Pink Drive – saving lives
18 April 2016
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live and time to chat a little bit about one of my favourite charity organisations and it’s something that’s very close to my heart. If you’ve followed my story over the years, you’ll know that I lost my mom to breast cancer back in 2010, two weeks before my very first Comrades Marathon.
The organisation has really grown over the last six years since I was first made aware of it and they are doing some phenomenal work across the country. It’s an absolute pleasure to welcome the KZN administrator for the Pink Drive onto the podcast today, Janice Benecke, Janice, welcome onto Old Mutual Live, thanks for joining us today.
Janice Benecke: Thank you for inviting me, it’s my pleasure.
BB: Janice, Comrades is creeping us on pretty quickly and the Pink Drive are very much involved around Comrades. We’ll talk about some of the things you’ve got planned for Comrades 2016, but I wanted to delve a little bit into your story. Because you’re doing some great work for the Pink Drive, but you’re a cancer survivor and I say ‘survivor’, you’ve beaten it down twice. Had to fight it really hard and you’ve also lost someone very close to you as well. Your journey with this terrible disease goes back to the early 90’s.
JB: Yes, it does, 1994 and 1995.
A fighting spirit
BB: It’s been a long time that, I don’t want to say it’s been part of your life, but it’s something you’ve had to think about and be concerned about over the years. You’ve had a pretty rough time of it.
JB: It’s been a long, hard walk, it’s not easy to go through everything that I’ve been through. That’s why I do what I do because I don’t want the next person to go through what I’ve been through.
BB: Janice, I find it fascinating, fighting this disease is hard enough, but to be able to go back and work in that space, dealing with people who are fighting it daily. It must be pretty hard on you physically and psychologically to see what other people are going through. Knowing what they’re in the middle of, because you’ve been there.
JB: Yes, sometimes it is a bit difficult because it does take me back to what I’ve been through. But I know what that person is going to go through, so I think I’m basically perfect for this. Because I can tell them, listen, this is what’s going to happen. This is what you must do to avoid it. I give them little titbits and little bit of advice and I can give them love and encouragement. Because I know exactly what you need, when you need it and when you don’t need it. That’s what I like to do.
BB: Janice, let’s talk about that first diagnosis back in the mid 90’s, ’94 and ’95 and how that came about that you were first diagnosed with cancer.
JB: It started off with a sore back and I didn’t know what to do. I went to so many doctors and everything and no one could see anything, even on the x-ray, so I’ll tell you a little joke. My husband even thought, because I don’t really like to go to the kitchen, he thought, maybe I’m saying I’ve got a sore back when it’s just like a little. He told me go and investigate it further.
I went to a specialist and he said to me, listen, he gave me a whole lot of things of what he thought it could be and then he dropped cancer in. He sent me down, I was living in Empangeni, down to Durban to a surgeon here for further investigation. When I went to that surgeon, that was difficult because he said to me, suspect the worst. To me the worst is once you’ve got cancer, the worst is you’re going to die, you know what I mean?
That was a little bit nerve wrecking with all the tests and everything that I had to go through. Then they found this, it was like a golf ball size growth on my coccyx bone which was growing up my spine and had spread to my lungs. That was a huge operation I had to have and intensive chemo and very long hard walk with that, I tell you. I don’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Beating it twice
BB: I remember reading a little bit that you wrote about that chemo treatment and how hard that was on your body. You had been through it once and you came through that and you were in remission. Then many years later you were diagnosed again and it was back. That must be really hard, it’s almost and I use the analogy with Comrades.
A Comrades novice, when you’re going into it for the first time, you’re not quite sure what to expect so you’re nervous and you’re a bit scared. But second time around you know what you’re in for and you know how hard it’s going to be. Was that a bitter pill to swallow, knowing that you’re going to have to do this again?
JB: Ja, actually you’re right, it was. I was very positive but my husband took it quite bad because I was really ill the first time. I was in and out of hospital, I had to had blood transfusions and everything to keep me alive but with a great God and a strong family supporting me I managed.
Then when I heard that I would have to have chemo again and they were going to give me the same chemo that I had the first time, it’s called The Little Red Devil, it’s not called that for nothing cause it makes you sick. I had like a flashback of what I had been through and I thought, I’ve got to go through all this all over again. It was going to be difficult and everything.
You know, things have changed and the medication that they gave me, the second time with chemo, it wasn’t as harsh as it was the first time. Although I had to have my heart checked to see if I could cope with that intensive chemo again. But I managed and even more difficult, because at the same time my husband was diagnosed with multi myeloma, which is bone marrow cancer. I mean, I’m having operations and chemo and I’m coming home to bath, dry and dress him because he couldn’t do it himself. It’s a very painful type of cancer that he had and then sadly he died seven months after that.
BB: I wanted to touch on that and I said in the introduction that obviously you fought it and you’ve bounced back from it twice, but you lost someone very close, you lost your hubbie. Who was a great support to you when you were diagnosed, particularly first time around. When you were very ill, it must have put a massive strain on you in your fight, second time around and it must have been hard to deal with.
JB: It was very hard to deal with, but you know, I just had to. I had to cope to. This poor man, he could hardly move. This cancer that he had, it eats the bone marrow and the bones, so it was like sharks teeth, so when he moved he was in excruciating pain. I had to just be strong for him and lucky I had my two sisters who came every day to help me. But they couldn’t do the personal side of it, I had to do all of that for him. I did have help, but yes, very hard.
BB: And your help now, this was a while ago as well that you had to deal with that, are you 100%? You’re obviously going for all your check-ups because that’s the important bit and we’ll touch on the Pink Drive and what they promote and that sort of ties into it big time. But you personally, how are you doing health-wise?
JB: The moment I’m 100%, I’ve had all my tests done last year, I’ve got to go again this year. Obviously, the blood results have come back that you would swear I never even had cancer. My cuts and everything have all healed well that you can barely see them.
I do have two little specks on my liver that have stayed the same size and we’re just leaving it. We just test it once a year, it stays there. My health is fine, I’ve got my strength and I’ve got a real passion now for this job that I love. I love my job.
Early detection makes a huge difference
BB: Janice, let’s talk about the Pink Drive, I mentioned it’s something that’s very close to my heart, having lost my mom to breast cancer. One of the big things about breast cancer is if it’s picked up early, many times it is curable. That you can fight the disease and you will survive it. But so often people leave it too late. They pick up a lump or they know something is wrong, but they almost want to stick their head in the sand and ignore it and hope it goes away. That’s not the way to really tackle this horrible disease.
JB: Absolutely not! The minutes you feel anything or you now any change in your body, the first thing you must do is you need to go and have it checked. Because it does not go away, it gets bigger. If it gets bigger, you’ll end up with a mastectomy and then you’ll have no boob.
Whereas they can take it, they can catch it when it’s a small pea-like size and it’s a small operation and maybe you don’t even have chemo. You have it if you leave it, then you’re going to have to have a huge operation, you’re going to have to have chemo. You’re going to have to have radiation and I mean that is a year and a half out of your life.
BB: Absolutely, I can’t tell people more, that if you do suspect that something may not be 100% right, go check it out and that applies to guys too. I know lots of people that I know and they might pick up a lump in the shower, wherever it is. They go ah, it can’t be that serious.
Go and get it checked out, really do it. When it comes to the Pink Drive, the work that you guys do is just phenomenal. Those mobile pink trucks that you’ve got. We often see them on the side of the road at Comrades, tell us a bit about the story behind those trucks.
The Pink Drive trucks servicing communities
JB: I love those trucks, I’m telling you, they are so brilliant. We take them to the Comrades and that to show the trucks off and what have you. But we go around to communities where people have got no medical aid or they cannot get to go and have a mammogram.
We set up, it’s a huge, big plan that has to get made. They just did one in Cape Town, driving around Cape Town with these trucks. Then they come and we’ll do that mammogram on them and then they don’t get the results straight away. I think it takes a week or so and then they get their results.
Those trucks are absolutely brilliant. They go all over, with our educational trucks as well, to speak to the people in their own language. To explain to them the importance of early detection and to go for your breast examinations and things like that. I’m actually very proud to say that we have done over 9 654 free mammograms, that’s a lot of mammograms to be done for free.
BB: That’s phenomenal and like we said, it’s early detection that saves lives and if you’re picking it up early, you can quantify the amount of lives you’ve saved by doing that. Janice, one of the things that Pink Drive also does and allows runners to do, particularly around Comrades, is to raise funds for the Pink Drive. In doing that, the runners get a bit of a benefit too.
If you raise R5 000 you can get into that CC batch seeding where you can start slightly further up in Pietermaritzburg. It will save you some time going over the start line. Obviously an organisation like Pink Drive is reliant on sponsorship and funding in order to do the good work that you do. You’ve been really well received at a race like Comrades haven’t you?
Great partnership with Comrades
JB: Yes, the Comrades is one of our biggest runs that we have. Our runners absolutely love us to bits. Not only that, we spoil them as well, as you said. By raising that, they’ve got to join the race for charity, on the Comrades side. They raise R5 000, for that R5 000 they go into a special CC seeding, which is closer to the front. They get to run in our Pink Drive kit, which is approved by the Comrades Marathon. You’re allowed to run in the kit that we give you.
It’s got the Comrades logo on it and everything, with the socks and the armbands and all the things that you’re allowed. Of course there’s a lot of goodies in the goodie bag and that that they get. They also qualify to go into a holiday that’s been sponsored, one of the runners will get chosen that reaches the R5 000. But there are a few runners that can’t raise that money. They will then run just for Pink Drive, it’s R500. They get the same kit and everything to run in and they’re also supporting a good cause.
BB: Janice, that’s fantastic and you guys also have a big presence at the expo every year and you sell lots of pink goodies and jewellery. There’s a little bit of something for everyone. I know my wife and my kids love going to that stand.
They always pick up their goodies and remember their granny. It’s a wonderful weekend and then you’re also out there on race day as well. What have you got planned for this year, is it pretty much the same at the expo and what’s the plan for race day?
Pink Drive out in full force again
JB: The expo is basically the same as the previous years. We are one of the charities that actually took the initiative and bought our own stand. So we’ve got our own stand, plus the one with the official charities for the Comrades. There we also do free breast examinations and we also do the PSA screening for the men.
Then on race day we are a huge watering hole. We’ve got 24 tables, that’s 12 tables on either side of the road. We’ve got our trucks, we’ve got our physiotherapists, we’ve got toilets and on our stands we have to, because it’s so big.
We’ve got a school, the Kloof High School that actually give us, I think it’s 140 students that come and help us on the day. Because we hand out water, juices, fruits, the sweets and we’ve got our physiotherapists that help you if you need a rub or need attention. Our stand is very big, it’s like a mile long and it’s all pink!
BB: When on the route is it Janice? You mentioned Kloof High School, I’m gathering it’s in that region, that area?
JB: No, we are actually on the N3 by the toll gate bridge, that’s where we are.
BB: I was going to say, on the Down run, you talk about the physios at that stage in the Comrades, all you want is just some love. That’s all you need, is just someone to love you because you are hating yourself at that stage in the run!
JB: You get plenty of that from us because we all scream you on and we give you that boost. Last year we were at the bottom of Polly Shortts and we gave people so much motivation to get up that hill that we had so many positive comments from them, it was lovely.
BB: Janice, I think what you guys are doing at the Pink Drive is phenomenal, thank you for everything that you do and the entire team, please pass on our best to Noelene as well, Director of Pink Drive. I don’t know where she gets the energy from, but she does some phenomenal work as well.
Best of luck in the build up to Comrades and best of luck to you as well in your health challenges and I hope you remain totally clean. Congratulations on what you’ve achieved and just fighting that disease and doing what you’ve done. I know it’s been a rough journey but it looks like everything is good at the moment.
JB: It is, thank you very much.