Article Movement & Migration

A sporting chance - how one woman succeeded in calling society to action

She came across as a reserved, soft-spoken young woman, but the months that unfolded revealed much more about this remarkable individual

I remember our first encounter, at a meeting with volunteers of the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) in Plettenberg Bay. CANSA is a non-profitable organisation whose purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa through research, public education and the provision of support to all people affected by cancer. Hanlie Sinclair, an industrious fundraiser for the organisation, was the youngest member of the group.

This successful businesswoman and mother of two developed a keen interest in sport, specifically long-distance running and cycling. She is recorded as one of Plett Athletics Club’s veteran runners of many a long-distance race. In 2010, she completed the Comrades Marathon for the first time. This ultramarathon of approximately 89 km runs annually in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Entrants hail from more than 60 countries. The direction of the race alternates each year between the “up” run (87 km) starting from Durban and the “down” run (89 km) starting from Pietermaritzburg. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race.

Every year Hanlie and her husband take part in the Cape Town Cycle Tour, formerly known as the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Momentum Cycle Tour. It takes place annually in the Western Cape Province in South Africa and was established in 1978. It is currently the world’s largest individually timed cycling event, with as many as 35,000 cyclists taking part.

Finding out you’re at high risk of cancer leads to difficult questions and decisions.

Hanlie’s journey with CANSA began approximately five years back when her mother became ill with cancer. A team of retired medical sisters, voluntering for CANSA, took care of her mother during this time. Sadly her mother died later, at the age of 57 years, but the dedication displayed by these women left such a big impression on her that she decided to join the group as a volunteer fundraiser to aid cancer prevention and treatment programmes.

According to the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), more than 7 million people die from cancer, and more than 11 million new cases are diagnosed worldwide. Cancer kills more people every year than Aids, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Peter Boyle, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), said that the continued growth and ageing of the world’s population would greatly affect the cancer burden.

By 2030, it could be expected that there would be 27 million cases of cancer, 17 million cancer deaths annually and 75 million people living with cancer within five years of diagnosis. A global challenge like cancer requires global action and the participation and support of world leaders, leading cancer organisations and cancer survivors to join together by making commitments to take action in their communities to reduce the burden of the illness (Ĺivestrong Foundation, previously known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation).

During 24–26 August 2009, an unprecedented gathering of 500 delegates representing more than 65 countries occurred in Dublin, Ireland, at the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Summit. The summit report outlines the events of those three days and highlights opportunities and strategies that were identified that collectively provide a unified multinational roadmap to making cancer a global priority.

As a result of cancer in the family, Hanlie became proactive, determined not to suffer the same fate as her mother. She had tests done to determine the probability of developing cancer, which revealed a 93% risk . Facing the news of the test results led her to a life-changing decision - to have preventive mastectomy, which is surgery to remove one or both breasts in the hope of preventing or reducing your risk of breast cancer and an ovarectomy to prevent ovarian cancer.

Drawing from her mother’s experience with cancer and witnessing the suffering of other victims of cancer, she knew what may lie ahead should she fail to tackle this head on and as early as possible. Keep in mind that being identified as high risk doesn’t mean one is certain to get cancer. All it means is that your likelihood of developing the disease is several times higher than that of an average-risk person according to the Cancer.Net Editorial Board and Mayo Clinic.

“The decision to have surgery wasn’t negotiable. I wanted to witness my children grow up and to be there for my family for as long as I can. I was willing to take every precaution to do just that,” says Hanlie. She did some research on preventive surgery in order to prepare. According to the National Cancer Institute, mastectomy and ovarectomy for high-risk women may reduce the risk of developing cancer by 90%. In August 2013 Hanlie underwent a double prophylactic mastectomy and ovarectomy. It took a few months for her to fully recover from this delicate operation. Both her children tested negative for cancer.

Although I may not walk with kings, let me be big in little things.

In 2014, Hanlie decided to combine an existing passion - her love for sports - with a new passion, using a running event such as the Otter African Trail Run, to champion the fight against cancer. This world-famous run, Africa’s premier marathon distance trail run, also dubbed the “Holy Grail of trail”, is an exclusive event permitting no more than 200 participants, a taxing trial with 7,020 steps en route.

The challenge starts in the Storms River Rest Camp in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park and finishing at De Vasselot Campsite, Nature’s Valley. It is a two-day event including a 4-6 km Prologue Route on the first day and the featured 42km traverse of the iconic Otter Hiking Trail on the second day. The completion of both events is mandatory in order to qualify for a medal. This trail run is extremely difficult and demands a high level of technical proficiency and endurance.

A friend whose husband was one of the entrants for the annual Otter Trail Run encouraged her to participate and insisted on sponsoring her entry fee. The 7,020 steps along the route sparked the idea of raising funds to obtain much-needed adult diapers and nutritional shakes for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.

“I love pushing boundaries and enjoy exploring new opportunities. The Otter Trail Run is something I have always wanted to experience. This was my opportunity to do something worthwhile,” says Hanlie, who owns a beauty salon.

She took on the challenge with the condition to acquire sponsorship for each step taken, with CANSA as the preferred beneficiary. At first she pitched the idea to family and friends following advertisements on social media sites and local newspapers. She named her campaign “Hanlie’s Steps for CANSA”. Soon businesses and individuals bought into the vision and caused sponsors to challenge each other to improve on pledges rendered. One such business, Hunter Hotels, with its head office based in Plettenberg Bay, gave a generous sponsorship for the acquisition of adult diapers for cancer patients.

Julie Smith, the group’s human resources and operations manager, says that Hunter Hotels takes its corporate social responsibility very seriously. “In our community we have friends, family as well as staff affected by cancer. After I saw Hanlie’s plea for sponsorship in our local newspaper and on Facebook, I decided to give her a call. It was a worthy cause to support,” said Smith.

According to the veteran runner she was so excited about the challenge, starting the race at a high speed. “Halfway through the race I became extremely tired and had to rest for a while in order to get my strength back!” says Hanlie. Her husband and children awaited her at the finishing point. A substantial amount of money was generated as a result of this initiative. Hanlie continues her tireless efforts leading the fight against the spread of cancer, along with her team of volunteers, through community education and prevention programmes.

Quote - Sunday poem: Little things, by Edgar A Guest

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