Ilse-Mari Hodgskiss



Former Big Brother housemate beats lymphoma

Diagnosed at age: 33

Ilse-Mari Hanekom (now Hodgskiss), from Big Brother South Africa fame, thought the future looked bright when she got engaged. She was just about hearing wedding bells but instead it seemed fate had something else in store for her.

A mere two weeks after her engagement, in February 2008, a bombshell was dropped on her life; she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

The cancer was diagnosed after a two-year struggle with an aching shoulder, previously diagnosed as muscle damage. She also had a swollen gland in her neck for about two-and-a half years, but her doctor diagnosed this as a harmless sinus infection.

After numerous attempts to cure her “damaged muscle” and “sinus infection” she consulted a shoulder specialist, and only through a biopsy on her shoulder was it found that she had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, stage 4.

Her family, friends and fiancé rallied to her support and stood by her all the way. Her chemotherapy was started immediately, and although there were tough days, Ilse-Mari never lost faith in her religion and was fortunate enough to be able to rely on the support of her loved ones.

Her positive mind-set also sustained her and gave her strength; through all the night sweats, fevers, mouth sores and hair loss. Somehow she kept her high spirits.

Ilse-Marie received chemotherapy combined with targeted therapy (also known as monoclonal antibodies). Targeted therapy for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma has extremely positive success rates as the therapy targets the cancer cells and uses the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer.

Her chemotherapy days were quite an event at The Little Company of Mary in Pretoria! She would find new ways of entertaining her fellow patients and every chemo day she would put on a show that had her fellow patients, despite their trying circumstances, in stitches.

Patients might have been forgiven if they thought they were at a hair show instead of at a cancer treatment centre when, on one occasion, Ilse-Marie put on a “wig” parade while getting treatment, dancing away with her drip and modelling every one of her six wigs to the applause and laughter of her fellow patients!

On her last day of treatment, she held a pizza and champagne party at the oncology centre, giving every single patient, doctor and nurses a glass of champagne and some pizza. Her recovery was a triumph to be celebrated!

Ilse-Mari was cured in June 2008. Since then, she cherishes her loved ones dearly; her motto being, as the wise Horatio urged us to do, to ‘Grab the day!’. She thanks God continuously for her recovery and that she finally tied the knot and heard, for real, the wedding bells she had anticipated hearing for so long.

But ‘Has Ilse-Mari been restored to health?’ you might wonder. And the answer is, yes!

The magnificent Drakensberg has always been a favourite of Ilse-Mari. She absolutely loves hiking; climbing to the highest peaks; and getting that adrenaline rush for standing on the edge of the Tugela Falls. Lesotho is also part of her ‘Top 10 – places to go’.

In 2010 she embarked on a journey to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as yet another wonderful expedition to celebrate every day extra she is granted health, spirit and laughter! She was successful in summiting Kilimanjaro with her Team of Hope which included fellow NHL survivor Lionel Greenberg and avid mountaineer, Robby Kojetin, in an effort to create awareness of lymphoma.

Ilse-Marie didn’t stop with her life adventure there. In 2011 she and her husband welcomed their first child into the world, embarking on the wonders of parenthood.