"I'm 34 years old, married and have a wonderful 3 year old son. Last year, we had all these plans: we moved to the suburbs, planned our second baby, and thought of getting a dog. But I miscarried, and a few days later I discovered a lump in my left breast. I was tempted to dismiss it as a hormonal issue related to the miscarriage, but thankfully I had it checked out. Breast cancer had never crossed my mind: I was young, healthy and it didn't have any family members who had it. But on the , Dr Edge diagnosed me with stage breast cancer.
I was immediately catapulted onto a new life path. With the benefit of hindsight I can say that its been a tough, gruelling journey, both physically and emotionally, but not without beautiful experiences and crucial learnings. My treatment involved 5 months of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, radiation and hormone therapy. I had a positive response to chemotherapy, and my doctors say that I'm cured. That is today, and today is all I can manage.
I'd like to share some of my learnings / positive elements from this experience, bearing in mind that there will be more to come:
1. It has brought me closer to my religion which has carried me throughout. It's been a safe, loving place to go to and constant guide.
2. I've learnt to ask for and to accept help, and in doing so I've formed precious friendships.
3. It's been a ruthless filter: It gives you a perspective like never before, and swiftly rearranges priorities.
4. It's my leveller, my humbler, my equaliser: I'm no better or worse. No more or less important.. I'm me. And I can relate so much better to the lady working at the bakery in woollies who said to me "I had it too my darling, and I'm fine."
For anybody here walking this journey or walking alongside somebody, might I share a few things that helped me. I know it's not a one-size fits all approach, it's just from my story.
1. Talk to your medical team: I have the best team who are always available and honest. Talk and ask until you feel comfortable.
2. I'm walking this journey with a therapist. I tried to tackle this on my own but the wheels came off after 6 weeks. My husband was an enormous help and support, but he was suffering too, and could only carry so much.
3. Stay off Dr Google, or at least run what you read past your medical team.
4. Be real with yourself and others. Talk with those with whom you feel comfortable, and don't feel guilty about fear. Despair is the antithesis to hope, not fear. Moments of fear is normal and odes mean you are giving up.
5. Find a hero, somebody on the other side. I locked sight on our family friend, Ginette, who was diagnosed at 39, and is now 80. She walks, swims, cooks, plays bridge and takes an overseas trip each year.
6. Be thankful. Every day we open our eyes is an opportunity to be grateful. And forever grateful I am to Dr Edge and Dr Boeddinghaus for helping me have today. And to my husband. Nobody could have navigated this journey with me better than you.
I wish you all strength and love, and a good dose of humour to help you along."
"I am a good person…
I donate to charity…
I am kind most of the time…
Why do bad things happen to good people
I think back to the day I had these thoughts and felt the cliché, made for tv, obvious, totally understandable thoughts of any person who has been told they have a dreaded disease. That was also the only day I felt sorry for myself.
When I decided to share my story, it had nothing to do with “PLOM: POOR LITTLE OLD ME” it had everything to do with: “ how do other people cope? What do others do who have more responsibility, less fortunate, and no medical aid? No cover?
A long time ago I spent my pocket money on chappies chewing gum. Whilst I chewed the gum for hours, my excitement was when I read the “DID YOU KNOW” information on other inside of the wrapper. It was pretty much our Google 35 years ago. I wanted this journey with you to be about “did you know” moments.
I was so happy that I was able to pay for medical aid for myself and my child. My beautiful nine year old whom I raise pretty much on my own. Paying over R2500 per month for myself and Zoe meant peace of mind. I had no idea there were rules around allocation for dreaded disease. All I knew was that I was covered.
I was proud to work and be covered by Liberty. I was happy to grab my wallet and show my medical aid card when needed. I didn’t really THINK about anything else.
Being a single parent is the most rewarding job. Its hard sure, but its incredible to watch this tiny human reflect the values and beliefs that you have taught and guided her with. You also get all the accolades. Every morning when I drop her at school we say that same thing, I would start with “ don’t hurt yourself because…” and she would respond: “ …you made me from scratch”.
Last year early October I discovered a lump in my right breast. I was nervous and scared but did not make a big deal about it and I did not tell anybody besides my significant other. Our relationship was brand new and merely 2 months old. I had to be honest and act with integrity in order for him to make an educated decision about staying with me through this, or having the option to leave without any hard feelings. He chose to stay. I decided to focus on getting Zoe’s party sorted out and I had to make the payments and final arrangements for my fortieth birthday.
Both parties were celebrated and enjoyed by all, except that I had this feeling that something was horribly wrong and this may be my last chance to be around family and friends. My last birthday celebration with my little girl. As I recall all of this I am teary and emotional and it will probably always be this way. This is one of those experiences that just gifts and haunts you for the rest of your life.
My first appointment was with my GP in December and he referred me to the oldest gynaecologist on the planet. This poor soul must have been over 80 years old and really should have just thrown in his towel and retire gracefully. After his invasive examination which left me feeling violated to some degree, he fast tracked a mammogram and biopsy. He said that I would get the results 48 hours later.
I left to fetch Zoe at school and made her comfortable at home while I worried about the outcome of the tests. At 16h15 on the 15 December 2015 the phone rang… it was the old man… his words: “Hi Helena did you get any results yet?” I responded with a “no” he says “ well I have it here and its definitely Cancer”
I picked the phone and called my sister who just BURST into tears and raced over.
I called my brother who was driving on the highway on his way to a wedding. His wife had to ask him to take the passenger seat because he was completely stunned. She raced over to my flat.
I called Ray and he was calm. He said he would see me after work.
I called my best friend who burst into tears and raced over.
You call so many people “friends and family” yet there are always just a handful that are your A-listers, your “go to” people. The people who you instinctively call with good or bad news.
I don’t need to emphasise how stressed out I was on this day, but I had promised my significant other that we could still go and see Star Wars. He had purchased the tickets a while ago, and it was the first time I would meet his friends. I couldn’t help but feel tired and stressed , but I put on my brave face to meet some new people. They were really not the friendliest bunch, yet somehow I really appreciated it. If you asked me what happened in the movie I would have to thumb suck since I dozed off quite a few times. The night before was fraught with depressing thoughts and trying to come to terms with the diagnosis. I thought I would wake up and it would have all been a bad dream.
The following morning, having an out of body experience, I sat in Dr Jenny Edge’s office with my sister by my side. The receptionist could see the look on both our faces and asked us to please take a seat. My legs were shaking, my sister was sighing and holding back tears but we were both determined to see this doctor to find out WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME??????
I sat there thinking about all that this could be. Was I being punished because I left Zoe’s father? Was I being punished because I didn’t mourn or miss my father? Did I mourn my mother’s death too much? Was I just too horrible to Zoe’s father and so now I needed to pay and repent for my “sins”? did he wish this on me? Was this my LIFE???? These emotions were all just too overwhelming. Maybe I wasn’t a good enough friend or a good enough sister… maybe I am not good enough to be Zoe’s mother. I prayed for her.. I was blessed with her…and now it was over and I needed to go. How would the world be without me? How would Ray cope with having to lose a girlfriend? Who would tell Zoe? How would she cope? What about my family? What about my brothers and sisters? How would they deal with cremating the youngest siblings. How would my best friends deal with this… how would my bestie handle this? I felt myself lose my breath on many occasions. Many times when I would sit and think about the end of me.
I had to call my medical aid… I didn’t know where to start. I had to tell people… what do I say? Where do I start? I had to talk to my broker about my life cover.
And then it happened…
I am not sure how, or when exactly, but it all became so clear… I COULD DO THIS… after prayers and meditation I realised I could do this.
With the support from amazing Doctors like Jenny Edge, I opted for a double mastectomy and started Chemotherapy in March. I am still on chemotherapy and my amazing family and friends are there for me every step of the way. I have met some incredible women on this path and been blessed with an even better relationship with them as well as my daughter who is 10 today. The lessons I have learned FAR outweigh the challenge of defeating Cancer.
I stand here today and say THANK YOU to Dr. Edge, Lieske and the wonderful people and oncologist Dr. Rainer Frohling. I say thank you to my family and Friends for not ever giving up on me… and a special special thank you to the most amazing daughter in the world…. Thank you."
- Helena Vivier.........................................................................................................................................................................................