Pretoria man’s moving story: I finally found the woman of my dreams – then she died of cancer

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Dawie van Vuuren and Renda Alexander decided to get married, even though Renda had been diagnosed with cancer and was given only months to live. (PHOTO: supplied)
Dawie van Vuuren and Renda Alexander decided to get married, even though Renda had been diagnosed with cancer and was given only months to live. (PHOTO: supplied)

They'd almost given up on finding true love. She’d been divorced for years, he’d been a bachelor all his life – but when sparks started to fly in the office, they dared to dream they’d found their happily ever after.

Romance blossomed and a bright future looked to be on the cards for Dawie van Vuuren (40) and Renda Alexander (49) – until it all came crashing down.

Renda was diagnosed with terminal cancer and at one stage she was given just a month to live. Knowing their time could be limited made the couple realise just how precious every second was – which is what made them so determined to get married.

Dawie and Renda told their moving story to YOU: how she was pushed down the aisle in a wheelchair because she was too weak to walk and how their tender ceremony was testament to the love they thought they’d never find.

But shortly after speaking to us, we received the sad news: Renda had passed away, leaving Dawie with memories of a brief yet beautiful interlude that changed his life forever.

wedding, cancer, couple, south africa
Renda's dream of an outdoor wedding was fulfilled. (PHOTO: supplied)

For a while, the couple dared to believe they might have more time. Renda had defied doctors’ predictions and outlived the timespan she was given but she cut a frail figure when YOU met the couple at their Pretoria home. 

Despite the warm spring day, she was swaddled in winter clothing, a blanket tucked around her legs. Cancer had cursed their fairytale but they were choosing to focus on the positive. 

Renda and Dawie met when they both worked in the IT division of a Tshwane company, she in the software department, he in hardware. They struck up a friendship and started dating in 2020 after hard lockdown ended. 

Renda was Dawie’s first love, and she was smitten with him. 

But then, during a weekend trip to the Bushveld, Renda felt so tired she could hardly get into the game-watching vehicle. She took a nap and when she woke up, Dawie knew something was wrong. 

The whites of Renda’s eyes were yellow and a few days later her skin had an unhealthy yellow sheen. 

READ MORE| In sickness and in health: Joburg cancer patient fulfills dying wish by marrying his soulmate

She went to the doctor who referred her to a specialist and after a gastroscopy – a test to check inside the throat, oesophagus and stomach – she was given the shocking diagnosis: she had pancreatic cancer. 

And so began her journey with illness. First there was surgery to remove the tumour surrounding her pancreas. “Basically, they removed all the organs surrounding the cancer, removed the tumour and then put it all back together again,” Dawie says. 

Portions of Renda’s intestine and stomach were also removed, along with her gall bladder and gall ducts. Then gruelling chemotherapy and radiology treatment followed. 

Despite the toll the treatment took on Renda, she and Dawie still tried to make the most of life when she was feeling up to it. 

“We still went out, had fun and saw places,” he says. “We decided we wouldn’t let it get us down. It was a message: ‘You shouldn’t wait for anything’.” 

For a while, things seemed to improve and it looked as if Renda’s cancer was in remission. But then she spent Christmas Day last year in a hospital emergency room with unbearable lower-back pain.

She hoped against hope it was nothing serious, but early in the new year she was told the cancer had returned. 

wedding, cancer, couple, south africa
The couple got engaged at Cape L'Agulhas in March this year. (PHOTO: supplied)

Dawie’s response was to ask Renda’s father for her hand in marriage and he bought her a ring. The couple became formally engaged in March on a trip to Cape L’Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. 

Then they set about planning their wedding with the help of family and friends. Their big day was held at God’s Gift Events venue near Tshwane, which had facilities to help Renda fulfil her dream of an open-air wedding. 

She also wanted a special sunset similar to the spectacular ones she and Dawie experienced in the Bushveld when they started dating. And she wasn’t disappointed. 

“It literally looked like the sky was on fire, that’s how beautiful it was – those colours flowing into each other,” Renda told us. “Sunset was the inspiration for the wedding, the idea that it was the end of another day you’d been given to live.” 

wedding, cancer, couple, south africa
Renda and Dawie planned their beautiful with the help of family and friends. (PHOTO: supplied)

But she almost didn’t make it to her outdoor nuptials. Five days before, her oxygen levels and blood pressure dropped so low it seemed they might have to get married in hospital. 

However, the bride received four units of blood and things could go ahead as planned – even though Renda’s dad had to push her down the aisle in a wheelchair.

“She looked beautiful,” Dawie says. 

After the wedding, Renda’s health improved somewhat even though she had to stop working. But the love story that should’ve lasted has been cut short, the happiness of soulmate-meeting-soulmate replaced by sadness. 

wedding, cancer, couple, south africa
Dawie and Renda made sure to enjoy every moment they had together. (PHOTO: Lubabalo Lesolle)

Before we left Dawie and Renda, she turned philosophical: “Everything could be over in the blink of an eye. And if it’s your time, it’s your time, so you must make the best of it. 

“It’s not about the sun setting on another day, it’s about what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day when the sun sets.” 

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