Most people entertain the thought of a bucket list when they reach their senior years, but when doctors told 32-year-old Jason Saunders he had terminal cancer, marrying the love of his life was something he wanted to check off his list right away.
In March, Jason, a Sunningdale resident, was diagnosed with stage-four glioblastoma multiforme, an extremely aggressive and terminal form of brain cancer.
An emergency operation was required where only 30 percent of a tumour that developed on his brain could be removed. His battle against cancer had begun, but he was not alone.
Behind him was the support of a tight-knit family and a community praying for him. And by his side, was his partner of three years, Nina Van Rooyen, who has proven her unconditional love for him in sickness and in health. Before Jason passed away on Monday November 7, at around 4.25pm, Tabletalk spoke to Nina and Jason’s mom Di Saunders about Jason’s positivity in the face of adversity, and the power of love.
“Jason is such a positive person. He told me everything is going to be okay,” said Nina at the time.
When Jason fell ill, she gave up her job to take care of him full-time. Although she valued her independence, Jason’s well-being was her top priority.
“I didn’t want to leave his side. He would get up only to wash then go back to bed and sleep for hours at a time. When he’d wake up, he had a special whistle, and I’d get so happy because my “liefie” was awake,” she said.
As months passed, Jason’s health improved, and the couple got engaged during a visit to Nina’s home province, Mpumalanga.
She smiled as she recalled how nervous he was on bended knee while holding up a ring at God’s Window, a tourist attraction on the Drakensberg escarpment.
“He just said, ‘Please, will you marry me?’ He was so nervous. He chose that specific spot to propose because God has been with us through this difficult time.”
A date was set for January 2017 and a venue and church booked and the two were blissfully happy. Then things took a turn for the worse. Jason started experiencing unbearable back pain, neck spasms and daily vomiting.
Visits to the chiropractor and GP and massages did little to help relieve his physical anguish.
Then a scan last month revealed the cancer had spread to his spine. Nina, who is just 27, sat at a table in the Sunningdale home she and Jason moved into last year as she told their story.
Bane, a six-month-old beagle lightly scratched her arm for attention. She and Jason decided to get a dog to help them through this terrible time.
Her father, Anton Van Rooyen, and Jason’s mother, Di Saunders sat next to her. Talking about Jason was difficult; holding back her tears even more so.
She told how Jason was admitted to Mediclinic Durbanville two weeks before and was subdued by morphine.
“Doctors told his mother and me that he’s on his last. He said the cancer is three times worse. I was devastated,” said Nina.
It was her father who suggested they get married in hospital.
“Jason had woken up, and I went to him and said Nina wants to get married today and he joked asking ‘to who?’,” said Anton.
Within four hours, the family arranged an officer of the court, a preacher, and a photographer.
The two said their vows with Jason lying in bed in a blue hospital gown and Nina standing beside him, looking radiant in a white dress and a wreath of flowers on her head.
“He said we are going to get through this. He’s such a positive person. When I met him, it was love at first sight. Hy’s my pot se deksel.”
Di said where there was life, there was hope.
“They only gave him a few days, and it’s two weeks later. That’s a testament to my son’s strong spirit.
“I want to thank Mediclinic Durbanville for all their help. They have been so supportive during this time. I would also like to thank Hillsong Century City and the View Church as well as the community for praying for Jason. Prayer is so powerful and you can see the difference in Jason after someone has prayed for him,” says Di.
The community had also pledged their support to help alleviate the financial burden of the operations and treatments.
Last week a fund-raising walk along the beachfront raised just under R50 000.
A planned golf day is going ahead to cover medical bills. For details on these events, visit the Facebook page #blueforjay
“It’s been a life changing journey that we can’t describe. A journey that has brought us to our knees,” said Nina.