A year after Ellie Barbaressos’ diagnosis of Stage 3 oestrogen-positive breast cancer, the mother of two has much to be grateful for: she has lost over 20kg, stopped drinking alcohol (she confesses she was a functioning alcoholic) and is living as the best version of herself. This is all thanks to her breast cancer diagnosis.
Ellie Barbaressos (49) lives in Fourways, Gauteng with her husband, Spiro, and their children, George (17) and Michaela (16).
In December 2018, Ellie was wrestling with her son on the couch and he elbowed her left breast. The next day a huge lump appeared.
Making a wise decision, Ellie went for a mammogram and sonar. The specialist wasn’t happy with the results and did a biopsy. On 9th January 2019, the referred surgeon confirmed that Ellie had breast cancer.
“From what I understand and how the doctors explained it to me is that my tumour was lying dormant and once it had been knocked, it filled with blood and raised to the surface. So, I’m thankful that my son elbowed me. Who knows how long I would’ve taken to find the lump if he hadn’t, as I had missed my mammogram for four years,” Ellie says.
Her options were explained to her and Ellie was referred to an oncologist. But in her own words, “It was horrific! Terrible! The fear of God was put in me. I wasn’t given time to think or even absorb the treatment regime. I was told, ‘Next week you’ll start chemo, you’ll have Red devil, you’ll get sick and lose your hair, you’ll feel nauseous.’ I was then given rules and regulations of when the oncologist speaks to the patients. As I walked out of there and burst into tears and told my husband that if this was going to be the road I had to take, I don’t want to do it.”
Ellie looked at alternative routes. She found a doctor, who is not an oncologist, that did ‘low-dosage chemo’. “Even though it wasn’t covered by medical aid, I was prepared to go this route.
But, when my cousin, who is also in the medical field, heard this she begged me to go for a second opinion. So, I went to another oncologist and it was a completely different experience. “Even though he was firm, he was empathetic and he changed my whole outlook. He explained that there is no such thing as ‘low-dosage chemo’ and if I didn’t do anything, my body would be riddled with cancer in five years and then there would be nothing anyone could do. When I walked out of there, I knew this was the person I wanted to treat me.”
Change of lifestyle before treatment
In between the diagnosis and start of chemo, Ellie went on a complete cleanse and change of lifestyle. She cut carbs and sugar from her diet and Green Juiced. From being a heavy drinker and smoker, she cut both down considerably.
“I would describe myself as a functioning alcoholic. That is what I was. I wouldn’t wake up and have a drink, but I would drink (red wine or whiskey) every day. Every single day for about four years. And I would smoke two to three boxes of cigarettes a day.”
“Before chemo, I asked my oncologist if I could ask him a question. He thought it was regarding cannabis oil. But I wanted to know if I could drink. His response was that ‘under no circumstances whatsoever can you drink’ so the last time I had a drink was on 13th February 2019. He added that I had to stop smoking and it wasn’t up for negotiation.”
“Though, this one was hard for me. He then said if I can’t stop smoking, I should rather vape. So, I had my last cigarette on 16th February 2019 and started vaping. I’d given up everything else, so I thought I could at least have one of my comforts (or habits). But, I only use the purest form of liquid.”
In this short space of time, from weighing 79kg, Ellie lost just under 20kg. The 49-year-old goes on to say,
“I needed the worst possible thing to happen to me to become the best version of myself.”
With the shedded weight and a positive mind frame, Ellie was ready to start treatment on 14th Feb 2019.
It included four Red devils every three weeks and then 12 weekly taxol. “I had no side effects and I do believe an immune boosting supplement, Beta Glucan, that I took every day helped me through this. They were my little soldiers. My hair grew back as quickly as it fell out. I would come back from chemo and start to work.”
The oncologist was so impressed by how well Ellie was doing that he made a joke, asking if he was putting water in her drip. Before the third chemo session, he sent her for an ultrasound and the tumour (4 x 4 x 3cm) had shrunk by 73,8%.
Ellie’s chemo finished in July and she underwent a double mastectomy (and removal of lymph nodes) with immediate skin and nipple-sparing reconstruction in August.
“The first thing I did after the op, was to check if I had my nipples. I was told that during the mastectomy, they would be tested to see if the cancer had spread to them, and if it had, I would lose my nipples. But, they were there. I was so happy!”
On 18th August, Ellie got the all clear from her specialist breast surgeon even though she still had 28 sessions of radiation and 10 years of tamoxifen ahead of her.
Talking weight loss
When asked about the weight loss, Ellie acknowledges that her weight would have done no good for her treatment. “There is nothing worse than being overweight. I was tired of it. So, I started attending a Boot Camp in November, a month before my diagnosis. So, I think that exercise helped a lot. Then, when I got the diagnosis, that was the cherry on top. I had to lose weight. I needed my body to be in the best condition to beat the chemo.
I’ve never enjoyed gym and wasn’t up for Boot Camp once I started chemo, so I walked every day for about half an hour. We are privileged to stay in an estate, with open spaces and wildlife which makes the walk so effortless. It is more therapeutic then exercise.”
Ellie adds, “Carbs and sugar were the biggest catalysts and once I stopped eating them, the change started. As a family, we don’t eat that much meat during the week, it’s more chicken and fish. But on weekends, we do eat meat.”
Mother-daughter relationship transformed
The mother of two says she doesn’t miss or crave alcohol. “My excuse then was that I wasn’t allowed it but today it’s a choice,” she explains.
A positive outcome of not drinking is that Ellie and her daughter’s relationship has flourished.
“Michaela would get so angry with me when I drank, because she would tell me things that I would forget or couldn’t tell me things because I was passed out on the couch. Now, we have a relationship that a mother and daughter should have. We are close, go for lunches and shopping and do things that we’re supposed to be doing,” the mother says.
Ellie adds that the support she got from family and friends was phenomenal. “You learn who your true friends are. I learnt that I can only do today and today is a gift.
Getting cancer was a life-changing experience, only for good. I had so many forgiveness issues with many people and
I needed to let all that go and did a lot of emotional and spiritual work using The Healing Codes technique…and I love the person I am today. Plus, I went for my first annual check-up with my oncologist and I am still 100% clear!”
MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams
Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. firstname.lastname@example.org