At age 26, Reyaan was a Muay Thai boxing champion at the peak of his career, when he had a serious accident. A CAT scan done during subsequent treatment revealed a brain tumour he’d otherwise have missed. Reyaan has survived to become a cancer warrior.
In 2003, Reyaan van der Westhuizen was a teenager with angst to burn off in the gym. “I started going to gym to be big and buff, like a typical hormonal teenage boy. One of my trainers said I had to do cardio, and I happened to see this ad about Muay Thai and that it was great for cardio fitness. It gripped me. I was doing Muay Thai four times a week, then three days of gym,” the 36-year-old recalls – somewhat incredulously, looking back today.
His passion turned him into a South African championship fighter. “I competed at the world championships in Thailand. Muay Thai was my life,” he adds.
Then, in the summer of 2008, tragedy struck.
Reyaan was in an accident while riding his new Suzuki Bandit motorbike. “I was on my way home from the Southern suburbs in Cape Town. A car jumped the stop street and hit me right off my bike. I woke up six days later in hospital. The script flipped completely. I didn’t know who I was. I looked at my arms and saw all the medical devices. Both arms were broken and I sustained a right brain injury resulting in my being unable to walk or talk.”
Reyaan’s family was told that his physical strength saved his life. “They said my body was so used to hard impacts from fighting, and I was strong enough to survive. Also, while in my coma, the only person whose voice I reacted to was my Muay Thai coach. That was the end of my fighting career, but with the Muay Thai spirit I wanted to train again, and I did eventually.”
“For me, hope is knowing I want to be alive. I’ve always been excited about living life.” – Reyaan.
Double blows in succession
“In 2010 when the doctors were doing a check-up, they discovered a brain tumour. It was not connected to the accident, but without the accident I would not have known about it until it was too late,” Reyaan says.
After living healthily with the tumour for a few years, it grew to a point that it required surgery. In 2015, most of the tumour was removed, but Reyaan also needed radiation. "I thought of each session like a round of Muay Thai. I was a fighter and the tumour was my opponent. It was my longest fight, 30 rounds in three months."
Reyaan is the epitome of a fighting spirit. “For me, hope is knowing I want to be alive. I’ve always been excited about living life. There is so much you can do each day, and this keeps me going.”
Now a motivational speaker, Reyaan adds, “I am supercharged and energetic and this is the effect I have on others – to be the light at the end of the tunnel for people going through dark times. Cancer gave me the biggest opportunity to make a big difference in the world by letting people know they can achieve anything – believe it. To be a Muay Thai champion, I had to fight and so too, with my battle against cancer. On the last day of my radiotherapy, I took my boxing gloves with me and asked the nurse to take a few pics – boxing gloves against the machine, knee and elbows out to fight the machine.”
Reyaan says he has recovered in many ways. “I can’t train as hard as I used to, to avoid any brain trauma or concussions. I do a lot of strength training, stretching and walking. I am also re-growing my brain – yes! I am amazed at how the brain works. I am training as a life and body coach, and learning hypnotherapy. I am also doing courses in neuro-linguistic programming, which helps with neuroplasticity. It literally helps my brain grow.” Neuroplasticity refers to the flexibility of the brain that allows the neurons or nerve cells to reorganise after injury and disease, or adapt to new environments.
Medical cover supports Reyaan throughout
Reyaan recently posted a photograph while having a CAT scan on social media, saying how thankful he was for his medical care and support received through his Discovery Health Medical Scheme (DHMS) cover. “It’s about gratitude. Those scans saved my life. There are always negative aspects to life, people always complain on social media. I worked as a team leader and young people would ask, ‘What do I need medical aid for?’ When those big things happened to me, there was no way I could have covered the care I got without the help I got from DHMS. At the same time, I am going through my journey. The scans say ‘you beat it, you are clear’. For me, that deserves gratitude, and you have to give thanks for everything in life.”
- See Reyaan’s Facebook post about the support he received from Discovery here.
On the Discovery journey, all the way
"You know, if I hadn’t used the Vitality gym offer at Virgin Active, I would never have found Muay Thai. If I hadn’t been raised in the world of Muay Thai I wouldn’t have beat cancer," he says.
Reyaan’s Discovery products have been as asset to him in more ways than one. “It isn’t just my DHMS cover – although I have had treatment that covers my contributions a thousand times over. Thanks to my Discovery Life products, my Income Continuation Benefit kicked in when I was unable to work, twice. After I recovered, Vitality’s travel benefits meant that when I was well, I could visit the US, Germany, Spain, Portugal – sometimes to speak about my story.”
“Most importantly, every time I go in for a scan I never know what the result might be. I do know that come what may, I won’t have to stress about it, because I am covered in many ways.”
This article is meant only as information and should not be taken as financial advice. For tailored financial advice, please contact your financial adviser. Discovery Life Limited. Registration number 1966/003901/06, is a registered long-term insurer, and an authorised financial services and registered credit provider, NCR registration number NCRCP3555. Product rules, terms and conditions apply.
The Vitality Health programme encourages and rewards you for getting healthier.
From savings on monthly gym fees, discounted movies and flights, cash back on your groceries and fuel, weekly rewards and more, being healthier has never been more rewarding
Read more about Vitality on www.discovery.co.za
- This Endorsement does not constitute financial advice.
The Discovery Health Medical Scheme is an independent non-profit entity governed by the Medical Schemes Act, and regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes. It is administered by a separate company, Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, an authorised financial services provider.
Discovery Life Limited. Registration number 1966/003901/06, is a registered long-term insurer, and an authorised financial services and registered creditprovider, NCR Reg No. NCRCP3555
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