Amelia Mbungwana has so much to be proud of in her life and facing a breast cancer diagnosis at age 30 with such vigour and grace is added to the long list.
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Amelia Mbungwana (32) lives in Soweto, Gauteng with her two children, aged eight and three.
From a young age, Amelia had the determination to take care of her family and shine her inner light. At the age of 14, she started working part time during school holidays so she could afford to buy her own school uniform and to help her mother, who was a domestic worker but unfortunately couldn’t work anymore due to arthritis.
Amelia is the first member of her family to matriculate and go to university. When she got her first job, in 2014, she took out a loan, so she could build a house for her family which they all stay in today. With her second salary she had to bury one of her sisters. This strong young woman knew she could change things for the better for her family and did it out of love and to ensure her future.
Breast cancer at age 30
But as in life, more difficulties were thrown at Amelia; she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30. “I was still breastfeeding my daughter and had a feeling that something was wrong with my breast. My daughter had eczema at the time, so I took her to the doctor and asked her to check my breast at the same time. She felt two lumps and referred me for an ultrasound and mammogram.
“I took a while before I went for the mammogram and did research to see which the best hospital was. I had a lump before in the opposite breast when I was a teenager which was benign and was surgically removed. When I went, I was told a biopsy was needed on the same day,” Amelia explains.
“When I heard the news that I had Stage 2 HER2 positive breast cancer, I zoned off and the doctor asked if I had any questions. I responded by asking, What is going to happen to my kids? I know it isn’t a medical question but that was all I could think about.
Due to Amelia being so young, fertility options were discussed with her. “My partner and I chose the goserelin injection option to protect my ovaries as freezing my eggs was just not affordable.”
In February 2022, Amelia started the monthly goserelin injection and six months of chemotherapy. In July, a mastectomy and the first stage of DIEP flap reconstruction took place. Radiation then commenced which was followed by a year of trastuzumab (IV). Anastrozole was also prescribed and will be taken for five to seven years.
In September 2022, another surgery took place to achieve symmetry in both breasts; the final stage of reconstruction will be done in one of the upcoming months.
Amelia says her partner was very supportive and optimistic. “He was so positive saying that we are going to get through everything. I got angry with him telling him he is living in a fantasy bubble and he needs to come to terms with reality. I think it was my fear and anxiety talking.”
She adds that her family (mother, sister, brother and his wife) all helped care for her children throughout treatment.
Since treatment, Amelia requested a new role at her employment as she feels she is no longer fit for the post. She is a social worker for foster care for children and drives over an hour to get to work and currently finds the work to be not only physically taxing but also emotionally taxing all the while she is stilling going through her own recovery. She is awaiting feedback.
Catching up financially
Amelia has chosen to share her story as she wants to advocate to young people to know exactly what their medical aids cover and what their insurance policies entail.
“Even though I have medical aid, I still have co-payments and I’m struggling to finance my treatment. Everything needed a motivation letter to get approved, especially the mammogram due to my young age. We think medical aid will cover everything, but it doesn’t. This is why young people must enquire when signing up and know from the start if gap cover is needed. The same goes for insurance, especially life cover.”
Amelia is overwhelmed by the financial burden and says she is still struggling to catch up with her debt. “I’m the breadwinner in my family and I’m stilling paying off the loan that built our house; I had to stop all those payments to ensure my medical bills were paid so I could get the treatment I needed. I even changed the school that my son went to, to make ends meet,” Amelia says while crying.
The 32-year-old also stopped her studies (MBA) due to unpaid fees. “I completed two years and only have my research left. I often wonder if I will ever catch up financially.”
We are all survivors
When asked how she feels about her breast cancer journey thus far, Amelia responds, “I keep on reading about remission and when you can say you are a survivor, but I disagree in that we are all survivors of our own journey, even if it means you only survived today. Acceptance is a journey that I’m still on; my partner accepted my breast first, he accepted my scars first so then it was easy for me to accept it.”
There is no doubt that with the bravery and relentlessness that Amelia has shown, she will continue to step it up and shine like she has throughout her life.
Photos by Mandy Steenkamp Photography | Follow @mandysteenkampphotography
MEET THE 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. Write to [email protected]