Dietitian and yogi and yoga teacher, Ashleigh Caradas, shares her story of being diagnosed with HER2 ER/PR positive breast cancer, and achieving equilibrium through her journey.
Ashleigh Caradas (42) lives in Norwood, Gauteng.
Valentineís Day 2017
A day that is supposed to be filled with love and romantic gestures turned out to be a day that broke Ashleigh’s heart. She was diagnosed with Stage 1 HER2 ER/PR positive breast cancer.
Being a dietitian, naturalist, and a yogi and yoga teacher, she lived out what she taught and belived in – healthy eating, regular exercise and holistic well-being. How could this happen to her? How could she carry on giving clients health advice if she was sick? This thought discomfited her, but after wise counsel and inner reflection, she realised cancer happens to healthy people too.
Discovering the lump
Breast cancer was not a fear of Ashleigh’s; she has no family history of breast cancer. The only time Ashleigh had her breasts checked was at her annual gynae appointments. Then one day Ashleigh was lying on her bed and put her hand on her breast and felt the tumour. “I don’t know what made me put my hand there, but I just did. I wasn’t checking for anything,” she says. “My breasts have always been lumpy as I have fibrocystic breasts but this felt different.”
She monitored it for a week then went to a pharmacy clinic and asked a nurse to feel her breasts. “I didn’t tell her where it was but she felt something hard at the same place but explained she wasn’t an expert. I scheduled an mammography appointment, and had a sonar at the same time. A biopsy was done and two days later the diagnosis was confirmed.”
Ashleigh underwent six cycles of chemotherapy (two different chemotherapies and Herceptin), then continued with Herceptin for a year. Her cancer had a complete response and a lumpectomy was done, followed by six weeks of radiation for precaution. She is currently on tamoxifen.
It seems the heavens were looking down on Ashleigh as when she was diagnosed, she was only on a hospital plan. Though after explaining her predicament to the medical aid scheme, she was upgraded to the highest plan and started to pay the new premiums. Though, there were still exorbitant co-payments to be made on Herceptin.
Carrying on with work
“I wasn’t sure if I would be able to work. I had yoga teacher training sessions booked for March but asked other dietitians and yoga teachers to be on stand-by if I wasn’t feeling well. Though, I never closed my practice and managed to work straight through, with a few off days here and there,” Ashleigh explains.
“I made the decision to only tell family and friends. Because I didn’t want my clients to know, saving my hair and looking ‘okay’ was a priority. I chose to use a cold cap, it was painful and I lost about 80% of my hair but I wasn’t bald. It was just very thin. I always wore a hat or a beanie with pieces of hair sticking out and I used serums on my eyelashes and eyebrows and they only fell out at the end. I didn’t look great but if I put some blush on, I looked pretty normal.”
Using complementary therapy to the fullest
Ashleigh continued to exercise throughout treatment though she stopped going to gyms and yoga studios to avoid germs. She exercised at home with weights to keep her muscle mass up, and did yoga.
She also incorporated other complementary therapies: visualisation – visualising energy around the area of cancer as well as cleansing the area with her mind, and she consulted a trance personal psychologist, who did spiritual healing, and a homeopath and psychic.
Interesting enough, when Ashleigh was hesitant to accept conventional treatment, the psychologist, homeopath, and psychic advised her to do it. “I still don’t understand why I had to have chemo if I was Stage 1. I don’t think I will ever understand,” Ashleigh adds.
Supplements also played a big role in Ashleigh’s treatment plan. These were to prevent side effects and to boost her immune system, and for gut health. Ashleigh believes they helped as she didn’t have side effects, other than continuous low-grade nausea, and gastro-instestinal discomfort.
Diet during treatment
Being a dietitian, Ashleigh always ate healthily but cleaned her diet up during treatment. She avoided gluten, drank green juices and smoothies, ate more cruciferous vegetables, and still does today.
During chemotherapy, she listened to her body and if it craved meat, she ate it. Though now, she has reduced her intake, eating more vegetarian and vegan meals. When she felt sick, she ate cold fruit or potato chips.
She used cannabis oil every night which helped keep her appetite up.
Unfortunately, Ashleigh’s oncologist advised her against freezing her eggs and due to her being single at the time, freezing an embryo was not an option. “I was single, 40 and had breast cancer…not a great situation for having children,” Ashleigh says.
There was another option of ovarian slicing, but due to Ashleigh already having two prior surgeries (she got bitten by a dog a week after her diagnosis and then the lymph node biopsy), her oncologist advised against this as well.
So, she was put on Zoladex during chemotherapy. Zoladex causes the ovaries to temporarily shut down. By doing this while a woman is being treated with chemotherapy, the goal is to help protect the eggs from chemotherapy.
Her Zoladex treatment was stopped after chemotherapy and Ashleigh started her menstruation cycle.
However, because her breast cancer was both hormone and HER2 positive, her oncologist advised that she go back on to Zoladex.
When the time comes, Ashleigh will discuss with her medical team, the possibility of pausing her hormonal medication, which has been prescribed for five years, to try and have a baby.
Finding love during chemotherapy
Chemotherapy proved to be a ‘good time’ in that a friend who liked Ashleigh before her diagnosis became her partner during treatment. “He was invaluable during my chemo. I don’t know what I would have done without him, to be honest.” Ashleigh says. “We got together when my hair was falling out and when I was a crying, revolting mess…not my sexiest time,” she adds laughing.
Self-care was imperative for Ashleigh during treatment. “I tried to do things that made me feel good and that I enjoyed. I knew if I lost my sense of humour and my appetite I was in big trouble,” she explains.
To this petite dietitian and yoga teacher, healthy living is a good attitude and sense of humour, mostly plant-based eating (clean eating), lots of movement, good relationships, self-awareness, self-respect and stress management.
Through Ashleigh’s breast cancer, she has gained more knowledge of diet and lifestyle during cancer care. This has now opened a new path in her practice, where she advises breast cancer patients during their treatment.
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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