• “When you push off from the dock … we’re all in the same boat. 
    This isn’t about cancer anymore. It’s about exercise and health and the rest of your life. 
    When we push off we’re paddling away from breast cancer.” 

    - Dr. Don McKenzie, Founder, Abreast In A Boat 
  • “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain!” 

    - Vivian Greene 
  • “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” 

    - T.H. Thompson & John Watson 
  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. 
    The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’ 

    - Nelson Mandela 
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Belles Stories » Eldre Strydom

Eldre Strydom

Life’s short, so go get it!
It took me almost 1 year (the club just turned 1) to write my story. I think the reason being that I wanted to be truthful to myself and everyone reading it. I have a strong need to look back over my journey with cancer and see the golden thread of learning and growth. And only now I can truly say I am there. I have come full circle.

The facts
I was 31 years old when I got cancer. It was on a Wednesday, 15 December 2004 to be precise, when my life changed forever. Things happened fast after that and that following year (2005) saw me going from lumpectomy and removal of my lymph nodes, chemotherapy, radiation, herceptin for a year to zoladex for the next 4 to 5 years.

The emotions
During that first year all I had capacity for was getting my body through the treatments and as a result I completely shifted all the emotional stuff to the side. I just could not deal with that on top of everything else as well. So, come second year (2006), I thought I could just go back to being and feeling normal again and pick up my life where we left it the year before I got diagnosed. Big mistake. My whole world came crashing down on me as I started realising that life would never be the same again. The biggest realisation was that we might never have children and till this day, that’s the most difficult part for me. Not knowing and being on hold. At 34 I’m still receiving hormone therapy (zoladex) each month and will do so for approximately the next 3 years. Our friends are all having children now and last year my 3 best friends all fell pregnant and had babies round about the same time. It was devastating to be part of their joy and my own sorrow. I just couldn’t be there for them as they wanted me to be and they couldn’t be there for me. As a result the friendships suffered. I’ve been on an extensive journey to find the answers to all of my questions, such as, Why I got cancer? What lessons did I have to learn out of my experience? What I needed to change in my life to never get it again. I was not willing to accept that the cancer was a random occurrence and that I did not take some significance out of it. It’s too big for me not to.

What a ride it’s been! When I heard of this group of breast cancer survivors (conquerors) I just knew that this was an experience that I did not want to loose out on. I was a bit apprehensive at first because I’ve never been very sporty and as a teenager I wasn’t one of the cool netball players who got to be friends with all the popular rugby players in the school. I didn’t seem to excel at any sport and eventually gave it all up – being an all or nothing girl. So, what a surprise to find out that although I might not have any ball sense what so ever, that I’m pretty good at paddling! I absolutely love the feeling of freedom and peace that I experience on the water. But it’s also a team sport and the knowledge that we all share the same experience of being tired, driving ourselves past the point where we ever thought we could go and tasting victory – wow, that invigorates me! I have enjoyed every single moment with this remarkable group of women and the fighting courage and spirit they embody.

What do I know now that I did not know before cancer?
I know now how important my husband, family and friends are. No person is an island and we cannot exist on our own. I live because of them, for them and thanks to them. I would not be the person who I am today without them and what they teach me about life and myself.

I know now that I come first and that if I’m not healthy and happy, I cannot make anybody else happy. I’ve learned to love myself and accept myself for the whole me, past and present. I value my health and am more connected to me than I’ve ever been. I look after the physical and emotional me. I exercise, eat healthy and take care of myself.

I know now that I married the best partner for me in the whole wide world. I appreciate the role he plays in my life, the way in which he challenges me and bring out the best and worst in me. I appreciate it that he loves me completely and that he stood by me when it could not have been easy. He’s my soul mate and my hero.

I know now when to say “So what”. I don’t allow stress to take the better of me. I handle it much better and have realised that very few things in life are worth the stress. I know now that I had to get cancer to learn all these valuable lessons. I’ve learned to forgive, to let go, to love myself, to value life and all my blessings.

I know now that a life without lessons is not worth living. For it is after our darkest hour that we see the learning and appreciate the value of it. It’s made me a better person. I’ve grown as a human being and can make a much better contribution to this world and it’s people than before. I have more to give than I ever had. I realised that I have a gift to see the good in all people and a wanting to contribute positively to their lives.

I once met a lady that said she’s glad that she got cancer and that it was the best thing that ever happened to her. I could see the incredible journey, self-knowledge, courage and growth it must’ve taken her to come to that conclusion and I knew that’s where I wanted to be – to be able to have faced all your fears and dragons and come out victorious. Now that’s something. And I’m finally there after 2 years, 4 months, 2 weeks and 4 days. I am no longer just another breath of life, living an insignificant life. I have an important contribution to make, I have lessons to learn, things to do. I have to live for better or for worse. Some people never learn these truths, some people learn it from a divorce or an accident, some people might know this without anything having to happen to them. I had to get cancer to learn this.