Surviving cancer through COVID-19- young pharmacist shares his story
When Dean Fabian Fritz, a 30-year-old Roving Post-Basic Pharmacist Assist, started his journey with Western Cape Government Health in 2012, he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, especially those who live with serious chronic conditions.
Dean explains that his work entails going to different facilities as he is needed. “What I do enjoy the most is being an individual that all our facilities can count on and having a positive influence on these working environments through my positive personality and work ethic. Some of my highlights is being placed at most facilities with the roll-out of JAC (a computerised dispensing system) and receiving appreciation awards this year from the Department,” explains Dean.
“I’ve been married for six years, have three kids, one son and two daughters. I love sports, especially soccer, being outdoors, and spending time with my family and friends.”
In February 2019, Dean’s life suddenly changed. He started experiencing heart palpitations and severe pain across his left chest. After being admitted to hospital, he was diagnosed with myocarditis, which is inflammation within the heart. On 3 December he experienced similar symptoms once again and was admitted to hospital again. “This time they said after all the scans and blood works that the heart was fine but a hematologist was coming to see me and that they’ve picked up some cancerous cells within my blood. He diagnosed me with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which is a very aggressive form of blood cancer,” explains Dean.
“As with all dreaded disease, the moment they inform you, nothing can prepare you for the shock and our mindset at that point has a huge effect of our condition going forward. I consider myself a very strong person but seeing the tears rushing down my wife’s face as we received the news broke me,” he recalls.
Fortunately Dean’s cancer was discovered early. “We immediately commenced with chemotherapy, which started with an induction phase. I was given a high dose of steroids and intensive chemotherapy with lots of lumber punctures.” Dean managed quite well during this stage, except for the loss of hair, as only later the appetite disappeared and his muscle started to deteriorate. The consolidation phase consisted of more intensive chemotherapy.
Dean shares that it was during this phase that it became really tough. Where he always focused on helping other people, he now had to accept that he needed help. “I battled to eat and struggled with mobility. My wife assisted me with most of my daily activities. I ended up a few times in hospital, once in ICU because of infections I picked up. These small breaks afforded me to gain some strength and appetite.”
Because of COVID-19, Dean could not undergo the bone marrow transplant he was supposed to get. “There was too much risk involved, as the transplant required more intensive chemotherapy, which would resulted in weakening my entire immune system. We then commenced with maintenance therapy, which is a low dose of chemotherapy on a monthly bases and daily oral chemotherapy. I am still busy with maintenance therapy at the moment, with the intension of doing the transplant after there is more clarity around the pandemic,” explains Dean.
Dean believes that this journey is preparing him to make a positive impact in the lives of others. “I consider myself a very spiritual person and from the beginning I knew that my life was in the hands of my Maker. I also knew that He had a purpose with this experience. The thought of leaving my wife with three kids after we just lost her mom a few months ago to cancer and being the bread winner, was difficult. But I have a strong will to survive and make it through for their sake. I believe my mindset when I received the news was vital. To see people’s conditions during my hospitalisations made me feel very humble and fortunate. It gave me a lot of hope and courage. I’m focused on getting well so that I can serve people with severe chronic conditions in my role as pharmacist.”
He encourages others to see the positive in their lives. “We must appreciate the small things in life. We must focus on what is important – living life to the fullest and to be the best version of ourselves. Look after your body, eat healthy, get some exercise and also look after your mental wellbeing. We are responsible for our own happiness.”
Principal Communications Officer: Southern Western Sub-structures
Western Cape Government Health
Tel: 021 202 0947
Mobile: 081 277 0516