Facing the toughest test of his life, surfing gave Leslie Edgar strength. ‘Surfing Helped Me Fight’ is his entry into Write To Surf – our surf journo competition with some epic prizes by Billabong up for grabs (see details below).
SURFING HELPED ME FIGHT – by: Leslie Edgar
Two years ago, May 2013, lying in bed I found a lump in a place you do not want to find a lump. It was not even a day later that I was told I have testicular cancer and would need to have an operation and chemotherapy. I don’t think it’s possible to describe how one feels when this happens to you. I was 26 years old, two weeks away from 27, and I honestly had felt immortal till then. Dying is not something you think of when growing up or in your 20’s. It’s not something most people think of. Obviously we hear about it every day; crime, car accidents, old age, cancer…but those are things that happen to ‘other’ people. Not me…
So the journey started for me. I had my operation three days later and they removed the guilty party. Before the operation I had a scan to see if the cancer might have spread elsewhere but the doctors thought it unlikely because we believed I had caught it early. This was important though, because if it had not spread, I would have two sessions of chemo as a preventative measure and that was that. But I woke up from anaesthetic to find my parents and girlfriend in a very unhappy way. They refused to tell me anything though, as the doctor had instructed them not too. I could see them suffering. I think through the whole ordeal, the way it affected the people I loved was the hardest part for me. The doctor came the next morning and told me the cancer had spread and that I had a tumour in my abdomen. This meant I would have far more chemo than we had hoped. He also told me that I was not allowed to do any strenuous activity for 5-6 weeks, including surfing. That was also particularly bad news for me.
The next week went by and I had my 27th birthday party. Best turnout since my 21st. It’s amazing how differently people treat you when you have cancer. Everyone was so timid and gentle with such grave expressions on their faces. I would have sworn I was on my death bed. But it was amazing at the same time. I realized how many people I had in my life that cared for me and that was immensely reassuring.
I had my first appointment with my Oncologist the following week. He explained that I have stage 2 cancer and outlined my treatment. I would have four cycles of chemotherapy. Each cycle being 21 days or three weeks long. First week is five straight days of chemo and then two weeks recovery. He told me I would be fine for the first two or three days of chemo, but then I would start becoming weaker until day six and seven where I would be extremely weak. That was an understatement! I would then get stronger and on day 10 I would start feeling okay. That was the most important day for me.
It had been four weeks since my operation when the day came for me to start chemotherapy. It was kind of fun, a novel experience actually. I was excited to start my treatment and hopefully my road to recovery. My girlfriend and my mom came with and we took photos and I played with the chemo bags and teased the nurses and chatted to the other patients. That wasn’t fun. Many of them were very ill and dying and had little hope. It makes me very sad still thinking about it. So I told them jokes and stories of my life. I hoped this would make them feel better. My chemo sessions consisted of four bags of chemicals. The first saline solution with anti-nausea medication to make sure I was hydrated, the next bag was cortisone, the third was a drug called Etopicide which made me think of pesticide and the last was a drug called Cicplatin. This process took roughly three to four hours.
When it was finished I felt very tired, I think more mentally than anything, so when I got home I crashed and slept the whole afternoon. My skin was strangely yellow and I looked very ill. Days 2, 3 and 4 went by quickly and I felt fine. I had bought myself a concert ticket to Chevelle at Grand West for that Friday a few months before and was still adamant I was going. Friday came along and chemo was long, I realised quickly there was no way I would get to go. I was pretty shattered. The next three days are a blur to me. I was fortunate that the nausea medication was working well, but I was weak. I had to stop and take a break halfway to the bathroom when I needed to go. I needed to be supported when I walked and I could barely function on most fronts. That was the hardest part for me. I am a strong man and I am a proud man and that hurt me in a way I can’t describe.
I was waiting for day ten. Surfing had become the most important part of my life until I got sick. I dreamed of J-Bay, E-Bay, and I watched The Drifter 20 times during my first week of chemo. So when Wednesday came I was ready and nothing was stopping me. That morning arrived and I went to the oncologist to make sure I had recovered enough from the chemo. He gave me the all clear much to my mother’s displeasure. The forecast was great; 4.2m southwest swell with a 13 second period and light southeast wind. That’s the kind of forecast that makes you froth in Cape Town. I was still weak, so I went to Milnerton because it would be sheltered from the main swell.
We arrived to clean little 2 to 3-foot walls but no one out. Surfing alone in my condition was not a good idea. So we waited a bit and just as we were about to leave someone pulled up and started suiting up. He knew me and I asked if he will stay close and keep an eye of me. I paddled out, which took a while, and had to have a good rest once I got out back. Then the first set came and I turned and started going. It was a little right that ran nice and slow for me, like it was pre-ordained to be my wave and that the universe had made it a chilled ride just for me to find my feet. I popped-up and just cruised along as far as I could go, it was the most satisfying feeling I’d had in weeks. Surfing for me had become my exercise, my stress reliever, my me time. And not having been able to do that during the past weeks was hard for me. That was basically the start of my routine. I had a week and a half where I was strong enough to surf before chemo started again.
That weekend a beautiful swell for Elands Bay hit and a few mates said they would join me for the mission. I surfed all day in 3 to 4-foot E-Bay. I think I literally surfed every day on those days between chemo and being ill. It became my motivation to recover from the chemo as quickly as I could. It became my driving force to stay positive and it helped my family because I was much happier.
After my second cycle I was surfing in perfect conditions at Tableview when I noticed my head was very sensitive. I ran my fingers through my hair and half of it stayed in my hand. That was another low moment for me. I didn’t want to look like I had cancer. I had been hoping it would not fall out. Being bald was unpleasant in winter. I am not sure if it was the chemo, my illness or just what it’s like being bald. But my head was always clammy and cold, then it would suddenly get too hot. It was impossible to regulate my temperature without hair. I think I wore a beanie pretty much all the time after that. The one positive is I now have the ugliest drivers licence photograph in existence.
On my third cycle I started surfing after my chemo sessions too and that made me feel great. I was fighting the weakness, the fatigue and I was pushing my limits. I enjoyed proving to people how positive and strong I was. However, I pushed it too far and paddled out at overhead Off the Wall in Sea Point. The first wave I paddled for I realised I was too weak and I got thrown over the falls. I hit the reef quite hard and my board was creased badly. I got out realising as good as it is for me to push myself, taking it too far is not a good idea. The Board Box surf factory in Cape Town fixed my board quickly and it was ready by Wednesday, Day 10 and surf day. We did another mission to Elands Bay. It poured with rain nonstop but we surfed. I battled a bit because my recovery was getting slower but I enjoyed watching the boys score.
The next week my oncologist was away and I met with a different doctor. My parents were along and we were all a bit stressed over my progress and the meeting was tense. She asked my parents to have a word alone with me and we spoke about how my family and I are coping. She asked me if I had considered what would happen if the treatment failed and If I’ve dealt with that. She then told me in a straight, flat tone, “because if the treatment fails, you will die.” I laughed out loud at her. It was funny to me, I mean really, I had cancer, what else would the result be?
The fourth cycle was delayed because my blood had not recovered enough for chemo. I was so stoked. It meant another week of surfing and the forecast was epic. I scored all over Cape Town that week.
My final cycle really knocked me for six. Nerves at home were frayed and tempers flared a few times. We were all ready for it to be done. The week was hard and it took me the whole of the next week to recover. The weather mirrored the mood, it was raining and wet and the ocean was a stormy mess. That week could not end quickly enough.
My oncology appointment was set for 2 September 2013. The day before I went for my CT scan, ultrasound and blood test and managed to end the day with surf. We were terrified when the doctor called us in to his office and asked us to sit. My mom, dad and girlfriend were with me. I doubt any of us were breathing and I think he noticed. He said you guys can relax the cancer is GONE. The treatment was successful. I doubt I could explain that feeling to you (although I hope none of you ever experience it). It was like my life had been on pause for five months and I was suddenly free to live again.
It was actually one hell of an adventure for me. In the end it had many ups and down and it changed the way I view my life. There’s nothing more precious to you than your life and having that threatened is an incredible eye opener.
I decided to write this because I wanted to share my story. Cancer is a real threat to everyone these days and being informed is the first step to early detection and beating it. Testicular cancer happens primarily to men aged 18 to 35. So guys, check yourselves, and if you feel something go to the doctor. Because I will tell you this and please listen to me; cancer sucks and chemotherapy is hell. It is the hardest thing I’ve been through in my life and nothing scares me more than needing to do it again. So check yourselves. It might save your life.
Yesterday I had my 18 month check-up and I am still in the clear. I celebrated with a surf at my favourite wave in Sea Point.
I also just want to thank my parents, my brother, my girlfriend and her parents for the support and love. You guys were my rock and as much a part of my recovery as the chemo. I love you all of you with all my heart. And then to those I met still fighting, I think of you daily, keep up the fight.
Click here to check out all the published stories from our Write To Surf competition.
Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. One submission will be selected every six weeks to appear in Zigzag magazine. The selected submission will also receive a hamper from Billabong. Zigzag retains the right to use any work submitted for the Zag Surf Journo competition on zigzag.co.za as outlined in the rules and terms of the competition. Zigzag reserves the right not to award a published winner in the magazine every six weeks, depending on the quality of entries. Zigzag is not obligated to run any and all entries submitted, either online or in print. Zigzag retains the right to edit all work submitted for brevity and / or clarity. Please note: Prize hampers will only be delivered within South Africa.
The Billabong prize hamper includes: 1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Hoodie; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; 2 x Da Kine traction pads.