The story of us – Johannesburg couple beats cancer

Matthew and Kim Grossett was a picture perfect couple with an adorable six year old son. Matthew was diagnosed with testicular cancer. After beating this ordeal, the family was in for another shock when Kim was diagnosed with breast cancer, a few years later. Fortunately, their story is one of triumph and learning to lean on one another and has a happy ending.

Matthew’s story

Matthew was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 2002. Upon discovering a pea-sized lump in his testicle, he went for an ultrasound and the diagnosis was confirmed immediately. He underwent surgery five days later, followed by radiation and oral chemotherapy. “My diagnosis was a huge shock. I was the epitome of good health and in peak physical condition as I was training for the Cape Epic Mountain Bike Race. I had a high powered corporate job, working around the clock and we had a young son and a wonderful life ahead of us, when the diagnosis completely changed my life,” says Matthew.

After being diagnosed and treated for cancer, he decided that he wanted to run his own business and be in control of his own destiny. The couple decided that they would like to go into the health and wellness industry. “We were in Morningside Cycles one morning and I was chatting to a friend about owning a business, when one of them informed us that the Run Walk For Life (RWFL) Group was up for sale. Within one week, we had maxed out our bond, overdraft and sold whatever we could, to buy RWFL. It was the best day of our lives when we finally took ownership of our own business,” he states.

He has been cancer free for twelve years.

Kim’s story

Kim lost her mother to breast cancer at the age of 56, so she has always been vigilant about checking for any lumps or abnormalities.

“Over the years, I discovered several lumps which I had checked out and they turned out to be nothing to worry about it. In December 2010, I had a large lump in my breast which the doctors always assumed was a fluid-filled cyst. We were about to leave for a beach holiday and I thought I should have it drained as it was quite uncomfortable! The cyst turned out to be a 8×4 cm area of ductal carcinoma,” says Kim.

She saw Dr Benn immediately and after undergoing more tests, they decided to perform a double mastectomy, in January 2011. “At the time of doing the mastectomy, it was decided that I would require a lattisimus dorsi flap to enable a successful and aesthetically pleasing reconstruction. Within six months, I had a full three-stage reconstruction. Fortunately, the cancer was contained and it was not hormone sensitive, so I didn’t need radiation, chemotherapy or hormone therapy,” recalls Kim.

At the time of her diagnosis, she was running all the financial and administrative departments at RWFL and owned her own physiotherapy practice, “With the challenge of juggling the demands of being a wife, mother and career woman something had to give. Short of it being something as dramatic as a cancer diagnosis, nothing would have changed either of our lifestyles,” she admits.

Telling our only child

“Michael was only eight when his dad was diagnosed and we have always had a policy of telling him the truth in an age-appropriate way. We explained why Daddy was so tired sometimes and that the medicine was fighting the cancer cells so he could be strong again,” states Kim.

When his mom was diagnosed, Michael was 16. Again, he was informed and he was kept up to date on all developments.

“Both times, we informed his school, St Stithians Boys College, and they were the most wonderful support for him too.

He came with us to see Dr Benn and she explained everything to him and gave him contact numbers if he had any questions. We gave him all the information and statistics on my type of cancer, so that he knew exactly what we were all dealing with,” says Kim.

Michael had to grow up quickly. He developed a sense of maturity that could only come with having experienced the trauma of a parent getting diagnosed with cancer. His best friend’s mom also had breast cancer and the boys were able to talk to each other which was a great source of support for Michael.

Michael is 19 years old now and he will go for genetic testing. He follows a good healthy eating and exercise regime and he goes for regular check-ups to ensure early detection of any form of cancer.

The power of support

We cannot underestimate the power of support, for patients going on their journey through cancer diagnosis and treatment. “We have the most wonderful friends and family, who all just arrived and took over the running of our home. We had friends who would come and help me to bath or wash my hair. More than that, it was our friends who looked after Matthew and Michael, when I was sick, and Michael and I, when Matthew was sick. It is often the caregiver who takes the most strain and they also need to be asked: “ How are you doing? What can I do to help you,?” says Kim.

Life after cancer

The Grossetts believe that their battle with cancer had a very positive influence on their lives and owning RWFL has been the answer to their dreams.

“Through RWFL, we have been able to touch many lives of cancer survivors. Staying fit and slim is vitally important to maintaining good health. We have done many CANSA relay-for-life events around the country, fun runs for Hospice, CHOC, Avon Ithemba Crusade of Hope, among others, so that we can give back to a cause we are really passionate about,” says Kim.

As far as the physiotherapy practice is concerned, Kim is working extensively with breast cancer survivors, rehabilitating them to optimise function after their surgery. It involves deep massage (myofascial releases), stabilisation and strengthening exercises. It has made a huge difference to my mobility and function. I am so desperate to help other women to feel as good as I do. I have never been so pain free, mobile and strong as I am now,” states Kim.

Their lives have changed irreversibly now. They have both learnt

to not sweat the small stuff and that it is very important to look after their bodies.

“We all eat a healthy diet (occasional take-aways on weekends), exercise regularly (five times a week, minimum) and take frequent breaks (with the cellphones turned off). More than that, we cherish the time we have together and frequently indulge in spending time on our own, to recharge. We all try to keep our stress levels at an acceptable level, which does have its challenges, as we are all Type A personalities. When one of us is stressing out, we rely on each other to bring a sense of normality and reality back to the situation,” says Kim.

Perhaps, the greatest advice they can give anyone is to be vigilant about their health. Go for your annual check-ups as early detection gives a far better prognosis. Remember that cancer can be cured and the earlier one starts with treatment, the better.

You have a responsibility to your family to look after your health.

Eat properly, (visit www.eatforlife.co.za); exercise at least five times a week for an hour, (www.runwalkforlife.com); and have yourself tested,” concludes Kim.

Written by Anelle Hamilton

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