Breast Cancer October 26, 2018 00:00
Breast Cancer Awareness month really seems redundant. These days we are all too aware of this terrifying illness. Everyone knows at least one person who has suffered from breast cancer, and breast cancer is still the most invasive cancer in women.
Breast cancer is in my family, so I'm always aware of the possibility going through that at some point in my life.
I thought I'd speak to my friend, Lizelle Slabber, about her experiences.
When and how did you find out that you had cancer?
I was diagnosed in Nov 2014 with triple negative breast cancer. I found lumps under my arms and felt extreme fatigue. GP first thought it was glandular fever cause the lumps appeared under both arms initially then after a while were only under left armpit. We waited a week but lumps were still there, that’s when they did biopsy of the lumps. Tests came back positive but showed that lymph wasn’t primary so they did further tests and mammogram and they found lumps in my breast.
Had you ever thought about it before and gone for regular check ups?
After my babies were born I went for regular check-ups, mammos and pap smears, but never once did I ever think of the fact that one day “it could happen to me”.
How did you feel when you first heard you had cancer?
I recall the day like it was yesterday…when my GP called and said she wanted to see me to discuss the results I knew my life was about to change forever. My mom was with me and as the doctor said the word cancer, my first reaction was NOOO I don’t want to die now! My kids are still so small they need me. I basically experienced every emotion all at once.
Along with illness usually comes a lot of emotional and psychological turmoil. How did your family handle the situation?
Parents: Because my parents had already lost one child, my brother was killed in a car accident 5 years prior to my diagnosis, there was no way I could let them loose both their kids! It was a huge shock to all of us. We are a very close family so they would do anything and everything they could to help which they did.
I had chemo every three weeks. My mom (69 at the time) would often drive, alone if my dad was working, from the Eastern Cape to come nurse me for a week after chemo. She slept on a mattress next to my bed every night, fed and bathed me like a baby literally…
My dad always stayed positive and supported us all. He was the glue and logical one when things unravelled as they sometimes do when you in the midst of fighting for your life.
Husband: Soon after I was diagnosed Ms Karras, the head of department when I was studying, came to visit and shared a few pearls of wisdom of which she had so many.
She said, "This cancer thing is actually the most difficult for the spouse, you know."
And she was right…they want to fix it, make it all better, make it go away, take your place, do anything but see their beloved suffer. Our lives changed forever that day I had to tell my husband over the phone, because he was on a gig, that I had breast cancer. He had to be dad and mom to our kids. And go to work every day and keep it together. I thank God every day that He blessed me with such a faithful and amazing man who stood by me “in sickness and in health”.
Our children were 6 and 2 at the time so still very young. They kept me going and fighting every day.
Did you find a lot of support in your family and friends?
The love and support we got from family and friends was truly amazing. Our one friend refers to it as the “laager manoeuvre” which explains it so well. We were surrounded by love and support all the time and in so many different ways.
Looking back, what did you need most from family and friends in terms of support?
To look after my kids because I physically couldn’t most of the time. Pray for me continuously. And to tell me everything’s gonna be ok. In my experience fighting cancer is a lonely journey because at the end of the day its only you who can fight the fight, really.
Tell me a bit about your treatment.
I had 6 months of chemo, session once every 3 weeks. Then I had 2 surgeries, first a lumpectomy (removal of tumour) and then the dorsi-flap which is the reconstruction where they use your lat (latissimus dorsi) muscle from your back to create a new breast. Once I had recovered from surgery I had radiation, every day for 6 weeks.
Did you find your medical team compassionate and caring?
I was so blessed and fortunate to have the best medical team in the country (in my opinion) treating me. I often hear people saying “oh no Dr So and So has no bedside manner they are not the friendliest person" etc. etc.
My theory is I’m not here to make buddies, I’m here because you’re the expert in the field. The staff that these experts surround themselves with, that is where I experienced the compassion and care.
How did you find the whole treatment process in general?
Very scary. You have no idea what you’re in for. All cancer patients’ bodies respond differently to treatments so it doesn’t matter how many people you speak to, each one’s journey is unique. The chemo had the harshest effect on my body, but mentally the surgery messed with my mind the most. After that, radiation seemed like a walk in the park.
Do you still live with a certain amount of anxiety over your illness?
Every single day. When I said to my plastic surgeon after the reconstruction “I am so glad this is over forever now” her response was “it’s never over”.
Boy was she right.
Any advice you would give to someone who has just heard they have cancer?
Know that you are not alone. Reach out to your family and friends and let them help you through the journey.
What have you learnt about yourself in this process?
The biggest lesson I have learnt is that I am not in control… never have been and never will be. My relationship with God has deepened through this experience and I work toward that growing deeper every day. Once I surrendered, God performed miracles in my life literally on a daily basis, big and small.
What have you learnt about people in this process?
A few things:
Love always wins, no matter what.
We worry about things we have no control over… huge waste of time.
Fear is our biggest enemy.
Any thing else you’d like to share?
Early detection saves lives. I am still astounded by how many ladies are afraid of having a mammogram. Please girls, trust me when I tell you it’s the biggest gift you can give yourself.