The word “cancer” conjures up feelings of fear, dread and anxiety – not so much always for yourself but mainly for your loved ones! How are they going to take the news? How do you make them realise that just knowing they are there with a helping hand and a hug is more than enough?
Cancer runs in my family – my mother lost her battle when she was 55 years old; her mother and her sister also both passed away due to cancer. My mother was 53 when she discovered she had cancer and at exactly the same age I was also diagnosed with cancer. We are a family of 6 children – 5 brothers and myself – and informing my family that I had cancer was probably one of the most difficult things I have had to do.
When I heard I had cancer, I accepted it and – no – I did not go through the stages of denial, anger and acceptance. I did not cry or jump up and down and say “why me?” However, when I heard I was going to lose my hair I cried like a baby. My family and friends could not understand this, and said “but Héloïse, you are going to lose your breasts and you did not cry, but the loss of your hair ….?” I remember saying to them “but when I have no hair people will know I have cancer and they will feel sorry for me!!” I did not want pity!
I went to an absolutely fabulous oncologist in Nelspruit and she in turn sent me to the Breast Clinic in Milpark Hospital, Johannesburg. It was decided that I first had to complete the 8 courses of chemo and then the situation would be reviewed. Chemo started in December 2007 and ended in May 2008. I thought the loss of hair was the worst, but it was not, it was the loss of my taste buds! Horrible! Everything I ate tasted like cardboard and this carried on for about 12 weeks.
I underwent a double mastectomy in June, with immediate reconstruction 2 days later. The one breast was reconstructed using the muscle in my back, while the other one is a silicone implant. During August I underwent 6 weeks of radiation. Through all this, I still had some very funny moments. When the reconstruction was done, the theatre staff removed my hospital gown and did not put it on again. The next day I asked the nurse to pass me my pajamas so that I could go to the toilet she kept saying no one will see anything!! Eventually I sat up and she looked at me in horror “but you’re naked”!! Mmmmmm – what can I say?
The months of chemo sapped my energies so much that it was sometimes an upward battle to face life with a smile, but with the incredible support of my family and friends there was no ways I could ever have given up! And, of course, not only the lack of energy, but the painful fingers, the mouth sores – ah, my goodness, I sometimes felt like a real little crock!! But with one phone call, an invitation to lunch, a glass of wine, sitting chatting and laughing the world once again became a sparkling place to be!! Nowhere more than with cancer is the philosophy of ubuntu of application. The struggle against cancer is difficult to say the least and it can be a long lonely road, but with the incredible support and love of family, friends and colleagues everything is possible.