Illona Hillhouse-Haralampiev, was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, at the age of 66. She was on the phone when she felt a sharp pain and when she felt her breast she found a lump. She was so dumbfounded that it took her a week to pluck up the courage to visit the GP who sent her for a mammogram and biopsy.
The reconstruction surgeon did not recommend reconstruction but petite Illona says “Now one side of my body is heavier than the other and I keep feeling like I’m going to fall over. My husband is 24 years younger then me and I just feel that reconstruction would have given me a better self-image and improved self-esteem. He is totally a boob man so it is very difficult and I am terribly self-conscious.”
Her treatment included an immediate lumpectomy, three months of radiation therapy and she has been on Arimidex chemotherapy tablets for five years. “I never met anyone I could speak to about the cancer and I never saw any literature at the oncology unit or the radiation centre. I bitterly regret not having someone to discuss the reconstruction with.”
Illona worked at a big company. “There were two ladies in the company who’d had breast cancer. One of them heard that I would be going for radiation and went with me to explain everything to me. That was fantastic!”
Towards the end of the radiation treatment Illona developed a large blister and went to a GP. “He wanted to lance it but Isaid ‘No’. I have learnt that, if you are on cancer treatment, you must always go to your Cancer Clinic or oncologist for advice, even if you think you only have the flu. When I saw my oncologist, Dr Rodrigues at Benoni Oncology, she said ‘Thank goodness you didn’t lance it!’”
“I suffer terribly with dryness, dry mouth and dry skin. It feels like I’m drying up from the inside even though I use lots of oils. And the chemo brain: the forgetfulness and confusion!” she shakes her head as if to clear it.
“I’m also suffering dreadfully with my mouth and my teeth and my gums are not healing, but I can’t claim for my teeth from my oncology allowance.”
“Ladies, get as much information and support as quickly as possible because your journey back to health is extremely lonely otherwise, and you make so many mistakes! I finally I saw Sheena’s number somewhere (maybe at oncology) and I have been to a few Bosom Buddies meetings and I am learning about things, and getting someone to speak to.”
Illona loves Buddies For Life. “The mag is absolutely awesome – there is so much info! I am so glad it has come into existence. It’s like meeting an old friend! I have lymphoedema and I can’t wait to see an article in Buddies For Life about how to do lymph massage.”
“My hobby helped to keep me sane during my treatment, working with Alley Cat Allies. My husband and I go out every night and find and feed stray cats – and then we catch them and get them sterilised. The husband isn’t too happy going out every night but he comes along anyway and I love him so much for that.”