My story: A Stump with a band of iron and brass.
I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia on 17 November 1999. I was forty two years old. Up to then I had hardly ever been ill; I was at first filled with a sense of disbelief, which turned to a sense of shock as the news sunk in. I felt numb. Am I going to die? Am I going to die? The question kept milling through my head.
I eventually came to see my illness as gift, not one I would like to receive again, but one I would always be grateful for because 17 November 1999 was the day I received a promise from God.
I believe there are many pathways to God – mine happens to be through Christianity. One of the first things I put into the suitcase I packed for the hospital on that warm Wednesday afternoon, was my Bible. I hadn’t read for some time. That evening, in my unfamiliar hospital room, after a barrage of tests, after visits from doctors and psychologists, after seeing the confusion in my six year old son’s eyes as he handed me a drawing he made at school and noticing my husband was holding back his tears, when all was quiet, I picked up my Bible. It opened up in chapter four in the book of Daniel.
I read about King Nebuchadnezzer who had a dream. He dreamt of a big, beautiful tree in the middle of the earth under which the beasts of the earth had shadow and in which the birds of the earth nested. Then came a voice from heaven which cried aloud, “Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches. Nevertheless, leave the stump of his roots in the earth, with a band of iron and brass round it … Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s hear be given unto him: and let seven times pass over him”.
Daniel explained to the king that he himself was the tree in his dream and that God had decreed that he will be driven from his home and was to live in the veldt with the animals for seven years. However, his kingdom will be given back to him once he gave the glory to God and the tree would grow again, bigger and more beautiful than before.
To me this was a clear message of regeneration, of life given back; I felt God had made me a promise. I held on to the image of a growing tree, of life resurgent through new leaves sprouting, during the next eighteen months. I believed I was going to be healed. I believed I would see my son grow up -Eighty percent of the time.
Twenty percent of the time I had real doubts. What if I misinterpreted the message in Daniel 4? What if I imagined a promise from God because I wanted to believe I would be healed? What if there was no God? Each time something inside me said, “Trust Me, I am with you”. My belief was sorely tested when, after being in remission for ten months, I learned that the cancer had come back. On 17 November 2000, exactly one year after my diagnosis, I walked into Garden City Clinic again to start a second five month period of chemo treatment. It was during this period that I told my excellent physician, Dr Paul du Toit, that I wanted to go for the bone marrow transplant I had up to then resisted.
I was referred to the exceptional Professor Jacobs at the Constantia Berg Clinic in Plumstead, Cape Town. In January 2001 I was in remission again after chemo, but my bone marrow was regenerating slower and slower after each new chemo session. I needed to find a donor fast. My brothers and sisters were tested but none of them were compatible. They started looking overseas. I was warned there was no guarantee they would find a donor at all, but even if they did, it could take up to three months or more.
Again my belief was tested. What if they didn’t find one? What if time ran out? As it was, it became more and more difficult to complete the four kilometers I jogged every other day. The tension was at times unbearable. But each time I was buoyed by the promise I believed I was given. I meditated often and kept the image of bright new green leaves bursting from the bud alive in my mind.
Then after four weeks came the news; they had found a donor in France! After only one month! I was so happy.
I had my transplant on 26 April 2001. For some reason I decided to read the book of Daniel from beginning to end at the time. Three days after the transplant, I read Daniel 4 again. As I read the same words I had read in that hospital room eighteen months ago, I perceived the new bone marrow as the life-giving sap of a tree. I saw it pushing through my veins. I knew then that I was going to make it. The ordeal was over. The next day Professor Jacobs came with the good news; the bone marrow was growing.
Yes, there were still many ups and downs after that, and, yes, it took a year before I felt my old self again but I have been extremely healthy since. It has been almost ten years since I was diagnosed the first time. I live a completely normal busy life and have seen my son grow up to be a talented, lively, stubborn, opinionated, difficult oh, such a lovely teenager. I feel blessed to have felt the presence of God so keenly. I am so lucky to be alive. I am grateful to Dr. du Toit, Professor Jacobs and his wonderful team and the generous French donor, who gave me a second chance.
I was inspired by other Leukaemia survivors and I would like my story to give hope to those still struggling with the disease.