MarlenéWhen the specialist phoned and asked me and Sonja, my ex-wife, to come and see him, we really thought he was just going to ask our approval to operate on our daughter Marlené, as she had a nerve stuck in her lower back that needed to be removed. That wasn’t the case. When we arrived, he showed us her scans and informed us that she had what looked to be a malignant tumour. We were advised to travel to Cape Town and have a specialist do a biopsy. I was too shocked to react. Sonja started crying and asked why this was happening to us. Ironically we were given this diagnosis on the eighteenth anniversary of the death of another daughter.

It was only halfway back home that I finally absorbed that my daughter was seriously ill. I pulled the car over and started crying.

Taking Marlené to Cape Town for the biopsy was very tough on me. Not only was I thinking that I could lose another child, but the anxiety and fear on her face was almost too much for me to bear.

Throughout the whole ordeal of commuting between home and Cape Town for Marlené’s chemotherapy and radiation, I managed to remain calm and collected thanks only to God’s helping hand over me. I had to build a wall around me that allowed me to focus on being strong for my daughter, who had managed to remain positive through it all.

One particular day will remain with me always. In the past Marlené had always been so positive and ready to go for her chemotherapy sessions, but this time when she saw Groote Schuur a look of fear crossed her face. It was as though she realised she was wasting her time continuing with the treatment and that the end was near. She begged us not to take her as she no longer wanted to go for chemotherapy. Out of desperation we tried to convince and motivate her not to give up, but she was adamant that she did not wish to continue the treatment. Inside she must have known that the chemo wasn’t working and was no longer as positive as before.

We still admitted her into hospital that day, but I sensed something was wrong.. During our lunchtime visit Marlené cracked, pulled all the drips out and started crying. We asked the doctor on call to discharge her and we made an appointment to come and see the consultant the next morning. At the appointment the consultant informed us there was nothing more they could do for her, except try different chemotherapies to lighten the pain, but Marlené had had enough and wanted no further treatment.

I could not believe the peace I saw on her face when she said it.

After the consultant had explained all the difficulties that lay ahead, Marlené was fully discharged and we headed home.

It was extremely difficult to let her make that decision, but she was the one with cancer and the final decision lay with her. One should always respect the wish of a cancer patient and go beyond one’s ability to try and fulfill their desire.

And Marlené’s wish was to die at home under the tender care of her parents, and we acceded to her wishes, despite the hardship of watching her slip away.

I started to drink heavily, trying to numb myself from reality. I was permanently frustrated and felt so helpless, which led to fights with Sonja and our other daughter, Zanne-Marié. I couldn’t bear seeing Marlené in so much pain and despite all the pain medication she was taking, there was no relief for her. On two occasions I came close to overdosing her, just to free her from the pain, but could never follow through with it.

Marlené with her familyOne day, she called us into her bedroom and divided her few possessions between her mom, her sister and I and asked for the minister. She had made her peace and was ready to go. Marlené passed away on Sunday, 5 July 2009 at 9:15 with a smile on her face and surrounded by her family. I,too, was at peace, knowing that my daughter was no longer in pain and that her wish to be with God had been fulfilled.

Marlené planned her own funeral to the last detail and made it clear that it was to be a celebration of her life, not a sad affair. No one was allowed to wear black. She was clearly loved by the Oudtshoorn community and was celebrated in a beautiful send-off.

After the funeral reality kicked in and I realised my great loss. I felt that I hadn’t appreciated her enough while I had her. I had to live with the guilt that I didn’t spend as much time with her as I could have. Why hadn’t I noticed earlier that there was something wrong with her? Wasn’t there more I could’ve done for her?
I felt a total failure as a father.

I fell into a deep depression and no longer wanted to live. Nothing made sense anymore. On Marlené’s birthday, I fled to my brother in Pretoria as I could not face seeing people with pain and sympathy in their eyes.

My brother found me in the room with the gun in my mouth, ready to commit suicide. Something stopped me, though, and I think in a way Marlené was there, looking over me and preventing me from pulling the trigger.

Joppie and Marlené

Joppie and Marlené

Thanks to family, friends and the community I got stronger and I soon started feeling more like myself again, but there was still something haunting me and stopping me from getting inner peace. I wanted to run away from reality and live like a bum. Then through the help of a close friend I realised Marlené wouldn’t want to see me like this. When she was sick and busy dying she remained positive and enjoyed life to the fullest. And here I was, strong and healthy, and I wanted to give up and not live anymore.

Marlené would want me to celebrate the life she lived, remembering only the happy times not the sad ones. Her positive attitude until the end, although she knew she was dying, has inspired me to walk these 10 million steps in honour of her memory. I want to show other cancer patients that they should still celebrate life, be thankful for what they have, no matter what the future entails. Marlené was such a good example of that to me and everybody around her.

That is why I am going to do this project of mine, for her legacy. She will always live on in my heart.

Support ten million steps: sms cancer to 33903 cost R1.50

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