Dr Mariam Seedat – I went into warrior mode within minutes of hearing my diagnosis

Dr Mariam Seedat said her first thoughts about her breast cancer diagnosis were, “I cannot be sick, my baby is in matric and he needs me, and our aunt Moona is close to death’s door in hospital. Who would take care of her?” Her diagnosis, it seems, was an opportunity for altruism.

Go forth and conquer

Mariam was determined to be strong. “I did not allow myself to get all teary eyed and emotional. I come from a long line of strong women and I gathered the courage of the women that came before me and decided that I was going to go forth and conquer,” she says.

As an academic and a clinical sociologist, Mariam approached her situation scientifically. “My gynaecologist explained ductal carcinoma in situ* (DCIS), but it was like listening to a story about someone else. This was not meant to happen to me. I had followed all the rules, regular check-ups, monthly examinations, exercise and diet. What had gone wrong? I tried to remember if there was a family history. None came to mind. I went into warrior mode within minutes of hearing my diagnosis with my husband and best friend at my side.”

Hearing the news

Mariam’s husband, Alan, said it was a Tuesday morning, 14 May 2019, when he received a call from her gynaecologist to join the consultation. “That was the day that Mariam would receive the results of a biopsy that was performed after a suspicious calcification was identified on her mammogram a week earlier. My instinct had told me that something was wrong. Mariam and I were both anxious and to be honest, I was also very afraid. Then the doctor confirmed the diagnosis. Nothing can prepare you for the news.”

“It took me a few seconds to let the breast cancer diagnosis sink in and then I quietly said a prayer, looked at Mariam, held her hand and I knew that we would beat this disease. She was so strong from the outset and within three hours, we had consulted a surgeon, chatted to our Discovery Health Medical Scheme and Mariam was pre-authorised to be admitted into hospital for a lumpectomy on 15 May. The very next day,” Alan says.

The plan: kick this cancer

Mariam’s gynaecologist advised her to either monitor the cancer or remove it. “Of course, we were going to slice it out and I wanted it out of my body immediately. The surgeon was very busy but I was not willing to wait to see him. Fortunately for me, he had an opening and he saw us the same afternoon,” Mariam says.

“My tumour was removed at 13:30 on Friday, 17 May. I received a call to say that 0,2cm of the tumour had presented as invasive cancer and they wanted me back in theatre on Monday for a sentinel node biopsy. I was game and prepared myself for the next surgery. My plan was to do some research on the oncologists available in Durban. I narrowed down my list to three. I finally made my decision and settled on my superstar oncologist. My plan from the outset was to kick this cancer.”

Game plan

To beat her cancer, Mariam decided to do the following:

  1. Take it one step at a time.
  2. Be kind to herself.
  3. Reduce stress.
  4. Take radiation one day at a time.
  5. Research.
  6. Educate other women about the importance of regular mammograms.
  7. Share her story, “because it was not meant to happen to me”.
  8. Make a full recovery.

Love and support from family

After her fifth of 30 radiation sessions, Mariam has kept her chin up “With the love and support of my husband and my boys, Nasser and Ameer.”

“When I was initially diagnosed, my brother Junaid, jumped into his car and drove for 12 hours from his farm in Limpopo, to be with his nephews, so that I could go into surgery knowing that all would be well.”

“Our housekeeper, Toby, has been one of my greatest supporters, forcing me to drink smoothies loaded with super foods. The unbelievable support and prayers that I have received from so many people has been a tremendous source of strength and encouragement for me. I want to thank my family and friends for being in my corner. I decided to go public with my story because I want to ensure that all women make the time for their regular mammograms and invest in their health and well-being. Early detection is so important,” Mariam says.

Mariam’s Discovery Life Severe Illness Benefit kicks in

At the same time, Mariam’s Severe Illness Benefit on her Discovery Life policy kicked in. Her financial adviser says Mariam’s benefit ensures that the long-term impact of her illness is accounted for her in her pay out.

“Our financial advisor arrived at our home, full of support, love and kindness. He did all the running around. All I had to do was sign here, here, here and maybe here. Twenty four hours later, the claim was paid. I have to say 

I have a similar claim with another insurer and it’s been almost five weeks and I have not received any results.”

Alan says although the family would have preferred Mariam to be cancer-free than have a Severe Illness Benefit policy kick in, the process was seamless. “Just under five years ago we made a decision to consult a financial advisor. He is not just our family broker, he is family. His genuine care for Mariam, the boys and I is fantastic, and he consistently looks out for our best interests. Dealing with Discovery has been seamless and having a trusted person handle the finer details has allowed Mariam and me to focus on the battle to beat cancer.”

Good advice given

The financial advisor goes on to say, “Mr Khan is a well-known radio personality not only in Durban, but in South Africa. Dr Seedat is a well-known and highly-regarded sociologist not just in South Africa, but in the world at large. I came to know the family when I was referred to him by Discovery.”

“It was clear that they needed in depth and clear advice, having had old generation life policy structures. Upon conducting a financial needs analysis and a comparison with the Discovery Life policy structures, the Khan family were happy to accept the Discovery proposal with all the significantly enhanced benefits. One of which, was the LifeTime Severe Illness Benefit.”

Alan adds, “Whilst I know that it’s not always easy to look on the bright side of life, I have watched in awe as Mariam has remained so positive, courageous and strong through the surgeries and now through the radiation sessions. Despite fighting this battle, Mariam keeps smiling. We are grateful for the outstanding medical care and the unbelievable encouragement from friends and family.”

Sharing on social media

The couple decided to share Mariam’s story on social media to encourage early detection of cancers, which can influence positive treatments outcome.

“I was initially surprised that Mariam wanted to share her breast cancer diagnosis. But from that first discussion in the car, driving from Life Westville Hospital to consult with the specialist surgeon at Netcare Parklands Hospital, she told me that we must go public. We must share her story and that we must influence and inspire other women to have their regular mammograms. All the doctors told us that early detection is vital, and Mariam was meticulous with her annual mammograms. We are #TeamMariam so #NoOneFightsAlone.”

*The American Cancer Society’s definition of DCIS: a non-invasive or pre-invasive breast cancer. This means the cells that line the ducts have changed to cancer cells, but that they have not spread through the walls of the ducts into the nearby breast tissue.