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TRAINING for the upcoming Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour takes time, energy and stamina. Now imagine doing all that while going for weekly chemotherapy sessions to battle cancer.
That’s the reality for 31-year-old Helen Harder, who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer just over a year ago. But she’s not letting anything stop her from finishing Sunday’s tour and proving that there is still life with cancer.
“I want to raise awareness, but also show the people what one can do while getting chemo,” said Harder. “Nowadays, cancer is not a death sentence. Accept the challenges you get in life and face them. That’s what I’m doing.”
Before moving from Germany to South Africa, Harder visited her doctors for the usual check-ups. Everything was fine. That was in November of 2010. On February 11, 2011, doctors gave her the shock of a lifetime.
“I had the typical reaction,” said Harder when she got the news. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought ‘this can’t happen to me’. I live a healthy life, I eat my fruits and vegetables.”
But she said that soon after she received a second opinion, learning that the cancer had also spread to her liver and lymph nodes, a survival instinct took over.
“You have to react and adapt,” said Harder.
The following month her boyfriend, Alwyn Badenhorst, completed the 2011 Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour in her honour. This year, they will do it together despite her undergoing her second round of chemotherapy.
Harder started on the first chemotherapy trial shortly after she was diagnosed and her body reacted well. The side effects were what she had to deal with. She lost her hair, something she said wasn’t a nice thing, “but we all know it is part of chemo”.
Unfortunately, after six months on the trial, her body resisted the treatment. Her doctors moved her to a second trial, this one targeted to her specific type of cancer. The side effects were much worse.
“I got really bad skin rashes and acne, my mouth was dry, my stomach upset, you name it,” said Harder. After the first four weeks, she coped with the treatment better, and continued to prepare for the Cycle Tour.
Harder knows that she has to be cautious with her training plan. She said that she doesn’t want to push herself too much, so she rides twice a week, jogs regularly and does Pilates.
“I am so blessed with wonderful families and circles of friends,” said Harder. “And Alwyn loved and supported me all the way through, no matter how I looked or felt.”
Harder’s cancer is now 75 percent gone, but she still goes every Thursday for treatment. This Thursday will be no exception. She said she was nervous about the race and hoped that it would not be too windy.
She knows, however, that she can finish it. The Pink Drive, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving breast cancer awareness, education and providing services to women across the country, will be cheering for her as one of its team members.
But she knows that no matter what happens, she will continue to fight the cancer that appeared in her body just over a year ago. Harder goes for her next cancer scan a week after Sunday’s ride and said that she lives her life to the fullest, but doesn’t worry about what she cannot change.
“I look forward to the day I can call myself a survivor.”