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!?

reality

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.
Scars 1

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.
Testicular

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.

    IMG_0972

    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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Scars Tell Stories – accepting my new normal

I was scheduled to be in theatre exactly a week after my diagnosis. I generally do not fear theatres; I actually prefer general anesthetic over local – for just about anything. My reasoning is simple: (doctor,) do what you have to do whilst I’m “out”.  Then clean up the mess and let me wake up.   And that’s exactly what was scheduled to happen – or so I thought.

The original plan as discussed with the surgeon was to do a total right mastectomy, then, together with other specialists, see what the extent of the cancer spread to the lymph nodes in my armpit was.  We already knew from preliminary tests that the sentinel node (nodes closest to the tumour) was infected and that its removal was inevitable. We however did not foresee major spread; maybe two or three other lymph nodes but certainly not more than that.

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Within private healthcare (an area I’m connected to for most of my working life and which I hope to write about later) we are fortunate to have specialists and superior healthcare facilities readily available in all major cities. As a result,  I was fortunate to have a pathologist in theatre that was able to immediately test the malignancy of lymph nodes as it was removed.  Upon removal of the sentinel lymph node and four other nodes, the specialists realised the cancer had spread beyond these and therefore continued to remove more lymph nodes. A total of 12 were removed – that’s just about the whole lot located in my armpit. Doctors refer to it as a radical axillary excision.  This additional surgery therefore resulted in a longer than usual theatre time. Two and half-hours later I’m wheeled out of theatre, oblivious to what had just happened.

Now, regarding the removal of my total breast – my reasoning is similar to bidding farewell to a deceased loved one at a funeral (I know, it’s a weird comparison, but hear me out):

That which was, is no more. I appreciate the role it had played but since it is no more and I still have breath, it’s time to adapt to the new normal, and move on.

Now don’t be fooled, it is easier said than done.

The challenge with not adapting means one is stuck in the past: longing for, weeping, not accepting, and ultimately regressing.  The blessing of accepting the new normal may mean new horizons, scope to grow, opportunity and possible fulfilled purpose.


Scars 1I remember taking off my oversized t-shirt in front of the bathroom mirror and being shocked at the sight of no breast. This happened a few times. The sight of stitches across my chest and armpit, was weird to see. I would genuinely skrik at the sight!

Whilst getting dressed one morning, my nine-year-old son, Eli, asking me: “ …but dad, was it really necessary for them to remove your nipple; could they not put the nipple back after removing the cancer?” His younger brother Zach, who heard the question, retorted quickly before I could. His response made me laugh. “Would you rather have a dead dad or one without a nipple?” This chirp reminded me not to under-estimate the intellectual capacity of kids.  It further made me aware of the importance of discussing and involving our children in this life-altering occurrence.  Someone once said: “life lessons are not taught to kids, they are caught by kids.”

Now back to my post-operative recovery:

I always joked about wanting to be admitted to hospital. But my intention then was to rest, chill, watch TV and so forth – as if hospitals are hotels!  So here for once,  I had all that I joked about plus a menu of food to select from.

On my first day of recovery an elderly cancer support group volunteer visited me. Her words were warm, her smile beautiful and she carried a gift and loads of brochures for my education. Little did I know, the gift – a little blue pillow which one places in the armpit for comfort – would come in very handy during my recovery (my “baby” as I was teased for carrying it all over with me). This brief, yet warm encounter with a total stranger reminded me that I’m not alone in this battle.

Balsam KopivaThe days ahead, both in hospital and at home, meant bathing without stretching, tons of resting, slow movements to avoid jerks and sleeping on my back. It also provided loads of time to read, research and consider where this journey would take me.

Weeks prior to the diagnosis I believe God had placed a confidence in me to trust in His guidance, supremacy and favour.  It was at this rather tumultuous juncture in my life where #GodsGotThis resounded in my bones.  Little did I know that this very confidence and declaration of faith would become my anchor in weeks to come. I hope to speak about this soon.

In the meantime, the scars across my chest and armpit continued to heal. Healing as if it was readying to tell a story.

The grabbing feeling in my armpit started fading.

A treatment plan was approaching – chemotherapy.

More tests…

Tests to check for cancer spread to other parts of my body.

Was it going to be a time to face the facts and fear?

…or continue in confident hope?

I was being prepared to tell my story… the story I did not know I’d tell.

“…tribulation produces perseverance;  and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint…”

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To read more about my story, please see: http://www.godsgotthisweb.wordpress.com

The Balloon Effect – People make People fly

My aim with blogging was to tell the clinical, cold detail of my journey with cancer but as I write I realise there’s a softer, warmer, very encouraging part I must write about.  This “must tell bit” I was only going to share much later but the last mountain of support from different people, has encouraged me to write the following sooner.  If you’ve encouraged me in anyway, please read this.

If this is your first time reading my writings, please read the rest here:  https://godsgotthisweb.wordpress.com/

mood-balloons-bulbs-girl-silhouette-nature-grass-green-sky-background-wallpaper-widescreen-full-screen-widescreen-hd-wallpapers-background-wallpaperI have been fortunate to receive tremendous love, support, comradery, ubuntu, care… from both family and friends on this journey as.  I call this “The Balloon Effect”.

As children, we played with balloons.  The aim was to keep the balloon airborne for as long as possible.  It must not touch the ground.  We would jump, run, kick and scream in our efforts to keep the balloon afloat.  Now, the balloon itself has some ability to keep itself up in the air, but it cannot do this forever, by itself.

People are like balloons.

I’m like a balloon. 

My life experience has toughened me to a great degree to weather storms. This is not unique to me; we all face and have faced great personal storms.  As a result of us overcoming past challenges, we have a certain capacity and tenacity within us to overcome life’s challenges and stay afloat… like a balloon.  I particularly like thinking about the life of a biblical character, David. At an early age whilst he tends sheep, he is able to overcome a bear and a lion in protection of his family’s valuable livestock. On another day, he stretches forth and takes food to his brothers whilst they are participating in war. There he offers to fight Goliath on their behalf, a powerful, fear-inspiring chap in the opposition army. 

David takes Goliath down, largely because of the confidence and courage he’s built in previous battles.

Our previous battles prepare us to be greater conquerors later. We have a great degree of courage within.  Then, when others come beside us in encouragement, our courage is given a boost, and our balloons stay afloat.

Let me get back to the balloon effect:

There is something indescribable when those around me – friends, family, colleagues and even strangers – assist in keeping “my balloon afloat”.  The words of encouragement, prayers, little gestures and assistance from people is like a group of kids, stretching themselves to help keep my balloon in the air. 

The further effect of this process is that life just seem so much more liveable for me; the challenges are less challenging, and HOPE is kept alive.

I’ve often been on the giving end in life. I don’t say this boastfully.  I love giving.  Giving to make life more liveable for others gives me great joy. We should never underestimate the power of giving to others.  It’s personally liberating.  Winston Churchill said it this way: “ We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” 

Now that being said, I am thoroughly enjoying being on the receiving end of this process.  I am often left speechless by the length and breadth people have gone to support me and to keep me afloat. These efforts by others has enabled me to fly higher.  It has also encouraged me to tell my story and in so doing, encourage others.  See, there’s a beautiful cyclic effect in all of this. And I’m loving it.

Be encouraged friends.

Whenever you can – stretch forth and be that person who will bump up someone else’s balloon… like kids do. The balloon bump you are about to do may seem small to you but the effect on the recipient may be indescribable.

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