After many years of abnormal Pap smear results, Amanda Beukes was diagnosed with vaginal cancer. She shares the long journey with us.
Amanda Beukes (54) lives in Benoni, Gauteng with her husband, Herman.
In 2008, Amanda had a hysterectomy (ovaries and cervix weren’t removed). She had no biological children but was happy with being step-mom to her husband’s three children and granny to their kids.
Six months later, a Pap smear showed atypical cells (cells that aren’t entirely normal but they may not necessarily become cancer cells. They may die off or go back to normal). The gynaecologist’s advice was to laser the affected area of the cervix.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work as her Pap smear results continued to show atypical cells. This continued for two years, until it was decided to remove her cervix. Even that didn’t help and, in 2013, Amanda was referred to another specialist. Once again, the affected area was lasered, only much deeper this time. When that proved no success, a topical cream that is used to treat skin cancer was prescribed. Amanda’s medical aid declined to cover the cost. Amanda explains, “I had to put the cream on a tampon and insert it into my vagina for a month.”
Since the cream didn’t help either, Amanda was sent for brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy), twice a day for eight days, in January 2015.
“A mould of the inside of my vagina was made which they then inserted and attached to a radiation machine. This was extremely traumatic for me as there was no privacy, with students walking in and out, as it was done at an academic hospital.”
Alas, this still didn’t kill the cells. A big cyst was then found on Amanda’s ovary. In April 2016, Amanda’s ovaries and the cyst and the top part of her vagina were removed. Though six months later, the atypical cells were still present. Lasering and six-month check-ups continued.
Then, in April 2019, finally Amanda’s Pap smear came back normal. “We were overjoyed!” she recalls. Though, sadly the joy was short-lived.
Vaginal cancer found
In October 2019, an internal examination revealed a lump. After a biopsy, it was confirmed as vaginal cancer. The +/- 3cm tumour was on the wall of Amanda’s rectum.
The same radiation oncologist planned her radiation. Though, he feared that it was going to burn a hole through her rectum and that she would need a colostomy bag before treatment could start. In January 2020, Amanda got a colostomy bag and started the 25 sessions of radiation in combination with six sessions of chemotherapy in March.
Pro bono hyperthermia
Amanda’s radiation oncologist suggested that she has hyperthermia (heating up of tumours to above 39°C) in conjunction with the other treatments.
“At this stage, I was having so many issues with my medical aid and they refused to pay for it. The treating doctor kindly offered to do it pro bono. I would go for my radiation and then twice a week after radiation, I would go for hyperthermia treatment.”
After all treatments were completed, a MRI showed that the tumour wasn’t visible any more. Though, another 12 sessions of radiation as a boost treatment was prescribed, to ensure all the cancer cells were eradicated.
The spa treatment of cancer
“Cancer patients go through so much pain and horrible treatments that I can’t understand why medical aids won’t pay for hyperthermia. It was absolutely the spa treatment of cancer. I didn’t have any pain or side effects.
It was calming, soothing and very relaxing. It was the best hour twice a week that I had; lying on the waterbed with the heat pad on the spot where the tumour is, lights off, soothing music. It was wonderful!” Amanda says.
Getting over the embarrassment
When asked if there was a stigma around vaginal cancer, Amanda responds, “No, people were just uncomfortable when I told them. I felt embarrassed when all this started but now I believe if more women knew how important it’s to go for regular check-ups then less would die from cancer.”
She adds, “Obviously with all the treatment I was going through, intercourse wasn’t possible at the time. The use of a dilator was suggested at radiation. I discussed this with my specialist (as she is female) and she suggested to wait a few weeks for my body to heal and then have intercourse. I did as she said and all seems fine. Plus, I have a wonderful husband that has been there every step of the way. His acceptance of my situation and not putting any pressure on me has boosted me not to feel any less of a woman.”
Amanda is doing well and her immune counts are up and she is back at school teaching. “The best news is that the radiation didn’t burn a hole in my rectum and within a year they can reverse the colostomy bag. I am due to see my doctors soon and then we can plan the way forward.”
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. email@example.com