Bone cancer sufferer from Thabazimbi runs her 4th Comrades

2019-06-07 19:49
Moksie Pelser. (Photo: Supplied)

Moksie Pelser. (Photo: Supplied)

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Elize Pelser takes the wind out of the sails of her doctors all the time...In fact she gives some of them the heebie-jeebies the way she defiantly takes on challenges in spite of her cancer-afflicted bones. But in some ways this is precisely what keeps Thabazimbi’s gutsy “Moxie” going. 

Shortly after the 47-year-old marathon- and trail-running enthusiast completed her first Comrades in 2013 she’d learn that her breast cancer, first diagnosed in 2007, had returned.

And this time the feared disease had spread to her bones.

Her previous doctor had advised her to quit her running and mountain biking, in which she’d also started excelling in the meantime. With this type of cancer these activities were simply too risky.

But Moxie became even more determined not to let the Big C rob her of her lifestyle. Three Comrades marathons later, the aerobics, fitness and cross-country trainer is now also pouring her efforts into ultra-distance trail-running events.

Recently she completed the spectacular Mac Mac Ultra, which is 80km long.

“After four Comrades I wanted a different challenge. Every year I set myself a big goal. To me it’s celebrating that I’m alive,” Moxie says. 

‘There’s no way you can keep running . . .’

“Moxie” means being plucky and having perseverance and you’ll be hard put to find someone who better fits this description than Elize. Although her nickname really comes from her maiden name, Mocke, many people have said this woman epitomises moxie.

She’s always been a sporty tomboy. “I’d play around with my brother’s weights, for example. I was a lively one,” says Elize, who was born in Klerksdorp and grew up in Thabazimbi.

Her husband, Sol (55), used to have a gym in Thabazimbi, which was where she met him in the Limpopo town.

“I was 35 when I developed a lump in my breast in 2007,” Moxie tells us.

“It was malignant and I had a full mastectomy, did chemo and all and went into remission. During my seven years of remission I started running again, but I also started doing well in mountain biking

“In 2013 I completed my first Comrades. But a few months later, getting home from cycling one day, I told Sol it felt as if my breast bone and back were breaking.

"The cancer was probably already in my skeleton, but for a while I just continued like that.

“But in December that year I was in so much pain I struggled to lift my arms in aerobics class. I had X-rays done but the problem wasn’t picked up immediately. A radiographer friend, back from overseas, got a fright when she saw me, and after the recent X-rays were compared with past ones I got an emergency appointment with an oncologist.

“That’s how in 2014 I received the diagnosis: mamma carcinoma with metastasis to the skeleton . . .

"The doctor said there was no way I could keep running and cycling – I had to look after myself carefully, because if I fell and fractured bones I’d be in big trouble. I then decided I’d stay away from cycling but keep exercising.

“During 2014 and '15 I mostly supported friends and helped them prepare for the Comrades. But after feeling very depressed one night in 2015 because I wasn’t able run this marathon, I just told myself: come what may, I’m doing the next one.

“I just trained harder and harder . . . and in 2016 I completed the Comrades in 10 hours and 15 minutes. And then again in 2017 in 10 hours and 26 minutes.”

Last year she tackled the arduous 90km run again.

Things didn’t go as well as in previous years. She ended up finishing in about 11 hours.

The radiation treatment she was getting for her pelvis and right thigh was impacting muscles so much that it seemed she might have to retire. So when she ended up completing the race it turned out to be one of her most remarkable achievements.

And last month, “with grace from Above”, she also completed the gruelling Mac Mac Ultra through mountains and valleys within about 18 hours.

‘Like a constant toothache . . . but the body is wonderfully adaptable’

She acknowledges the pain of the intruder in her bones is bad – it’s much more intense than, for instance, arthritis. She can best describe it as the equivalent of a constant toothache.

The beauty of creation she observed at the Mac Mac Ultra has given her renewed strength. “But it was one of my toughest races ever. Because of the chemo’s effect on my body I had ‘hand-and-foot syndrome’ – my feet were covered in blisters and my toe nails had almost all fallen off.

“Luckily, I have quite a high pain threshold.”

It’s become such an integral part of her existence that she told friends she’s always shocked half to death when she wakes up sometimes without any pain, she chuckles. “And my mom says my guardian angel must be exhausted.”

X-rays show all the dark spots on her skeleton – testimony to the ruthless nature of her cancer. It’s also nearly collapsed some of her upper vertebrae.

“But people don’t realise how adaptable the human body truly is. And if you can combine that with good exercise your muscles kind of take over the function of the affected vertebrae or joints by taking the weight off it.

 “I think if it hadn’t been for my strong muscle mass, my skeleton would’ve collapsed a long time ago!”

A GP in her home town has been warning her for some time she needs to stop running, that she’s putting her body under severe pressure. He’s worried that if she falls and breaks a bone, it’ll never recover. And then there’s the greater risk of spinal injuries which could leave her paralysed.

But her oncologist has a measure of understanding for why Moxie feels she has to do what she does.

“He tells me to listen to my body, to whether it says I can tackle something or not.

“Still, he finds it incredible each time I tell him I finished a marathon or trail run,” she says.

Divine grace

She’s usually up at 4am every day to go jogging before she teaches her aerobics classes. She also coaches long-distance running at Frikkie Meyer High School. In her free time, she enjoys doing various activities with the members of her extended circle of friends, as well as her son, Tjaart (18).

One of her greatest motivators is setting her son a good example with her attitude to life.

The thought that she can inspire those who might be able-bodied and healthy but disheartened further fuels her positive attitude.

But top of the list of things that have helped her overcome so many challenges is her faith. “His grace and mercy and the fact that He’s given me this positive mindset to take that first step each day . . .

“Once you’ve taken that first step, you’ll see it gets easier.”

Read more on:    cancer  |  bone cancer  |  comrades marathon
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