The girl on the chemo couch wants to glamorise cancer

It’s been a year since the girl on the chemo couch, Julia Shabalala, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. This 25 year old is currently receiving Herceptin treatment, every three weeks at Donald Gordon Medical centre in Johannesburg, Gauteng. Julia shares her journey after featuring on the cover of the winter edition of Buddies For Life Magazine and accentuate now is the time to glamorise cancer!

Julia was diagnosed in August 2013 after she discovered a lump in her breast. “It’s been a year since my diagnoses and I want to get emotional, but I’m actually in a very good place. I just finished radiation, so I’m very excited!“ says Julia. She describes her period going through cancer treatment as a moment of reflection. “It has allowed me to think about a lot of things. I am getting involved in everything that is cancer related and I enjoy it. It makes me feel like maybe this is what I am supposed to be doing, because sometimes you think you know, but you don’t.”

After her appearance on the Buddies For Life magazine cover, Julia’s world had once again transformed. The Look Good Feel Better programme (LGFB) approached her and with humble excitement Julia reveals she joined LGFB as Brand Ambassador.  “I’m involved at Look Good Feel Better, Cuppa for CANSA, I get approached by various people. I did a booklet for Roche. I am more than willing to get involved, because it’s fun for me.“

After Julia’s diagnoses her perspective on life completely changed. With a very relieved look and a warm smile on her face, Julia says sometimes one just need to let go and let life takes its course.

“Just go with the flow, because if you think too much about it, you are really going to drain yourself. For you to be able to face everyday, every treatment, you need to be positive. I don’t plan my entire life the way I did before and I’m more than okay with the way things are unfolding.”

With her cheerful personality, Julia describes a stigma around Cancer. “The stigma attached to cancer is that you look pale, you’re losing your hair, you must be bedridden. No one ever talks about the beautiful side of Cancer; that you can still be glamorous; you can still draw your eyebrows back on! You hear your hair’s going to fall out, but no one tells you about the many beautiful wigs; gloom and doom is all you hear!”

According to Julia, the cancer information provided once a diagnoses is made should change. “‘Look Good Feel Better’ is what they should tell you when you’ve got cancer. It sounds weird, but I really feel they should tell you the fun aspect!”

Very cautious, but without doubt, Julia says she realises people could take this the wrong way. “Sometimes people find you wrong when you say chemo is not that bad, or losing my hair was not really a big deal, because I have a wig. People find you wrong when you don’t think ‘it’s the end of the world.’ I’m not being rude, I’m just saying why should you be a different person because you’ve got cancer? We’ve got executives and models and all sorts of people coming for treatment, but by watching everyone looking the same in their ‘doek’ you don’t see it. Cancer should not make you somebody that you’re not!”

Before Julia left the hospital, she had to learn how to get dressed to make her breasts look comfortable and as normal as possible for herself. Wearing a white tank top and pointing to her prosthesis, looking very much the same as her real breast, she says with a slight giggle that it takes effort. “I had to teach myself to ‘zoosh’ it up! You need to learn to make the bad side of what happens, especially with cancer, work for you! And you can only imagine, you feel bad physically, now you look bad, those two together is not good for any woman!”

For Julia, like any other cancer survivor, the thought that the cancer could return is scary. “You feel scared and at some point you do think ‘what if I die?’” She does however ask the question, what if not? “I feel you can take the negativity that comes with cancer, because that’s the nature of the situation, there are negatives; your ovaries might not bounce back, you might have to come back in three years because it has now spread to your liver, you might be the one they sent home on treatment day, more than once, because your immune system is too low. You can have all these experiences, but you have to take that with a pinch of salt, because you can be an exception! I do get afraid, but I learn very quickly not to get scared.”

Her message to other woman is check the boobs! “Get involved! Never feel like it will not happen to you. If you do find out that you have a medical condition, don’t let it consume your life, you are still alive and you’ve got to believe there’s more to you than current conditions. Don’t let people describe you in relation to your condition, you are not cancer! If you were  fabulous before, you can be              fabulous during and after, in fact you can be better!”

Written by Elsje Beneke

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