Doug Potter shares how his wife, Nelmarie, a breast cancer survivor, learnt to walk ‘life’ again after her treatment and the changes that are now her life, for evermore.
When you are learning to walk as a baby, you learn trust and pain. You fall many times and experience pain when you try on your own, and learn the trust that comes with a parent catching you, and the insecurity of all that is new.
My wife, Nelmarie, is now five years’ cancer free. We are overjoyed that she is healthy and happy. She is still part of the Katherine Trial Study, in JHB, and sweats every time she goes for her check-ups, dreading the immortal question: will the cancer ever return?
I recently asked her if there was any advice that she would give a new patient that was recently diagnosed, and this is what she shared.
Everybody’s cancer is different
You should trust your doctor and their treatment plan. Too many times you have that friend wanting to give you advice that she read somewhere, full of doom and gloom. Her intention might be in the right place but stay with your doctor’s plan.
Your life will change
It will never be the same. Each of us have our private battle against cancer and the road ahead will not be easy. If you ever watched a rugby match, the players are knocked down but they get up again. Other times, the knock is too hard that takes a while before they get up again. But, they will always get up. You too will be knocked down, but you have to push forward, get up and meet your cancer head on.
How to push forward
I grew up on a farm in Thabazimbi so here is my farm life experience as an analogy. A donkey driving its passengers to the market has blinders on and doesn’t look left or right, only forward.
And, if you ever see a group of horses running, the Alpha mare has her ears pointed forward. All the other horses, except her, are focused on the surrounding noise, instead of the goal.
You too, as a patient, must only look forward because like they say in The Lion King, “The past is the past and this is your new life now.”
You will learn what grateful really means I was raised by a mom that taught me to be grateful. But, the loss that I experienced took that to a new level. From losing all my eyebrows and eyelashes to not being able to watch my daughter’s netball game because of the wind, or not being able to visit a friend’s farm because of the dust.
Being grateful for the ability to sleep through the night, because, at times, the pain your body is fighting makes it impossible to sleep.
Loss becomes a regular in your life
From the friends that you make at the clinic that you no longer see to physical loss, like having great veins to draw blood to then looking like you got attacked by a cactus after the nurse’s seventh attempt to find a vein for treatment.
Positivity is your friend
When Doug asked me, “After completing the 35 radiation and 32 chemo treatments, did you ever feel like giving up?” My response was “Giving up was never an option. If they told me that I had a one in a million chance to survive then I was going to be that one.”
There is a light at the end of the tunnel
This year, I will see my youngest daughter graduate from high school and next year my oldest daughter from university. I still battle with pain. Though, not as intense as before. But, the pain has become a reminder of what I have survived. Like a soldier running his hand over an old bullet wound in his leg, this pain would be my reminder that I survived.
Not all questions have answers
Doug once asked me if I ever wondered why I was chosen to have cancer, or if I ever asked, “Why me?” To be honest, I’m not sure, but this walk has brought me closer to God. Closer to my girls and family and taught me a lesson of gratefulness and compassion that I could never have learned before.
This walk was full of pain and full of fear but when I fell to my knees to pray like a child learning to walk, I learned all the answers…for me.
MEET THE AUTHORS – Doug and Nelmarie Potter
Dr Doug Potter has been married to Nelmarie for two and a half years. Nelmarie was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago and is a true survivor. Doug’s goal is to be the kind of person his dog thinks he is and Nelmarie’s is to have the vision to see the smallest of blessings.