'Their father’s death made my daughters strong'

By Kirstin Buick
02 May 2016

“If there are two people who have been through hell and were made stronger by the experience, it’s the two of them. Fanie was like that too. They have his iron will.”

Two years ago Karla and Emma, who were 10 and eight at the time, had to say goodbye to their dad.

These two blonde girls had to learn to be strong at an age when most children don't have a care in the world. But, their mom, Elsie Schoeman from George says, their dad Fanie’s iron will and fighting spirit lives on in his daughters.

After Fanie was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008, the girls grew up with the illness and it became part of daily life. Emma remembers, “When I was little I once painted his toenails before he had to go to hospital!”

Elsie (40) nominated them for the 1Life #StrongerTogether campaign because “they truly came out stronger on the other side after their father’s death”.

According to Elsie she would never have gotten through Fanie's death in January 2014 without Karla and Emma’s steadfast, inspiring support. According to Elsie she would never have gotten through Fanie's death in January 2014 without Karla and Emma’s steadfast, inspiring support.

Fanie’s cancer was diagnosed as terminal in 2013. But instead of sitting at home, they brought the family’s December holiday in Zanzibar forward to September so that the four of them could enjoy one last trip together.

“We had to tell Karla and Emma before we went that their dad will not be with us for much longer and then had to watch as their hearts broke,” says Elsie.

Nevertheless, the holiday was the very opposite of sad. “He didn’t look ill at all,” remembers Emma and, adds Elsie, Fanie had gone around “telling strangers that this was his farewell party!”

Karla, Emma, Elsie and Dawie, whom Elsie recently married. Karla, Emma, Elsie and Dawie, whom Elsie recently married.

According to Elsie she would never have gotten through Fanie's death in January 2014 without Karla and Emma’s steadfast, inspiring support. “If there are two people who have been through hell and were made stronger by the experience, it’s the two of them. Fanie was like that too. They have his iron will.”

And so Karla, Emma, Elsie and Dawie, whom Elsie recently married, got on a plane to Cape Town. Elsie and Dawie did not tell the girls where they were going. Says Karla, “They told us we were going camping, but then we landed in Cape Town!"

After an outing to the V&A Waterfront to go shopping, something Karla enjoys doing with her mom, the family were ready for their photo shoot. The girls loved the studio atmosphere and Karla and Emma kept changing into yet another new outfit – each time with more excited giggles.

Emma and Carla loved their photoshoot. Emma and Carla loved their photoshoot.

The next day, however, they were speechless when they found out that they'd be attending the Afrikaans is Groot concert at Grand West Arena. Both are huge fans of Afrikaans music. “The organisers treated them like VIPs,” says Elsie. “They were given an opportunity to go on stage before the show so that they could feel what it's like to be a performer.

Once the show started, we sang along with Juanita du Plessis, Karlien van Jaarsveld, Theuns Jordaan and Bobby van Jaarsveld from our seats.”

At the end of the evening, the excitement reached an all time high when Karla and Emma were introduced to Bobby. “They just stood there, completely overwhelmed, and simply stared at him – talk about star-struck!” laughs Elsie.

Neither Karla not Emma will forget the weekend any time soon. Emma collected all the programmes in their row of seats to give to her friends at school and Karla couldn’t wait to tell everyone back home about all the things she did and saw.

The way they handle their father’s death is inspiring. Whenever they speak of him, it is never with anger and always with love. They believe that Fanie's death was preordained. “Of course they get sad and miss their dad, but they are not broken-hearted and devastated,” says Elsie.

Elsie’s advice to families in a similar situation is to seek the help of a trauma specialist for the difficult conversations and to be honest and open with children from the very start, even if they are young. Elsie’s advice to families in a similar situation is to seek the help of a trauma specialist for the difficult conversations and to be honest and open with children from the very start, even if they are young.

Elsie’s advice to families in a similar situation is to seek the help of a trauma specialist for the difficult conversations and to be honest and open with children from the very start, even if they are young. “They understand more than you think and if you keep things from them, they will resent it one day.”

“The biggest lesson my dad taught me was to live life to the full because life is often shorter than you might expect," says Karla. “I am expecting again,” says Elsie, “and the children are already saying that we have to remember to tell their new brother or sister about their other dad.”

The 1Life Insurance #StrongerTogether campaign was launched in September last year to encourage people to share their stories of how cancer has changed their life. By creating a platform for people to share their empowering stories whether personally diagnosed or a supporter of a loved one can truly change lives. This campaign also encourages South Africans to know more about cancer and be aware of what protection they can have in place to ensure they are financially able to seek the best healthcare to fight and recover from the disease if faced with it. For more information click here.

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