Nationally ranked swimmer Shaun Harris is one of about one million South Africans who have survived cancer

Nationally ranked swimmer Shaun Harris is one of about one million South Africans who have survived cancer

Harris, 30, is one of about a million other South Africans alive today that have beaten cancer. He has joined the cancer advocacy group Campaigning for Cancer’s “Voices of Cancer” project, which aims to inspire others battling the disease.

“With one in four South Africans facing the risk of being diagnosed with cancer, it’s probable that we all know or knew of someone that has walked the cancer journey,” says CEO of Campaigning for Cancer Lauren Pretorius. “Often it is the stories of these individuals that provide inspiration for other cancer survivors.”

Yesterday, 1 June marked annual International Cancer Survivors Day.

Growing up in Port Elizabeth, Harris spent countless hours in the pool training for local and international swimming events.

But in December 2010 everything came to a halt when he started experiencing inexplicable pains in his abdomen, which doctors later ascribed to a tumour the size of a tennis ball.

“My mind started working overtime, worrying about whether the tumour was cancerous or not,” Harris says. “Would I survive?”

From a nightmare to a dream

The doctors found cancer, not in his stomach, but in one of his testicles. Doctors tried to remove the tumour with surgery unsuccessfully and Harris lost a testicle in the process.

The next step was chemotherapy. At one point, Harris was undergoing intensive four-hour treatment sessions three times a week.

After five months the tumour had shrunk from 8cm to 3.5cm, and although positive, it was not enough. He was prescribed another course of chemotherapy, which only reduced the tumour by a further 1 cm.

“I was devastated and thought that the nightmare of chemotherapy would never end,” Harris tells Health-e News. “However, my doctor was very impressed with my progress and said it was time to removed of the reduced tumour with surgery.”

It took the doctors more than six hours to successfully remove the tumour and growths.

One day in 2012, while recovering from surgery and chemo, he was finally inspired to get back in the pool.

“I was sitting in our family TV room watching an international swimming event and asked my family a rhetorical question, ‘I wonder what it would feel like racing at that level again?’” he says.

The dream took form and he decided to pursue it.

Today he is in complete remission, and after only five months of training he is now officially ranked as South Africa’s fourth fastest 50m freestyle swimmers. With two more years to prepare for the Olympics games, he is determined to reach his goal.

“Through many prayers, love and support from my family and friends I have beaten this disease,” he says. “There is indeed life after cancer.” – Health-e News Service.