When Jana du Plessis’ daughter, Zandri, was born in January 2006 she thought her life was complete. Three months later she went in for a minor operation on her ankle. The doctor spoke to her when she woke up saying that he wanted her to stay for more tests because she might have cancer.
The next day it was confirmed and the doctor couldn’t guarantee that she would live. She was only the third person in forty years to be diagnosed in Bloemfontein with this cancer, clear cell sarcoma. It was in her bones and marrow and blood stream. Her daughter was 3 months and 3 days old and her emotions were in turmoil. Who would raise her child? Then he explained her options. The good news was she might live – the bad news was: only if they amputated her leg. Jana takes up her story: “What is the value of a leg compared to life? That was on the Friday – the op was scheduled for Monday. My husband, Ian, tried to assure me that I would still be the same Jana. As they rolled me into surgery I took one last look at my leg – it was the last time that I would ever see it.
It has been a difficult and traumatic journey – every three weeks I used to go in for chemo that made me sick for three weeks. It’s difficult to explain the emotion you feel when you wake up in the morning and find you hair all over your pillow. I had no leg – no hair – and I felt really ugly. Its strange how your priorities change – you might be ugly – you might have no hair and no leg – but you are alive and you will live to see your daughter grow up.
Six weeks after the op – I was still vomitously ill from the chemo and could hardly lift my head but – six weeks after my operation the prosthetist, Roger Pollock, told me he had a leg for me. Then I realized – how far can you walk into a forest – only half way – and then you start walking out again! I knew I would soon start to see the other side of my forest. Two days before my last chemo I got a bleed and the doctors thought my cancer had spread – even while I was on chemo. I had to go for more tests. I was at my lowest low and a total stranger came to me and reminded me that I must stay positive and just tell myself positive things everyday. Eventually the tests came back and there was no trace of cancer! The doctor told me that the chemo had just drained my body and that was why I had suffered the bleed. I just wanted to be able to walk, to run and wear high heels and paint my toenails. My husband said he would even sell his car to make it happen because the medical aid only paid R30,000 and the leg from Roger cost R60,000. We ordered the leg without knowing how we were going to pay for it. Then Roger phoned me to say that someone, who wished to remain anonymous, had paid the entire outstanding balance – I owed nothing!
With my new leg I decided to get back into sports. I went to Stellenbosch as part of the SA Champs in March 2008 – and I achieved a gold medal and South African record in the Long Jump. It was around this time that I was crowned Mrs Bloemfontein 2007/2008. Then I went over with Eugene Rossouw (picture above) to visit Ossur in Einhoven, Holand and they designed my sports limb – not a blade. But it wasn’t soon after that when I realised that sports requires too much dedication. I gave up teaching and professional sports to spend time with the family. In August 2009 I was back in hospital to welcome my son – Zehin and I know that I will live to see him grow old.
I have stopped finding petty things in life to moan about – and remember to be grateful every day for being able to play with my children and play squash with my husband and have 100% passion for life.”