Battle with cancer: the tough choicesComment on this story
The country has been mourning the death of courageous politician Mario Ambrosini, who went public with his battle against cancer and his fight to undergo alternative medical treatment into management of pain. His family confirmed that he took his life last Saturday after deciding he could no longer endure the pain. Well-known KwaZulu-Natal personality Peter Ferraz, a former journalist and founder of the Splashy Fen Music Festival, tells about his own battle against cancer and how he plans to deal with it.
Pietermaritzburg - months ago I was in a pretty good place. I had celebrated my 75th birthday; my wife Almary and I had celebrated 50 good and always interesting years of marriage; we were both in good health and I had enjoyed lots of walking in the beautiful Underberg mountains, having always enjoyed a natural fitness.
In February two of my four daughters and I had undertaken a wonderful wilderness hike in the Kruger Park, and in April I had seen in a quarter century of the Splashy Fen Music Festivals which I had been involved in starting.
And then, two days after the conclusion of the festival, I found myself in intensive care in a Pietermaritzburg hospital, with the dread words fresh in my ears: “It’s cancer of the pancreas, I’m afraid.” The following day I had only half a pancreas left, and some dire possibilities ahead.
Despite the mogginess resulting from anaesthetics and painkillers, I surprised myself by coming to an almost immediate decision, and one taken with almost no second thoughts: I would not go through with the indignities and unknown terrors of chemotherapy and radiation. My only treatment would be for pain management – which so far is working well.
Almary and I and the four girls are off next week to climb and scramble about in Zimbabwe’s Matobos National Park... my favourite place on the planet.
An e-mail I sent to family and friends from my hospital bed still holds true, so I will take the liberty here of quoting from it.
“Whew! Bolt from the blue here! So, here I’m sitting up in a hospital bed and will try to make some sense of it all.
“First of all a quick response to the messages of support received – you can have no idea, absolutely no idea, how much they have meant to me and especially to Almary, who has a far bigger emotional load to carry than I do… either way we feel overwhelmingly wrapped in the love and support of many, many unbelievable friends. You’re so good! And don’t forget also how much it has meant to our four girls and their families.
“After experiencing several months of chest and abdominal pains, and many tests and scans that threw up in turn suspected Bornholm’s disease (The Devil’s Gryppe), large hiatus hernia (real enough but only of minor importance now) a CT scan brought out the real culprit – cancer of the pancreas.
“After the operation the remaining pancreas was clear, but unfortunately there was some spreading to two lymph nodes. So, bottom-line scenario is maybe anything from two months to two years (but I wouldn’t even like to rule out 20!) of a relatively okay life.
“There are lots of positives, so I’ll list them briefly:
“1 Nobody can deny that I’ve had a bloody good life so far… above average. So I have no anger or bitterness about this timing, and know I will cope with it.
“2 This is probably the best way to shuffle offstage, when you think about it. We all like to think it would be nice to go suddenly – lightning, heart attack etc – but it is also terribly inconvenient. We’re never ready for it, and especially the tidying up of finances etc can mean hell for the rest of the family. There’s too much that can have been rounded off better.
“3 Emotionally. Saying goodbye. This is by far the best route. Your friends and family get to remember you the way you were in your prime. There are still a wonderful number of laughs and fun times to be shared, and a lot of time for everyone to get fully to grips with what’s going on.
“4 The Great Love Story. I have for a long time carried in my head a quote from CS Lewis. Lewis’s wife got cancer and, distraught, he came out with an amazing statement: “The pain is part of the pleasure.”
For him this huge consuming love was brought into ultra-sharp definition by the awful pain he, and she, experienced. Does this make sense? It does for me.”
Independent on Saturday