Sabbatical

Approximately six months ago, I took both a frightening as well as an exhilarating decision to take an indefinite sabbatical from my role as an academic. The reason for jumping into the abyss and fulfilling what I had come to view as my life’s purpose was to write a book as a tribute to two very special people in my life; my brother Eugene and his partner, Pieter.

This tribute is my witness to their six-year journey living with cancer after my brother was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. The purpose of my blog is therefore to share with you my journey of writing this tribute, which will be in the form of a book I hope to publish within the next year or so. Along the way I will introduce you to Eugene and Pieter and their lives together and provide you with a taste of what makes them so special.

I agonized for days over what the title of my blog should be. In the end I decided that it couldn’t be any other than what it is. “One step at a time” became Eugene’s mantra over the six years living with terminal cancer. With a positive and optimistic disposition, he was determined to make the most of what time he had and taking one step at a time allowed him to make the most of every moment without dwelling too much on the road ahead. The photograph is also significant as it is identical to a view of a beach in the North East, a very special place to me and where I have numerous happy memories of my times with Eugene and Pieter.

My belief in human nature is such that I am sure my decision will evoke some empathy in you. However, I can also anticipate that, despite your sympathetic response, a question will arise in your mind that says, “Millions of people go through the same journey every day, so what makes them unique?” And, of course, you would be absolute right; millions go through what they did. So what, indeed, prompted me to give up my career to write this tribute?

To begin with, my brother and I were incredibly close and shared a bond that remained strong despite the fact that I travelled and lived thousands of miles away from him for more than thirty years; he was gay in a very conservative environment with many of the restrictions that goes with this; Eugene and Pieter shared a very special love and commitment to each other during their 23 year relationship.

Their years together meant they had to live under the constraints a gay couple faces in a community brimming with many prejudices. This was particularly problematic during my brother’s six-year ordeal with cancer as Pieter was not recognized as his next of kin. This has practical as well as emotional consequences in terms of sharing the burden of the many decisions to be made regarding treatment, care, etc.

The final fact that clinched it for me was my testimony to their exceptional love and support for each other during this time in particular. Nothing was ever too much trouble for Pieter and he made every sacrifice necessary to ensure the journey for Eugene was as bearable as it could possibly be, many times at a cost to his own personal wellbeing.

So, yes, they are not celebrities and you will certainly not have recognized them if you bumped into them. However, the story of their love and support is worthy of telling and who knows, it might just bring some comfort to one or two of the other few millions of people who embark on this one-way journey with terminal cancer as an unwanted companion.

Before I conclude my introduction to this blog and its purpose, allow me to introduce you to Eugene and Pieter. Eugene is the blond one and when Pieter first met him, he thought to himself: “I have to get to know this tall, sexy blond.” And he did and 23 years later, he still thinks of Eugene in the same way. Pieter, is the dark one on the right and in their case, opposites certainly did attract and was a recipe for an enduring, mutually supportive and contented relationship.

Duimpie Blydepoort

 

Pieter Blydepoort 2

 

These photographs were taken on their very first holiday together, shortly after they had met. Throughout my blog I will also introduce you to the people that have touched the lives of Eugene and Pieter, either as individuals or as a couple.

Thank you for taking the time to read my introduction to a scary, but exciting new phase in my life. I look forward to your companionship on this journey. Your comments and suggestions over the weeks and months to come will be both encouraging as well as provide me with feedback, practical advice and suggestions.

 


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