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Wrapping Up Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Angie Wells, a member of the VENT shares her story of how she lost her husband due to cancer four years ago.

After experiencing the pain and suffering that he went through, she explained how she has made it her mission to spread awareness about cancer to try and make a difference and provide knowledge about the topic of cancer in general.

Motivated about this topic and in celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness month, the VENT provided the opportunity for four incredible ladies, to share in the conversation, giving them the opportunity and an open platform to share their remarkable stories in a light-hearted conversation.

As they collaborated about their personal journeys and unique stories, it was quickly established that their stories on how their breast cancers were discovered and treated, were significantly different.

Lizelle was the first to share her story of how she initially experienced scabbing on her nipple and explained that she tried to “fix it with some boob cream”. When it continued to get worse, she decided to visit the Doctor.

After an excruciating biopsy, she was informed that she had Paget’s disease of the breast.

This is a rare condition associated with breast cancer which begins in the nipple and works its way outwards, eventually progressing through to the breast tissue.

Like so many other women, Lizelle made the decision to have a double mastectomy to prevent cancer from spreading.

In her gut-wrenching recollection of the procedure, she explained how they removed both her breasts, including the areola and nipples.

“It makes you feel less of a woman because your womanhood has been taken away,” she explained, describing her anguish after looking at the scar lines on her now baren chest.

What are my chances of getting breast cancer?

Statistics have shown that one in eight women are diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

Considering this, women are urged to self-examine their breasts at least once a month, about a week after your menstrual cycle.

“It has to be after your period, because during your period they are going to be full and dense due to hormones,” clarified Megan De Kock, a Registered Nurse and Midwife in Benoni.

If you no longer menstruate, it is advised that you examine your breasts on the same day of every month. The same applies when you are breastfeeding or have breast implants.

Megan also joined the conversation with the VENT, describing her experience with breast cancer as an “easy story”.

In 2017, she went for her yearly mammogram and mentioned how she intuitively knew that something was amiss. After undergoing her check-up, her doctor confirmed that she indeed had a lump in her right breast.

She mentioned that she had to have a lumpectomy, which merely removes the lump, leaving the breast. She further explained that she refused radiation and chemotherapy, but completely changed her lifestyle in terms of what she ate and focused on maintaining her health, in general.

 What are the stages of breast cancer?

Doctors often use a particular system to describe the stage of a person’s cancer. This is called the TNM system.

They use the results from diagnostic tests and scans to answer the following questions:

  • How large is the primary Tumour (T) in the breast?
  • Has the tumour spread to the lymph Nodes (N)?
  • Has the cancer spread or Metastasised (M) to other parts of the body?

There are 5 stages of breast cancer, and the various stages provide a common way of describing the cancer so that doctors can work together to plan the best treatments for the patients, with stage 5 being the most severe.

Jacqui, The VENT’s third guest, was diagnosed with stage 3 Breast Cancer in 2020, two weeks before the South African level 5 lockdown. With no family history, she found a lump in her breast and was urged to see a doctor, by a close friend who had also had breast cancer.

A sonar detected cancer that had already spread to her lymph nodes.

“My husband took me to Milpark hospital and had to leave me at the door,” Jacqui remembered the day that she went in to have her surgery. “The surgery went well and then I had radiation every day for 32 days,” she goes on to say.

She is currently in remission, which means that all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared.

So how common is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women of all races, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 25 in South Africa according to the 2017 National Cancer Registry (NCR).

But when breast cancer is detected early, those diagnosed have a far greater chance of initiating treatment and the possibility of survival. It is recommended that women over the age of 40 go for regular mammograms, at least once a year.

However, as Bronwen, the final guest at The VENT’s podcast discussion explains, a mammogram does not always pick up cancerous growths at first. Bronwen found her first lump at the age of 27.

After her first mammogram, she was informed that she had very dense breast tissue, causing the milk glands to crystalise. Two years passed before she decided to have another mammogram, which didn’t pick up the cancer either.

A year after being told that she was fine, she was still unhappy and went to see yet another doctor. He diagnosed Bronwen with stage 4 Breast Cancer and advised her to have a double mastectomy as soon as possible.

It was then discovered that cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. She explained that she had no discolouration or crusting, and “didn’t realise how severe it was.”

As she bravely fought back the tears, Bronwen explained that her cancer had spread so rapidly, she most likely had or would have developed ovarian cancer, as told by her doctors. It was therefore recommended by her doctors to have a full hysterectomy, crushing her hopes of ever having children.

During the conversation, Angie mentioned that it was vital to try and remain positive, should you be diagnosed, and everyone agreed.

The four ladies further acknowledged that remaining positive and doing everything that they could to beat the disease, was what made them the survivors they are today.

Madelein Hendricks, another member of the VENT, mentioned on closing that having that conversation with your family and establishing whether you have a history of cancer could prepare you, however, Keri Morrison expressed, “you cannot say that it will never happen to me.”

It stands to reason that early prevention is key, and if you feel that something has changed in the breast, or if you’re experiencing any discomfort in your breasts, it is vital to see your GP sooner, rather than later.

If you are currently undergoing cancer treatment, please reach out to the VENT, as we would love to hear and share your stories.

You can contact the VENT on their website

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