapy / Confession of Faith

Having been diagnosed with cancer one spends very little time considering the treatment plan to be applied.  Let’s face it; we all want to live a long, preferably healthy life. So the purpose of any disease management/treatment plan would be to achieve this aim.  Since no one really knows their end date, we hope that any and all efforts would almost delay this end date to a time we all consider reasonable.

When I first learnt of my diagnosis, the news came with a natural inkling to rely on the medical practitioners for a treatment plan. This inevitably meant medical science would be a great dependency for me.  Little did I know, in days to come, I would be flooded with advice regarding alternative solutions. “Boil this plant with that plant and drink once a day”, “mix this, that and the other and drink on an empty stomach”, “smoke weed bru!”, “cannabis oil works, uncle so-and-so is still alive because of it” … and so the suggestions continued from individuals who were sincere and convinced their proposals work.

I had no qualms getting into a treatment plan sooner than later.

Chemotherapy was the most natural selection for me; even though in hindsight, I can’t recall actually sitting still and making this decision; the progression was natural.  Up until this stage, I had no cooking clue how chemotherapy happened.  I knew about it because it was directly associated with the big “C” but how it’s done was foreign to me. What I did know about chemo was that it makes people sick, dog sick! Or so the people without cancer said. It would keep one from work, make you miserable for days, and vomit…. “prepare to vomit your lungs out” they said.

I must hasten to (respectfully) say and admit that the side effects of chemotherapy may be horrible for some.  It’s a case of different strokes for different folks.  I get that and I empathize with such folk.

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The perfect prick!

The reality is, chemo-drugs are powerful chemicals, taken orally, by injection or intravenously (meaning into the vein), and its aim is to kill fast-growing cells in your body.  Cancer cells are fast growing cells and chemo is aimed at stopping it’s ability to grow and divide/multiply. In the process, it also destroys healthy cells and as a result, not-so-nice side effects may result.

This reminds me of my very first chemo session. The nurse administering the treatment was a stand-in and I’ve since only seen her on one other occasion.  Her encouragement to me was simple, I remember it as if it was yesterday:

“Sir, don’t anticipate becoming sick. If you expect to be sick, you will be sick. You don’t have to become sick.”

Call it mind over matter, call it faith… But given my peaceful disposition as previously described and these wise words, I believed this would be my chemo-journey.

As I pen this blog, I have just passed my halfway mark in treatment and by grace, I honestly cannot claim becoming sick as a result of my treatment.  This has partly been as a result of my oncologist’s wisdom to split my treatment into smaller dosages and because of the mindset I’ve chosen regarding my condition and treatment.  

I don’t know nausea; I’ve had no pain apart from my post-operative pain (which is now long gone) and I don’t know feeling like all life is sapped out of me.  I do know prolonged fatigue, dizziness, pimples all across my head, hiccups for an entire day and having a ‘short fuse’ but this, in my view, cannot be likened to “you will become sick as a dog!”

Many have asked me “so how is chemotherapy done?”

Chemo, at the oncology centre I attend, is done in a big lounge with several people receiving treatment simultaneously.  Imagine 10-plus people all seated in lazyboy chairs, IV (drip) lines either in a vein or via a port in the chest. Some are sleeping, others reading and others snacking on their homemade lunch packs.  Certain days the mood in the lounge is somber and other days it’s noisy and laughter fills the air.  “Patients”, as we are known, come and go as treatments are completed; some are there for the first time and others for the umpteenth.

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The Lounge

Since chemo-drugs may have all sorts of negative effects, the drug itself is given with a host of other drugs to address these potential negative, harmful effects. In my case, I have four other drugs:

  • Firstly, I receive Kytril, an anti-nausea drug.

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    Paclitaxel with the time it will take to ‘run’

  • This is followed by Solu-Medrol, a cortisone used for, amongst other things, possible allergic reactions;
  • Then Cimetidine, an antacid, which addresses the acid build-up which comes from taking medication or for heartburn;
  • Followed by Phernegan, an antihistamine, which knocks me out and gives me the rest needed during treatment.
  • Lastly, Biolyse Paclitaxel, the chemotherapy.  Paclitaxel belongs to the group of cancer-fighting medications known as antineoplastics. Paclitaxel works by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells in my body.

 

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Taking a nap once the Phernegan takes effect

Each of my treatment sessions takes about three and a half hours – from the time a vein is found to the last drop of Paclitaxel drops.  Each treatment is preceded by blood being drawn to confirm whether my white blood cell count is good enough to handle each course of chemotherapy. This is followed by a consultation with my oncologist to discuss anything relating to my condition.  Needless to say, this is an all-day event and for me it happens every Thursday, for three consecutive weeks, and one week ‘break’.

Just last week in the lounge I was listening to a lady describe how, when she knows she’s coming to have chemo, she becomes so anxious, it results in nausea and vomiting.  This is apart from the nausea she experiences often at home as a side effect of the treatment. Anxiety resulting in nausea is not unique to a person with cancer; it’s normal for anyone who is very anxious to feel nauseas. Think about a time when you witnessed something horrible, which makes your heart race, and that sick feeling which comes across your stomach – both healthy and unhealthy people can experience this.  Nausea however could be exaggerated as a result of how one perceives your condition and/or circumstances. Similarly, anxiety is increased by our perceptions.

Whilst listening to the lady referred to, the following ancient yet relevant scriptures came to mind. These words are relevant to our everyday, normal life, which can from time to time, drive our anxiety to levels beyond us:

“Don’t fret or worry (or be anxious, as impossible as this may seem). Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down… Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse… Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4:6-9, Message)

As I conclude this piece, allow me to share some good news. I believe this is an accolade for both the medical staff working with me as well as the MANY people who continue to pray and trust God for my healing.

Since I reached my treatment halfway mark, a non-contrasted (meaning without dye) CT scan was due to determine the status of my condition.  Some context first: after my mastectomy in March 2017, a PET scan revealed the cancer had spread to my lung; two tumours on both top and bottom parts of my lung and around the lining of the lung and it had caused fluid to develop around my one lung. This meant that my condition was classified as stage four (IV).

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A snippet of the CT scan results

The CT scan done last week revealed:

  • My condition is STABLE, meaning the cancer has not spread beyond the places it was found before. This in itself is huge!
  • In addition to this, the fluid around my lung has cleared completely and one of the two tumours on my lung has decreased in size.

The journey continues.

I am grateful.

I have life / a story to tell / hope to share

God’s Got This!

 

God’s Got This.

I was troubled, even perplexed, when we relocated to Johannesburg this time ‘round.  I had made it clear to my family that this move was propelled by the need to increase our household income, become debt free (even though this seemed like a forever mission) and if there’s time, to enjoy life.

With this in mind I arrived and worked in Joburg and my family followed months later in time for our boys, Zach and Eli, to start a new school year at a new school.

Well, this troubled emotion did not go away – it became more intense. See, back in Port Elizabeth where we were surrounded by family and friends, walking in what I believed to be life-purpose, was more do’able.

It seemed reasonably attainable.

It was – – more now.

But in my mind I knew this was practically difficult on a reasonable income in Port Elizabeth (coupled with a debt-noose tied to my neck).

Let me provide further context: So many times in life when life is real tough, we tend to forget about the brighter future we’ve hoped for (when it wasn’t as tough). We often, unknowingly postpone working on our dreams. We are absent from living in the now. The current circumstances derail us from making the most of every opportunity, day, relationship and resource.

Problems paralyse us – In our thinking. In our doing. In our everything.

On one particular day in Joburg, with this troubled feeling meandering in my mind, I remembered a piece I had read in the Bible many, many moons ago. This piece stood out and resounded in my heart as if I had just read it for the first time.  This is an extract thereof:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

Immediately after re-reading this a confidence and hope rose in my heart. See, when we are surrounded and engaged in life’s challenges long enough, we are able to lose our focus in this mental and emotional quagmire and thereby lose sight of the purpose for our lives – that which we believe to be what we suppose to do.

As I continued pondering on these words in Jeremiah, it felt as if a light had broken through in my heart.  With this new found confidence and hope, I thought about my circumstances and told myself: God’s Got This!

Ever since that moment I’ve had an overwhelming confidence and knowing about this statement: God’s Got This! To me it meant I need not be bothered, stressed nor wonder when financial freedom would come, when walking in purpose would prevail and how living in Joburg would make more sense than just earning a salary.

For once I had peace about my future and that of my family.

I had become fully persuaded, as the song writer says “that whatever my lot, God has taught me to say – ‘It is well with my soul’

As days and months passed I journey with this confident, re-assurance in my heart and mind. I would at times encourage colleagues and friends with these same words, having full assurance that God knows, He sees, and He is able to respond appropriately.

In days to come we had to relocate from the rented place we occupied to another rented place within Johannesburg, all in an attempt to cut living expenses.  For my wife and I, this was going to be our 17th move in 12 years of marriage (this is a story for another day).  Now, whenever we moved house, we would never pin family photo’s and nice things on walls because “it was not our place”. We were not prepared to incur the cost of repainting walls whilst we knew it would only last for a year or two until we move again. Some of our belongings remained in boxes and we would cart it along, from house to house.  You may be reading this and can totally relate.  Never would we get to a place of settling down, putting semi-permanent fixtures up and living our best lives in the abode we found ourselves until now.

This time around and after our 17th move, I told my family: “enough of this temporary living”.

We will LIVE here.

We will put up pictures HERE (as insignificant and costly as it may be).

We will make great memories HERE.

We will not tarry. Wonder. Wish we were better off.

We will make the most of every day. NOW.

We will live!

“Build houses…. settle down…. Plant gardens… eat… produce…” – the words of Jeremiah had all become very real to us; it became doing words to me and I had every intention to implement it.  I was no longer prepared to wish on a falling star without living each day. Friends, lets not get lost in that wishful life… or maybe it was only me.

Life is here now, and it needs to be lived now… irrespective of the perceived mess we find ourselves in today. We should not be postponing our happiness for a better day.

And as we journeyed along, little did I know that during this time of living on purpose, my HOPE was being ANCHORED for a time when my boat would be rocked. A time of testing; yet also a time of favour and propelling in purpose.

A bit later in that same chapter, after Jeremiah encouraged the people to settle and build, and despite them being in a foreign country (not home), he provides the following comforting words to them, as if God himself was speaking on that day:

“…For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

Friends, let’s live this life now, despite our worst days, best victories and insurmountable challenges.  Let’s not postpone it.

God’s Got This!

The Naked Truth – by Ronwyn Venturini

Daddy

Percy Felix, our dad

I am a biomedical technologist by profession.  During my time practicing, I have tested everything one can test that comes from the human body – urine, pus, sputum, blood, tissue, etc.  I majored in histology, the study of the microscopic structure of tissues.  My decision to go into this field of study was specifically to help those with cancer.  At the tender age of 12 years I lost my first love to lung cancer – my daddy, heartbeat, my everything – Percy Felix.  I knew from that moment that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people, those close and those who became close just by knowing them by way of a hospital ward, room number, age, gender and sometimes even their address which would be written on a slip of paper and stuck on the white buckets containing their tissue or sometimes, an entire limb.

 

 

The Biomedical Technologist

At the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) during my internship (2007/8).

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever stop to think that the same knowledge I had gained I would use to diagnose my own, let alone my own husband – my safe place, my lover, friend, father to our beautiful sons Zach (7) and Eli (9).  Tony, whom you all have come to know by reading his blogs.

The day the realization of an inverted nipple presented itself to me when he stepped out of the shower, I got cold shivers down my spine!

How could it be? What was I seeing? Is it a bad joke?

Why would he just leave his nipple like that? Was he playing with it just to freak me out?” All these thoughts were rushing through my mind at the speed of lightning! Tony obviously did not have a clue!

My worst was having to ask the difficult question, “what did you do to your nipple?” Tony responded by saying he didn’t do anything to it, of course. I then carried on as normal and just blocked it out. As the days, weeks and months went by, I noticed the nipple did not go back to how it was supposed to be.

I had to come up with a plan to get it checked out – but how?

Tony was always busy and I tried my best to protect him by not alarming him to the fact that he could have cancer.

On a particular day I noticed a mole on his back.  He has many light brown moles but this one had turned black.  This was it!  I had to act fast but, at the same time, I was beating myself up for not speaking up sooner.  The signs were there and I ignored it.

I told him about the mole (obviously because he couldn’t see it).  Still, he was oblivious to the fact that I was panicking inside and needed to get him help as soon as possible.

Zach, our youngest was ill and he had to see our GP.  At the same time I thought let me use this opportunity to get the Dr to look at the mole. So, whilst chatting to the Dr I asked him to take a look at Tony’s back and just set my mind at ease that everything is ok; the mole is just a mole turned black.  Instead our GP advised that we see a dermatologist. I then went ahead and made the appointment.  I was so happy when the dermatologist said it looks ok, nothing to worry about, he will remove it and just send for routine testing.

Phew! How relieved I was but scared because I know what that test would entail and that it could still come back as positive for cancerOnce the mole was removed, I took the gap and asked the dermatologist to look at the nipple.

He looked at it and looked at me and I knew…. this isn’t good.

But for Tony’s sake I remained calm and collected, even when he said “there is a lump behind the nipple”.

Picking up from Tony’s last blog, and knowing that the cancer has spread to his lung, proved how fast time goes by.

I feel like I am on a train traveling faster than the subways can handle.

There is no turning back.

I can’t get off.

This is my reality.

My husband has breast cancer!

I can only do what any wife would do: support, listen, absorb for the both of us what the medical professionals were saying.  The surgeon, radiologist, oncologist, receptionists, even the nurses as we journeyed through one of the hardest times of my life.

How would we tell our boys? 

What was I going to say to them if they asked “is daddy going to die?”

Tony handled it like the hero dad that he is!  But still…. I was dying inside, not knowing where to from here and still having to act strong for his sake as “commissioned” by everyone to do!

If only they knew I was at my weakest!

My family

Our Family

Life in the Venturini home has not been easy.  Trying to keep everything as before and continuing to live as the wife, mother, career woman, student, daughter, sister and friend became increasingly more overwhelming.  Many days I didn’t even know what I had done for that day.

This is a long piece – my side of the story up to now.

It’s not even the half of it but rest assured, I’m getting there.

God’s Got This – He has to whatever that may mean because whom else could I trust.

My faith is strong but also very real!

I sing – it soothes me, gives me some normality in the chaos I find myself in daily with the battle in my mind!

I hold on to our wedding song I chose for the ceremony… Our Best is yet to Come! And this I believe.

Here are the lyrics: Your Latter Will Be Greater                                                                              (Album: Israel & New Breed – New Season)

Verse 1:  Your latter will be greater than your past // And you will be blessed more than you could ask // Despite all that has been done // The best is yet to come // And your latter will be greater // Your latter will be greater // Your latter will be greater, than the rest.

Section 2 : All things are possible, possible Possible, possible // All things are possible, possible // Possible, possible // And your latter will be greater, Your latter will be greater, Your latter will be greater than the rest.

Section 3 : The best is yet to come // The best is yet to come.Oh, the best, is yet, to come //  The King is soon to come // The King is soon to come // Oh, the King is soon to come.

I particularly love section 2 of this song as I’ve witnessed God’s amazing power in my life.

I can only but place my hope and trust in the One who is higher than I.

All things are possible!

God’s Got This!

Hope

This plague is at the look-out point on Knysna Heads, Garden Route, South Africa.  This is one of Tony’s favourite spots to visit whenever we are in that part of the country.  It is a beautiful sight coupled with this fantastic reminder.

More cancer? …. Stage what!?

Prior to starting chemotherapy, several additional tests were required. I allude to this in my last blog, which could be found here. Apart from all the bloods drawn, X-rays and scans, a positron emission tomography (PET) scan is to done. Unlike other imaging tests, such as CT or MRI, PET scans show problems like cancer spread, at the cellular level.  The scan uses a special dye that has radioactive tracers. These tracers are injected into a vein in one’s arm. Organs and tissues then absorb the tracer over about an hour. When I had the a PET done I was comfortable in a lazy-boy chair with minimal movement so as to not attract muscle activity as this would result in a glucose rush to that muscle and a possible incorrect result.

When highlighted under a PET scanner, the tracers help doctors to see how well one’s organs and tissues are working. The PET scan can measure blood flow, oxygen use, glucose metabolism (how your body uses sugar), and much more.

When PET is used to detect cancer, it allows a doctor to see how the cancer metabolizes (processes), and whether it has metastasized (spread) to new areas. PET scans also shows how the tumor is responding to chemotherapy.  credit: healthline.com

So here I am after an overnight fast.

Diagnosed with breast cancer.

Dressed in a green hospital gown and comfortably awaiting an injection of dye in order to have a PET scans done.

As the radioactive dye gets into my bloodstream, I feel nothing. The dye continues to fizzle to every part of the body and takes about an hour to do so. After an hour, I’m ready to have the PET done. This means lying still on my back. Doing nothing but breathe for another hour whilst this table slowly maneuvers through the donut-looking tunnel.

For someone with an active mind like me, this takes serious switching off and fortunately I did.

One has to exercise patience with all these processes; it’s extremely time consuming, demands your everything, to go-slow and affords a lot of ‘thinking time’. I have great respect and admiration for anyone undergoing these tests and treatment in our current, South African public healthcare system. (I hope to talk to the need for the National Health Insurance (NHI) in future.)

The PET scan results would be available in about three days or so but since I’m only seeing my oncologist in about a weeks time, I’ll actually only have feedback then.

Fortunately, I’m offered colour, printed copies of the scans, which with the help of Dr Google, I’m able to fairly accurately interpret by myself. After studying the scans and comparing it to my Internet findings pertaining the matter, I realised there’s trouble.

Since the start of this journey and up until now, I have not feared a thing but by grace I have had an irrevocable conviction – God’s got this; He has my best interest at heart and He will accelerate my life-victories – even through and with cancer.

Now, PET Scans are interesting, nuclear medicine and works as follows:

IMG_0097Before the scan, one receives an intravenous injection of radioactive glucose. Many cancer cells are highly metabolic and rapidly synthesize the radioactive glucose.

In a nutshell, glucose shows up as bright white areas on the scan results. This bright whiteness should only show up in one’s brain, lungs and other areas where glucose normally exist. Any other area indicates cancer because cancer cells feed on glucose and would have “attracted”/ rapidly synthesized the radioactive glucose, thereby exposing itself.

When I looked at my scan results, I noticed bright white areas in places where it should not be.

For a moment my heart raced.

Like fear knocking on my heart.

I refused to let it in.

I reminded myself of my initial conviction and peaceful state as detailed in a previous blog.

Within seconds I felt normal and thought: If this scan were true, I’m sure God’s got even this. Let’s not be naïve – nothing under the sun surprises God. He’s neither caught off-guard by our conditions, our future and concerns. Like a GPS, He’s intentions for us are only good and therefore for our benefit and finite minds, He’s “recalculating the route”.

Given that I’m empowered with knowledge about my condition, I was eager to test my findings against my wife’s knowledge on the matter. Ronwyn however refused to look at the scan print-outs. Little did I know she wasn’t ready for more bad news and probably knew something was wrong given my eagerness.

The day finally arrives when we meet the oncologist to face the music.

Her feedback is short.

“The cancer has spread to the lining, top and bottom sections of your lung”.

She draws a basic image to indicate the locations. She further explains the spread, discuss root causes, treatment plans and the way forward.

Since I had dealt with this feedback before with help from the Internet, this news was a bit shocking but I was somewhat prepared for it.

Critical to the treatment plan was taking a more radical approach in chemotherapy and probably over a slightly longer period. In my mind I’m thinking ‘just cut it out like with the breast’. I therefore engaged the oncologist on the possibility of surgery.

She agrees to discuss this with her colleagues, as surgery would mean opening my chest to access the lung and cutting away parts of it.

This is hectic stuff!

The oncologist further explains that their decision to do surgery would be based on improved longevity of life verses the expected results of chemotherapy.

We leave it at that for the day.

The sun sets over our balcony like any other late Autumn day.

The cancer has spread to my lung.

It’s rated stage four (IV) because it’s advanced (in staging) and metastatic (spreading).

I’m still UNSHAKEABLE.

I’m propelled by desire to represent. Create awareness. Contribute to life and society.

My HOPE is sure.

GOD’S GOT THIS.  He’s faithful and can be trusted.

In memory of my late mom, Catherine Isobel Venturini (nee Deschamps) who trusted God for total restoration of her body until the day she closed her eyes. These lines accurately describes her attitude:

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
He enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

extract from Habakkuk 3:17-19 – New International Version (NIV)

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