It’s hard to see why doctors give Desmond Snyman 12 months to live. Aside from his light blue cane with a polished handle he jokingly wishes hid a sword, he appears calm, happy and healthy.
His eyes are bright and his smiles are frequent.
"I’m not a number," the 34- year-old said in his slight South African accent, which has faded since moving to Canada 10 years ago. "I’m still really young and strong. And just because that’s what they say, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen."
Snyman was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2009. He went through surgery, 10 months of chemotherapy and was back to normal and back to his job as the area director for Youth for Christ’s U-Turn program.
He enjoyed several years of remission with his wife and three kids — two sons, Sebastian, 5, who was born shortly after his procedure and Tobias, 7, along with his two-year-old daughter Sarika, who Snyman describes as a "miracle" baby after he and his wife Rebecca were told they wouldn’t be able to have any more children.
In April 2013, the cancer returned. It came back fast and strong. The cells reappeared and took hold of his lungs and one of his hip bones.
He had some 40 tumours on his lungs — doctors gave him two years, but he’s determined to give himself as much of a chance to live as possible.
That’s why Snyman will be travelling to Mexico in September to get alternative treatment for his cancer, treatment that he said works with the conventional procedures he’s getting here in Brandon.
This will be the second time travelling to the clinic after he and his wife raised the $40,000 he needed for a trip last summer through the online fundraising website Youcaring.com.
During his first visit, his treatment included injections of mistletoe, high dose vitamins, antioxidants and "natural" versions of chemotherapy, which Snyman is convinced are less toxic to his body and the reactions are far less severe.
He feels like it gives him a break from the war conventional chemo wages on his body.
Sanoviv Medical Institute, about 40 kilometres south of Tijuana, Mexico, looks more like a resort hotel from the outside. It’s a tall pearl white building surrounded by palm trees on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. But Snyman said once he stepped inside, there was no doubt it’s a hospital.
The facility has all the same cast of cancer treatment characters as home, including an oncologists, cancer specialists, physiotherapists and chiropractors and it only takes in about 20 cancer patients at a time.
The clinic describes itself as being "committed to treating you as a whole being," according to its website, "focusing on your biochemical individuality and underlying factors causing your health issues."
Snyman was, understandably, skeptical at first and remained so even until a clinic representative picked him up at the airport for his first visit. There was a nagging thought in the back of his mind it may have been all a scam.
Money is now being raised for a second — and hopefully last — trip in September for a three-week stint which will target the cancerous DNA directly instead of just the tumours.
When he told his doctors here at home about his plan to fly to Mexico to get treatment last year, reactions ran the gambit. Some were ambivalent, some were on the fence, and one thought it was downright stupid, telling Snyman if he could stop him, he would.
"Coming back with the results that I had, it’s hard to argue with that," he said. "I never expected them to encourage me to do it and that’s fine.
"I felt amazing coming back. I felt like there was nothing wrong with me."
Snyman is part of the less than one per cent of Manitoba hospital patients receiving treatment outside of Canada last year, according to a wait-time report by the Fraser Institute, but that number has been rising, albeit slightly.
CancerCare Manitoba president and CEO Dr. Sri Navaratnam said it’s not uncommon for people facing terminal cancer to take seemingly drastic measures, like the one Snyman has elected to take.
"It is very understandable," she said. "A number of people seek alternative medicine."
CancerCare highlights the need for cancer patients to keep their doctors at home abreast of any medicine they may want to take to eliminate any potential unwanted interactions with treatments.
Navaratnam also insisted Canada’s health-care system is "constantly" looking at new forms of treatment within the medical community — treatments which are vetted by national and provincial medical panels.
"We reach out for the best treatment possible," she said.
"What worries me sometimes is there’s lots of claims made on alternative medicine ... and some people lose all their savings on these."
The term "alternative medicine" is a seemingly catch-all term with a wide spectrum. Yoga, for instance, is considered to be a form of alternative treatment for illness.
"The one thing to keep in mind is oncologists want to do the best they can and to get whatever is available," Navaratnam said.
Ultimately, however, it’s up to the patient how they wish to fight.
Snyman has confidence in the team of doctors here. Doubling down on the Mexican clinic is to "sucker punch" the cancer, he said.
"It’s like putting (nitrous oxide) in a car, it just gives me that boost."
He made an "idiotic" deal with God, he said, to do whatever it takes to survive long enough to walk his daughter down the aisle and watch his boys get married — even if it means rolling in a wheelchair.
"Every time someone tells me I’m really sick and I’m not going to make it, that’s what I think of first thing."
Preparing to leave for Mexico in September, online fundraising for Snyman’s cross-continent cancer care is strong and many of the donations are anonymous.
The campaign on Youcaring.com — this time started by family friends Ben and Laurel Loewen — has raised more than $16,000 of the $25,000 needed for the second trip.
"It blew me away how quickly a community can rally together if they have a reason to do it," he said.
To contact Snyman, email email@example.com.
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