Finding out you have cancer at an advanced stage would turn most people’s lives upside down. But not if your name is ROB LOUW. The popular rugby personality who played flank for the Springboks in the ’80s has been through the greatest challenge of his life and it has made him look at life with new eyes.
“Cancer has opened a whole new world to me,” he says.
Four months ago he learnt he had aggressive metastatic melanoma. It had spread to his gallbladder, liver and small intestine - and his doctors thought he had only five months to live.
Rob (54) returned from receiving treatment in America shortly after Christmas. Thanks to his old friend, business mogul Johann Rupert, he was able to attend the world’s best cancer hospital in Houston where he was to undergo T-cell therapy, the cutting-edge way of destroying cancer cells.
Wife Azille accompanied Rob, and their eldest daughter, Roxy (22), a well-known surfer and international model, followed a few days later.
“The hospital city has eight hospitals, each about the size of Groote Schuur. It felt like another planet. Dr Patrick Hwu [the top resident cancer expert] looked me up and down. He gestured to white spots on my neck and said, “That’s a sign your immune system is fighting. We need to open you up to see what’s going on’.”
There was good news. Almost 80 per cent of the spots in his intestines and lymph nodes his doctors in SA feared might be cancerous turned out to be clean. A tumour was removed from his small intestine and the T-cells in it isolated to grow billions more in the laboratory. Six weeks later these cells would be injected into Rob to destroy any further cancer.
Azille returned home and Rob and Roxy relaxed in the Bahamas. He had to build up his strength because he would face tough chemotherapy.
It was there Rob received a surprise visit from legendary James Bond actor Sean Connery, who offered his support. He told Rob he’d had kidney cancer, found by chance when he injured his ribs. Luckily it was removed in time.
He prepared his mind with three books: Lance Armstrong’s account of how he beat cancer, a book of inspirational daily readings by Solly Ozrovech and David Servan-Schreiber’s book Anticancer, about foods that feed or fight the disease.
On his return to Houston another scan showed the two spots that had previously been discovered on his liver hadn’t grown. They were removed and Rob no longer needed the T-cell treatment.
The cells have been preserved and will be used should the cancer return. Rob will have a scan every three months to monitor his condition.