Married couple, Andre and Hillary Frans, have faced many life obstacles hand-in-hand but when Hillary was diagnosed with breast cancer, their love for each other was reignited.
Andre and Hillary Frans (both 52) live in Fairlands, Johannesburg with their three children, Amber (20), Austin (19) and Angelo (15).
Falling in love
Hillary and Andre’s parents were family friends, so they grew up together. However, Hillary didn’t like Andre as he would tease her and her siblings when they were teenagers. “We were a family band; my father would play the piano while all seven of us kids would sing. When we went to Andre’s parent’s house on Sundays, my father would make us sing and I would see Andre laughing in the kitchen. And, we didn’t sing bad, we sang well,” Hillary explains.
However, when they were in their twenties, Andre found out that Hillary didn’t have a boyfriend and was at her house the next day. “I never thought I would be with him but once I got to know him better as a friend, I knew that he would be my husband. We were engaged in a year and got married the next year and will be celebrating our 28th anniversary this year.”
Andre encouraged Hillary to go for a mammogram after she felt a hardness in her breast in December 2020. Due to dense breast tissue, Hillary was misdiagnosed; the lump was deemed a cyst and was 5cm at the time. “Both the radiologist and gynae didn’t request a biopsy, although there were specific signs, like discharge from my nipples, swollen lymph node and sore glands,” Hillary says.
Hillary continued having severe migraines and was fatigued, she visited the doctor several times with no proper diagnosis being made. Her sister insisted she go for a second opinion whereby another mammogram and ultrasound was done.
A biopsy followed immediately and, in April 2021, Hillary was diagnosed with Stage 2B ductal carcinoma. By then the size of the tumour had increased to 9,96cm.
“The way this new doctor broke the news to us was quite harsh. When we got back home I told Hillary that we need to find a new doctor. So, we phoned around and then my aunt, who is a breast cancer survivor, suggested a breast specialist,” Andre explains.
Hillary is so grateful for this referral. “She put our minds at ease and gave us hope and took so much pressure off us as a couple as she told us to bring our kids in, so she could explain my diagnosis to them. I then made the decision that I could see this as a dilemma or an opportunity to glorify God. I chose the latter.”
Andre adds, “I knew it wasn’t a death sentence, how it was in the past. I knew there was a solution, but I didn’t know what it entailed. So, I was a bit lost. I was sad for Hillary and knew I had to support her. I have my own support system, like my aunt who had cancer, who told me that I had to step up now.”
The 52-year-old mother underwent 16 cycles of chemotherapy over six months, a lumpectomy and is currently finishing 31 radiation sessions.
Dealing with past trauma
It was recommended that Hillary see a psychologist after she was diagnosed. It was here that Hillary realised that she hadn’t dealt with a past trauma (the Frans family were held up in a home invasion) and attributes this as part of the reason of getting sick. “I hadn’t forgiven them, so I suppressed these emotions. Once I dealt with the unforgiveness, I felt a release. We need to deal with our trauma, bitterness and unforgiveness as this is what makes us ill,” Hillary advocates.
Hillary also had to deal with her mother being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s that same December, and being the eldest, her siblings rely heavily on her emotionally. “I couldn’t accept it. To see this strong woman who gave birth to seven children become a frail old woman who doesn’t recognise us is traumatic.”
Andre adds that Hillary’s high-stress job also took a toll on her health. “The amount of time she spent working during COVID was crazy. She is a key contact person, but I would walk in that room and say, “Really now?” Plus, she is a hands-on mother and assists our helper’s son with homework too. As Hillary jokes, she is Wonder Woman.”
Thankfully, Hillary was given time off work for treatment and will go back in March once she has completed radiation.
Love comes in many forms
The mother of three says she wouldn’t have gotten through this without Andre. “He was constantly there for me, always checking on me. He went with me to every chemotherapy session, sat there and waited for me for five hours as no one was allowed in due to COVID, and I know this was hard on him as he still had his own work to deal with and the kids.”
“Amber would video call me every day as she was at university. Austin and Angelo would help Andre cook. They all showed love in their own way. I also told my siblings that I needed time to heal and they supported me by taking on the responsibility of taking my mom to her doctor’s appointments and dealing with issues without involving me.”
“I also realised that I was giving everything else so much attention except my relationship with Andre. The priority was shifted to kids, work and daily life. So, in hindsight, cancer brought us back together. It allowed us to sit and talk to each because we had to. Before COVID, we loved to go out and dance but now we go on hikes and that time is so special. We also started date nights again. We don’t even need to go out to a restaurant we can just be at home. The kids are very worried about us because we are in love again. They say, “What’s up with you two? Get a room.”
When asked what his favourite attributes of his wife are, Andre says, “She is always consistent and reliable, and a great mom. She does shout a lot though.” Hillary says she appreciates that Andre has a strong-will and that he is the man of the house. “I respect him for having that leadership as the man of the house, even though we are equal. We respect him as the father and the husband.”
Andre says his love languages are acts of services and gifts. “To me, even making a cup of tea for Hillary is my way of showing her my love or saying thank you for all she does daily.” Hillary agrees with this saying that every day during treatment he would buy her an energy bar and make her a special cup of coffee. “He would also help speed up the process of chemotherapy, by getting all the paperwork for the drugs while I was getting my bloods done, so by the time I was done, we could proceed with chemotherapy straight away,” she explains. “The key factor of my healing is having the love and support from my husband and kids. Their love heals me.”
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. Write to the [email protected]