It was when he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour that former advertising creative and surfer Conn Bertish started a cancer app.
The app – called Cancer Dojo – allows both patients and their loved ones some comical relief from the effects of the disease through a variety of “cancer cell killing” games, motivational messages and a platform to chat to fellow users.
Speaking at a Mental Health Summit held in Johannesburg on Thursday, Bertish said his illness reared its head in 2006 when he started getting headaches, slurring his speech and tripping over furniture.
Although initially diagnosed with tension headaches and given vitamins to better handle his work stress, Bertish said he visited a neurologist when he struggled to write properly.
A scan revealed he had medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumour which he named Mickey.
During surgery and chemotherapy, Bertish said he never allowed himself an opportunity to feel depressed about his illness, rather looking for ways to improve his mood naturally.
His motto is simple: Happy people are hard to kill. Why? Because their immune systems are stronger.
His drawings, doodles and the upbeat messages he drew and wrote for himself became the fodder on which the app was created.
Bertish said he initially shared the app with fellow patients and before long, oncologists heard about it, trying it out on their patients.
The app has now been endorsed by oncologists from around the world.
“I come from a family of brothers who are remarkably hard to kill.
“I surf with my older brother who had double open-heart surgery and has a metal valve in his heart. My younger brother just paddled across the Atlantic with a stand-up paddle board,” he said.
“We learnt certain things in our lives dealing with these kinds of waves. It’s not about trying to fight the thing that’s taking you down.
“It’s rather about using its energy and working with the force of its wave to get you to where you want to go.
“When one of these big waves hits you or pushes you down under, its actually better to get yourself into a meditative state and not fight it or you get pushed down into the water.
“You just need to calm yourself and become part of the thing. Don’t fight against it, expending your energy and depleting your oxygen, which will affect your way of getting to the top, of beating it.”
Bertish, who finally beat his cancer in 2013, said patients needed to feel involved in their treatment in order to successfully heal.
“He said doctors only administered medication but patients needed to engage with their bodies to bring about healing.
“I created a way to engage with my disease. When I was undergoing radiation I came up with words like ‘speculisation’, ’shrivalisation’ and ‘expellation’.
“I started playing with it and turned it into a game which would work for me.
“I created games like the ‘chemo wash-and-go’ and imagining that chemotherapy was like a roller-coaster ride going through my body and I could feel the chemo going through my veins and I could almost feel those cancer cells popping.”
People can engage with Cancer Dojo via the webpage, Facebook page and the mobile app. — firstname.lastname@example.org