Two-time cancer survivor participates in Shavathon for others

2014-03-05 00:00

MARITZBURG College teacher Curtis Huysamen is a brave man.

On Friday last week, he had his locks shorn under the watchful gaze of a group of chuckling Maritzburg College schoolboys, and now he’s going to have to face the inevitable stares of the whole school while his hair grows back. But as a two-time cancer survivor he’s faced much worse.

“When I was seven I had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which was treated with chemotherapy, and after being in remission for 14 years I was diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia,” he said evenly, explaining why he participated in the Cansa Shavathon this year. Treatment for that involved more “quite hectic” chemotherapy twice a week and then six months at Groote Schuur where he endured full body radiation four times a week, as well as a bone marrow transplant.

“It sucks,” he said of radiation. “You don’t feel any pain while it’s happening, but I was forced to put my large body into a small space, and you feel the side effects, which include a really raw mouth. I wasn’t able to eat for a few weeks and there was loads of vomiting.”

Huysamen, who’s writing a book about being a two-time cancer survivor, said he’s participating in the Shavathon because he wants to show the 1 200 boys he teaches that “there is at least something we can all do, even if it’s just to put a smile on someone’s face”.

“I know I’ll be sneered at and giggled at, but if just one of them decides to do something for others then I’ve achieved my goal. And I’m trying to teach the kids here to not give up. When I got my second diagnosis I felt like I needed to give treatment a shot. If you’re going through something tough, it’s not the end of the world — and sometimes other people are not as lucky. Out of the nine people who went through my treatment with me in Cape Town, only four are left.

“I’m not doing this for the glory. I don’t have the most beautifully shaped head”, he said wryly. “I just want to get the message through.” He’s also raised R10 000 for Cansa through donations from the College family and his own family and friends.

The 25-year-old Afrikaans and Life Orientation teacher says he feels “fantastic” now.

“I’m not on any medication and I have a check-up every three months. I’m not in remission, but the doctor says there’s only a 20% chance the cancer will come back.

“Cancer can happen so easily to anyone, but no matter who you are, it can be beaten.”

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