Jolanda Myburgh

 In Survivor stories

But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance , and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety.’
Deuteronomy 12:10

Many times in our lives when we come to a resting place – a time of happiness and comfort; we look back over the river – difficult times we had to cross – and then we can see how God was with us through our journey. We also realise how important family and friends are during these difficult times.

I see my experience as three different parts of a journey, the two opposite banks of the Jordan and the Jordan that had to be crossed. The one bank represents the time just before the diagnosis. This is followed by the crossing of the Jordan i.e. the period when I received chemotherapy and also the bone marrow transplant. The other bank is where I am now, a resting place looking back across the Jordan.

The journey commenced in 2006. I started my Masters degree in chemistry at the NMMU (Port Elizabeth). My research project was on “The Development and the Improvement of Chemotherapeutic Agents”. Not once thinking that soon I will be treated with chemotherapeutic agents myself! During that time I had a persistent cough and was constantly itchy. For six months I was treated with different allergy medications until I felt a lump in my neck. After a chest scan and a tissue biopsy I was diagnosed with Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I read the report of the scan and what the possible diagnosis could be. I looked up Lymphoma on the internet and realised that I had so many symptoms. So when the doctor told me that I had Lymphoma I wasn’t at all surprised.

In August 2006 I started with chemotherapy. After 10 months of chemotherapy, I had to go Cape Town for a PET scan. I went to see Dr du Toit at Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic and was told that the scan showed that there was still active cancer and that I would have to move to Cape Town for six months for aggressive chemotherapy and a bone marrow stem cell transplant.

In July 2007 my mother and I moved to Cape Town. Through friends of my mother we were able to stay at Glenvar Bible College. The staff and students were wonderful people and they made the move easier and pleasant.

I was fortunate and blessed to receive an autologous transplant, which means my own stem cells were used for the transplant. Before starting the chemotherapy I had to harvest my stem cells.

The procedure started with a series of growth factor injections which I had to administer myself. I was proud of myself because I am scared of needles and in Port Elizabeth I refused to inject myself (when white blood count is low, you have to be injected with the growth factor). These injections stimulate the bone marrow to produce stem cells. To harvest the stem cells intravenous lines were inserted in both my arms and my blood was filtered through a machine. The machine separates blood and stem cells. The blood returns to your body and the stem cells are collected in a bag. The procedure took 8 hours. The time may vary depending on the amount of stem cells collected. I had to go back the following day for a further 8 hours. The process is not painful and you feel normal while on the machine. I guess the most difficult part is not being able to move around while on the machine. The stem cells were frozen and stored.

After the harvest of the stem cells I could start with chemotherapy. In October 2007 I was admitted to the bone marrow transplant unit. I received my last series of chemotherapy (5 days of chemo) which was followed by receiving my stem cells. This procedure is similar to a blood transfusion. I was quite sick during the month in the transplant unit. I experienced mucositus, diarrhoea, nausea and fevers, but with time everything got better and since my discharge from hospital everything has gone well. So far I have had no problems.

In 2008 I had to have another PET scan. The scan showed that there was still some cancerous activity. After radiation and a splenectomy (an operation to remove your spleen) I am finally in remission. However, I have to mention that there was no cancer on my spleen. What the scan showed was only fibrosis.

When looking back I can see how much there is to be grateful for. God because he remains faithful (‘…He remains faithful, for He cannot deny who He is’ 2 Timothy 2:13) and He is there every step of the way. We don’t have to worry about what is going to happen the next day or in a few months time. God’s love and favour never runs out and He will always be there. It is okay to take things day by. (Lamentations 3:22-23. ‘The faithful love of the LORD never ends, His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning’).

God is my main pillar of strength but I had many helpers who made the journey easier. Without my mother the journey would have been so much harder. Friends and family, my supervisor at university all giving support and help. The nurses, sisters, doctor and the staff at the hospital all made a difference making the stay in hospital was more pleasant because of their care, compassion and guidance.