Gentle reader –
There is no easy way to say it, so I’m just gonna say it.
My wife, Andrea, has died.
After a hell of a struggle, she lost her battle with breast cancer. She was 44 years old.
I know that humanity is curious. That’s okay. We all are. You want to know the gory details. And maybe I need to say them to make sense of them.
In February 2020, we found a lump in her right breast, and it was diagnosed as ‘triple negative breast cancer’, and “a particularly nasty one”. After a failed first round of chemo, where the tumour actually grew, she had a lumpectomy done on 13 August – ironically, the same day my mother died.
Picture this: Johannesburg, 2000. My wife has just gone in for a huge operation, my mother had just died, its Covid lock-down so nobody can come visit, and I’m not allowed in the hospital. And to add insult to injury: a power failure. There I was, feeling like shit all by my lonesome self in the dark. It was the worst day of my life. Sadly, things went downhill from there, and several ‘worst days’ came along toppling the one before it like dominoes.
After the lumpectomy, she was due for twenty-five doses of radiation. Sadly, after only 18 doses, she was in so much pain she could not walk. And not even where the tumour used to be and the radiation was aimed at. Nope, that part was okay: but abdominal pain.
I took her to Milpark Hospital where scans were done and they confirmed that the cancer has spread to her liver, lungs, sternum, lymphatic system, and spine. The chemo and radiation delayed, but did not cure.
On 13 November we were told she is terminal, and palliative care would be administered until death. The oncologist has given her six months. I have not told many people of this. It is a secret I’ve kept partly due to her wishes, and partly because I would not be able to withstand the daily drama of Gerry’s wife. It’s not fucking The Bold and the Beautiful. Not even my own family knew. I carried the burden of Andrea’s impending death mostly alone with a fake smile.
They put her on Xeloda, the go-to drug for terminal cancer patients. It’s a chemo medication that “does not cure, but stops the cancer from spreading”. In some cases, you can live on Xeloda “indefinitely”. However, there is a catch. Isn’t there always? Xeloda has as a side effect of hand, foot, and mouth disease, and within ten days, Andrea developed mouth ulcers which made continuation of the chemo impossible until the ulcers healed. That was a bit more than a week ago.
We went to the chemo clinic on the 9th of December, and the bad news turned worse: the cancer has ravaged her, and her liver is gone. They offered me a choice: admit her to hospital where they would make her comfortable until the end, or I take her home. I took her home, where she could be with her doggies, her hippo (don’t ask—if you don’t know Felicity, you don’t know nothing!), and her idiot of a husband. The oncologist told me “A week, maybe two, but she will not see Christmas”.
The terrible privilege fell on me to inform her, and in the comfort of her own bed, I told her the news. We had a good cry.
That was Wednesday 9th. A mere day later, she started going backwards. She lost some motor control, and had no appetite, not even for jelly and custard. She managed to make her way to the living room where she wanted to watch some telly. It lasted about 20 minutes, and she was too sore to sit. She went to bed, and on Friday 11th, it had gone from bad to worse, and she could not get out of bed. We got in the palliative care people, and they helped organise things for her at home, gave her some of the good stuff us healthy people are not allowed to have. On the morning of the 20th of December—a bright sunny summer’s morning—her body woke up, but my wife was gone. She recognised me—barely. She could not speak, only mumble incoherently.
She died peacefully, surrounded by her loved ones at 12:05.
My love has gone.
What caused it? She never even touched a cigarette, never mind smoked. She avoided the sun. She had no familial history, and genetic markers showed no predisposition. No hormonal issues like the more common HER2 type of breast cancer. She wasn’t exposed to a carcinogenic environment and spent her time watching tellly with the air purifier on. (Literally!)
At the end of the day she died of the rarest of all cancers: Cancer of the short straw. No cause. It just fuckin’ happened. Not even industrial strength medical grade CBD oil could help her. (Yes, I know, I should have come to you, you have the good stuff, not the shit the other guys sell.). physiologically: her liver was the first so go, and she ‘technically’ died of liver failure.
The last few months have been hell. Or so I thought. Hell is looking your wife in the eye and telling her she has a week, maybe two, but she will not see Christmas.
There is literally nothing I can think of that is scarier than what I witnessed the last few months. There is nothing more traumatic than telling a loved one they will die. And then standing by in a weird, surreal anticipation, waiting for it to happen, watching the gradual deterioration where death is at first feared, then welcomed.
I’d like to thank all my friends who supported me and did not mind grumpy Gerry being even grumpier. Derek the wanker for talking crap and Bronwin ‘Fuck you’ Spry and Debbie and Deborah and Lezzet and everyone who I’m forgetting right now. (And a begrudging apology to everyone I’ve been a cunt to in the last few months. I had my reasons. I hope you can forgive me)
I’d also like to thank (even though they will never get to read this, probably) Prof Carol-Ann Benn at the Milpark Breast Care Centre of Excellence and Dr Ronwyn van Eeden at the Rosebank Oncology Clinic of Rosebank [sic], as well as their respective teams: Barend, Pamela, Michelle, Kyrie, Una, Claudette, et al. These two ladies and their teams fought tooth and nail to keep my wife alive for as long as possible, and took the task of finding a cure—anything!—not just as their jobs and duties, but as extremely personal missions to fulfil.
Carol, Ronwyn, I’m sorry you were not able to help Andrea win this war. You are the ladies who give unwilling heroes their capes. But even Superman died.
More on the medical side: Sister Mel and Dr Sandy Darling from Discovery for just being awesome. Sandy who came to my house in her PJs to help me get Andrea back on the bed when she was belligerent and insisted on getting up – and predictably doing a spontaneous gravity check.
Also a word of thanks to Lucio & Rina Caldeira, my legal team who is just more than amazing, and the Nobel Prize for great-guy-ness to Andrea’s business partner, Kerron Johnstone. These people were my rocks upon which I could stand when I felt as if I were falling apart.
So, you want to know how I’m doing? Fucking awful is how I’m doing. I have lost my world. My life. My love. We’ve been together 16 years, married for five. We’re a few weeks short of the 6th anniversary. Today is the 16th anniversary of the day we met. I have found a great joy in my life with this lady. We had our issues, but which married couple doesn’t? At the end of the day, we had a very deep, solid, and mature love, and we could trust each other with anything and everything. (My kinky pals were always amazed that my wife would allow me to go to bondage parties! That’s how awesome she was!)
I never thought I’d be a widower at 46, but here it is… I’m devastated.
Many of you asked what you can do for me. Well, stand by. The shitshow is coming, and I’m going to call on you and make good on your offers of help. I’ll need meals, beer, chicken wings, solace, ‘leave me the hell alone’, etc. I’m lost as a cabbage-fart in a cyclone, and I’m scared and alone and rattled. In the meantime… please respect the fact that I’m fucked beyond the gills. I’m in a different and strange and dark world I do not know how to navigate, and you may need kid gloves with me. Please for the time being just let me be.
There will not be a funeral or a service or a memorial or anything. She wanted to die the way she lived: quietly, privately, with no mess or fuss. She will be cremated. Her body has been donated to Wits Medical School.
I’m out. In closing: Thanks for everything, Sweetie. Literally everything. I love you.
Go well, my love.
Andrea “Prim” Heidgen
22 September 1976 – 12 December 2020