Christmas letter 2003

Time flies when you're having fun, right? Well, the opposite is also true. This year has seemed long and tedious and I shall wave it goodbye without a pang.

In February, while doing exercises to strengthen my shoulder after surgery in December last year, I encountered a hard mass in my left breast. I went to the doctor and had a mammogram, two biopsies and a lumpectomy, in quick succession, in Bloemfontein. The weekend between the latter two, waiting for the results of the biopsies, was the longest of my life. Without the presence of Christopher and Birgit, visiting from Germany, I would have gone crazy.

The lump was cancerous but not very large, contained and non-aggressive, so I still have two breasts, thank the Lord. Now both shoulders were more or less out of action and life became somewhat tricky- still, with a lot of help from the family, I coped. A month after surgery I began a course of radiotherapy, once a day, thirty treatments, over a period of six weeks, in Bloemfontein. I stayed at the Cancer Association's interim house, Olea, and got a lift home most weekends with a friend's daughter, who works in Bloem. I rather enjoyed this "time out"; time to just "be" and recover, to interact with others in the same boat, to study (lay preachers course), and do all the back, shoulder and neck exercises I had been neglecting.

My Mum stayed in Kiepersol Home for the Aged while I was away, which she didn't exactly like, but I knew she was safe and well cared for. Roben and David simply had to fend for themselves - well, not quite: Winnie and Sarah clean and cook alternate weeks. They (R & D) got quite used to doing the shopping, finding clean clothes, making supper, etc.

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Now comes the really tedious part. Having initially said I would not need chemotherapy, my doctor decided, based on the very latest research, that it would be advisable. She assured me I would not need the chemical that makes one's hair fall out, but could not say what other side effects I might have. I needed six treatments at 28 day intervals. The first treatment caused tremendous pain, but they were able to change the "cocktail", so I spent the rest of the six months feeling like a rag doll with varying degrees of hangover. The time went by very slowly, but with the prayers and support of family and friends, far and wide, and God's help, we got through it. I even managed to keep up with the studying, as did David in between the 1001 things he has to see to on the farm, and we both passed our T.E.E.C. exams with considerable success, in October.

Through all this Roben has been a tower of strength, always there to help and encourage, driving back and forth to Bloem. every month, and generally looking after me. We've grown closer and more tolerant, and realised how much we have to be thankful for, and how important it is to concentrate on the real things in life. Most of all, I'm thankful for the means to pay for the best possible treatment. All these years, through the hard times, Roben has kept paying our medical aid fees. His faithfulness has born fruit, and I cannot thank God and Roben enough.

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David, too, has been a huge help. He has been running the farm for some years now and often, after a long day, he would see to supper when I was too wiped out to do it. He has granny-sat while we trekked back and forth to Bloem., often done the shopping and always been around to help and support. In between he has done considerable development on the lands. He has planted more area, installed a second pump so there is enough water, bought a large, second-hand truck to take the produce to market, become involved in the farmer's union, studied, preached sermons in Colesberg, De Aar and Hanover, and taken a much earned break in July, visiting Botswana with a missionary group, from which he returned bearded!

Fortunately, everyone but me has remained well during the year, apart from the odd aches and sniffles. I, however, rounded off the year with an arthroscopy on my left knee -- there is considerable wear in the cartilage and some arthritis; the prognosis is not encouraging. That's three operations under general anaesthetic, plus all the other treatment, within twelve months. I don't know where to begin getting back into shape. We are hoping a trip to Germany will help.

Christopher came out twice this year, in February and September, both times bringing with him, Birgit, who had been a student of his a couple of years ago. ( Don't get excited; she is a grandmother, albeit a rather young one). They are very well suited and happy. They have invited us to go over for New Year and spend about a month, which we are delighted to do. It may be crazy to go in the dead of winter, but it will be interesting to see how the other half manages. We fly on 30th Dec. and return on 27th Jan. Mum will again stay at Kiepersol, and David will no doubt enjoy not having us breathing down his neck for a while. I'm practically finished a really warm sweater and I've been darning Roben's thickest socks -- somewhat unusual activities for December.

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Before then there is my check-up on 23rd ( scans, X-rays, blood tests, the whole catastrophe ) and then Christmas. Whatever you are doing, I trust God will bless you and yours with the peace and joy at Christmas and throughout the coming year.

Love from us all to you and all yours.

Margaret, Roben, David and Dorothy.

PS This didn't get posted before Christmas, obviously! Germany was spectacular- lots of snow and some sun to show it off! Life back home was hectic, having cancelled January. February was spent catching up. In March Mum had a bad fall, spent several days in hospital, but on bones broken, thank the Lord, and she is fine now. I hope you all had a happy Easter and the rest of 2004 will be splendid. I'm fine- all the tests were negative. I have check-ups every three months for a year.

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