I met Diana Brandt on a chilly winter morning in Rivonia and immediately thought ‘she certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype of an older lady’. Her great sense of humour and zest for life has helped her stay strong in her fight against breast cancer. She was eager to share her story of hope and persistence with other sufferers, to show that breast cancer is definitely not the end, even at 76 years of age.
I felt a lump in my breast in March last year. I also had a small lump on my nose which wasn’t healing so I decided to see my doctor, although I didn’t think it was anything serious. The doctor was more worried about the growth on my nose and not too concerned about the lump in my breast – but he sent me for a mammogram anyway. When the mammogram came back positive, I couldn’t believe that I had breast cancer! I had been healthy and fit my whole life – it didn’t seem fair. I made an appointment with the wonderful
Dr Carol Benn and she reassured me that everything was going to be okay.
She decided to do a lumpectomy as soon as possible. At this stage I didn’t know much about cancer and thought that this nightmare might be over in a couple of weeks. The treatment I received in Milpark Hospital was outstanding. I was treated as if I was the only person in the world who had cancer, and I received the best of everything that the hospital could offer.
Unfortunately, my pathology report came back and showed that I have the aggressive HER2 positive tumour. That little gene changed my whole perception of cancer! And so my journey to healing started.
My first chemotherapy treatment was very traumatic and to be honest, I was petrified. Fortunately the other patients could see how scared I was and just by hearing their positive stories, I felt as if I had been carried through my first chemo session.
I have always been a health freak. I breastfed all of my six daughters. I have never been on HRT, so I should surely not have cancer! But sometimes life throws us a curveball and I had to come to terms with the fact that I, Diana did indeed have breast cancer. Instead of going the homeopathic route, I decided to opt for allopathic treatment. Losing a very close friend to cancer, just the year before helped me make this decision.
My next 12 chemo treatments were a matter of formality. After getting chemo, I went straight home and slept. In some ways it was fantastic! Another positive side effect was that I lost about 12kg and my sinusitis cleared up. I honestly felt exhausted, but luckily for me, I was able to sleep when I needed to. I worked for one of my daughters who allowed me to take as much time off as necessary. I finished my chemotherapy in December 2012 and I had to undergo another small operation to widen the margins for the cancer. My radiation treatment started in February and the only side effect I had was that I was a little more tired than usual.
My huge support group
My family is such a special support system, my daughters know me so well! One looked after me following my chemo appointments, while the others prepared my meals. I was a very fussy eater, I did not want to eat anything, as everything tasted absolutely awful!
My entire family was very supportive, with six daughters, 14 grandchildren and six great grandchildren – you have someone with you every step of the way. My girls phoned me every day and visited often. Even my daughter from London came home and treated me like a baby after my operation – it was delightful. All my friends were incredibly supportive, helpful and so kind. My husband took me to the clinic on every occasion and afterwards one of my daughters came and took over, so he could go back to work. My church’s congregation were also a pillar of strength for me both day and night.
I belong to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. They helped me, visited me, picked me up when I was down, and never left me alone to be miserable. I realise now that I was a great pity party member, but no more! After a lot of persuasion, I decided to take anti-depressants and in my opinion, every cancer patient should consider taking them. I go for regular reflexology treatments (and have done so, since my fifties) to fight menopause and (touch wood!) I have never had a hot flush.
I will never forget being told that I had cancer. I was expecting the worst possible outcome and I imagined that I would have no life after getting this disease. However, I am pleased to say I was so wrong. I still have so much to do. So much to live for.
Unfortunately, my journey is by no means over yet. I am on a trial for Herceptin and this will only be finished in January 2014, but I am feeling feisty, fit and fabulous.
I plan to see the roses in each and every day. To ultimately live and enjoy my life and to maintain a positive outlook. I see the world with different eyes now: queues are for chatting, traffic jams are for bonding, differences are worthy of good debates and I remember to laugh and see the funny side in every situation, especially if it is a foggy day.”
Written by Anelle Hamilton