“My Voice” by Manfred Van Kuijk

Manfred van Kuijk - 'Co-Survivor'

Ever since my father had his heart attack, he was having problems with his health. The doctors just didn’t know what caused the problems. They did all kinds of research, but nothing. Then at one point in 2008 he got a “new” doctor. This doctor decides to start all research again from the beginning. The first part they will check is his stomach. This research takes place in October 2008. I’m at work when my cell phone rings. It’s my sister. During the research, the doctors found a tumor in my father’s stomach. I can’t describe my feelings at that point, but the only thing I wanted to do was go to see my father in the hospital. I left work and drove to the hospital. The longest ride of my life.

My name is Manfred van Kuijk, 33 years old, from Deurne, The Netherlands. I am a ‘Co-Survivor’.

At that point you get into an emotional roller coaster. Insecurity for over a week because it’s not clear what it is. What are the results? What is going to happen? After a week it appeared to be stomach cancer. The plan to fight this? Three chemos, then surgery and then again three chemos. Every chemo takes a complete day in the hospital. My father has to be in the hospital the night before the chemo and also has to stay the night after the chemo. Ok, that’s clear. When do we start? Well that also took some time, but after about two weeks, the first chemo starts.

In the mean time, a lot of other things have to be arranged as well. My father has to be taken to the hospital. My mother doesn’t have a driver’s license. Since it all starts in November, we also have to deal with the holidays and birthdays. Just some small things, but you have to take care of them. For the holidays everything is clear: next year another try. Those days come back. Concerning the birthdays: we didn’t really celebrate them. Only my little niece’s birthday. She was turning four. You can’t tell a child that they can’t celebrate their birthday.

People have to be informed. Family and friends. Everybody reacts shocked and they all offer their help. I also had to inform my boss and my colleagues. You see, I live in Deurne and work in Tilburg. That means that I have to drive for at least an hour each way every day.  That also means that I will drive straight to the hospital from work and sometimes I might have to leave earlier or take some extra time off to talk with doctors. To me that is no problem, but I had to inform my boss about that as well. Thank God they didn’t have any problems with that.

For me and my sister it was clear that nothing was more important than our parents. It’s an emotional path, but right now it is important for us to be there for them. For my father to support him with his chemo’s and surgery and for my mother to support her and spend time with her, so she wouldn’t be alone all the time. And as said before, she needed a drive to and from the hospital. My sister always took her to the hospital and I took her home from the hospital.

In February 2009, my father went through surgery and the doctors removed about 75% of his stomach. That day I was at work. My father told us to do at least something, so we wouldn’t drive ourselves crazy during waiting. While my father went through his surgery, I lit a candle at work and it burned until I heard that everything has went well. It was my way to ask for a good surgery.

During the whole fight my father always asked us to keep living our lives as much as possible. He said: “ You don’t have to stop living. I will survive”. He remained positive. And us? We tried to live our lives just to help our father.

After his surgery, my father had to take another three chemos. Those were pretty heavy because he had been through a heavy surgery, but he managed. After that there were some scans and we had to wait for the results. All kinds of questions keep coming. Is it all gone? What’s next? Then it is a relief to hear the doctors say that it is all gone. My father is clean!

Of course there will be a lot of checkups and during those times they will all be stressful, but we will try to stay positive.

Our lives have truly been upside down, but that didn’t matter at all. All that mattered at that point was being there for our parents. I have never kept my feelings to myself. There were many people, who were there for me, so I could talk about my feelings: family, friends and colleagues. I knew it would be important for me as well to talk about my feelings. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to manage. I kept telling myself: don’t lock your feelings! Thanks to those people, I was able to keep it like that. There are no words to describe how grateful I am to all of them.
My friends came over to the hospital to visit my father after his surgery. That meant the world to me. At work my colleagues asked how my father was doing, but also how I was doing. Those small gestures really helped me. To all of you: Thank you so much for all your support! It means the world to me. And to the rest of our family!

To me a Co-Survivor is anybody who is supporting someone who is fighting cancer! And honestly; you can support in any way. Someone, who is dealing with cancer, cannot do this fight alone! All the help and support is needed. So, if I look back on my story, I would say: the Co-Survivors are: my mom, my sister with her husband and kids, me, the rest of my family and my friends. They all were, in any kind of way, a support in this fight! And once again: that is so important. Especially for the one, who is fighting the cancer, but also for the closest family.