A health scare had me frozen on the spot for months but now, I finally feel like I can start 2017 afresh.
A health scare in China
In March this year, Sean and I moved to China where he started a new job at an international school in Changzhou. 2017 was going to be our year: we would get ahead of our finances and start building our future. I finally had enough money saved up to support my family back home and to start freelancing full-time.
Then the doctor found a tumour in my left kidney.
It was a freak accident that she found it. If it hadn’t been for China’s mandatory health check policy for foreign workers, I would probably never have known that it was there. After the first CT scan (I’ve had four this year), the doctor wasn’t sure if it was cancer or not, but he recommended that I come in the following week to remove the kidney.
A second opinion
Luckily, the school stepped in and said: Wait a minute. Why don’t you go to Hong Kong for a second opinion? Hence the whirlwind trip to one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited:
The doctor in Hong Kong confirmed it: there’s a tumour in my left kidney, as well as two teratomas – weird, hairy, toothy growths – one on each ovary. The teratomas were benign, but the doctor said there was a 90 percent chance that the kidney tumour was malignant. (Another doctor would later say that it’s an 80 percent chance.)
Can you see me freaking out yet?
Again, luckily the Hong Kong doctor was too expensive, and I was back to square one. I say “luckily” because he was only prepared to take out the tumour in the kidney, and I would’ve had to seek out a gynecologist to take out the teratomas. And let me tell you, now that I’ve had the surgery, I don’t think I would have gone back for a second one. No ways. Wild horses and all that. You would’ve had to club me over the head and drag me back to the hospital kicking and screaming.
Helloooooo Joburg (and Pretoria)!
So my family-in-law suggested that I do the operations in South Africa. My mother-in-law was fantastic. She found and set up appointments with two different hospitals. Furthermore, she managed to convince the urologist and the gynecologist to work on me at the same time. So, on Wednesday, 3 May, I booked myself into the Pretoria Urology Hospital after only having the consultation that Monday. People who know me say they can’t believe how quickly I made the decision, but after waiting for two months to get these creepy bastards out of me, I didn’t want to wait any longer.
Hell yes for robotic surgery
The two urologists took out the tumour in my kidney using robotic surgery. The robot is called Da Vinci, and it’s quite interesting to see how they do it:
Warning! Not for squeamish viewers!
During the past two months I’d consulted four doctors who were divided about treatment. Two doctors wanted to take out the whole kidney, while the other two said only a partial nephrectomy would be necessary.
Thank goodness I went for the second option, because …
It wasn’t cancer!
After the operation, the hospital sent my tumours away for a biopsy, and it turns out that the 10 percent (or 20 percent) chance of it not being cancer prevailed. I don’t have cancer, I’m tumour free!
When friends become family
I’m not someone who likes to talk about my stuff. As I’m writing, I’m contemplating deleting this blog post, because the last thing I want is an outpouring of sympathy or condolences or what what. I only told a handful of people, and if you weren’t one of them, please don’t feel bad. Of the handful, about two or three had to drag it out of me (you know who you are). I hate that look people get in their eyes when you tell them bad news. I’m a sunshine writer, I like spreading good cheer.
My army of get-well-soon soldiers
However, I could not have done any of this without my friends, near and far, and my family-in-law. Sean’s stepmom was by my side every day. She waited for me while I came out of theatre, she drove to Pretoria multiple times a day to check on me, and she paid all my bills in full and on time. More than that, she fielded my calls and got hold of my mother – not an easy task – and was a firm shoulder to cry on without once feeling sorry for me. I needed that, her no-nonsense, no-sympathy, we’re-going-to-get-through-this attitude.
I didn’t know how much my friends cared for me me until I had a health scare. My one friend arrived at the hospital with freshly baked scones and fig jam, even though I couldn’t have any, just because I asked her to. Two more friends visited every night, bringing chocolate and good cheer. Friends who are far sent me constant words of encouragement and ordered snacks from Woolies, and others took turns visiting and bringing me gifts – like the craziest over-sized slippers ever!
“You are one of the most independent people I know,” one of my best friends (the slippers-bearer) told me afterwards.
“No, I’m not,” I retorted.
“Yes, you are, you went through this all alone.”
“I wasn’t alone, I had all of you guys.”
“Annetjie, you were alone.”
Your friends are the family you choose for yourself, and I am the most privileged woman in the world to have the people I have in my life.
This year has not been a complete waste of time so far
So, I didn’t blog as much or write as much as I wanted to do this year, but I’m not going to dwell on that. I am busy recovering from my surgery, taking it one day at a time. Financially I’m fucked; I’m going to be repaying this debt until I’m 40, but at least I’m cancer-free.
I’ve been struggling a bit with what I guess you could call survivor’s guilt. Now that I know that it wasn’t cancer, I wonder if I hadn’t been a bit too dramatic. Perhaps I should have left it, I think, usually when I see the bills piling up or when I realise that I can’t send my mom as much money as I would like to do. But at least I’m healthy and able to work, which I’m itching to do.
In fact, it’s just the beginning
Despite all of that, I’m starting the year afresh. Sometimes in life you need a reset button. You need to stop and think about the path you’re on. Perhaps now I can throw myself in my writing. This health scare has made me evaluate who I am and what I mean to the people in my life. When you’re lying in a hospital bed with nothing but your catheter for company, you tend to think about these things.