Shumani Rapulu was only 13 years old when a benign tumour was discovered in her left breast. She spent the next 18 years of her life with only one breast.
Breast prostheses are not cheap and, as Shumani had her operation at Baragwanath Chris Hani Hospital in 1993, they were not even available. As she was so young and skinny, a dorsi flap was not even an option. At thirteen Shumani was still flat chested and living in Limpopo when she started to feel a lump in her left breast. It was also growing big, changing colour (blue) and she could feel something inside. As her parents were both away working in Joburg her Aunty Esther took her to the local clinic. They took one look at the breast and sent her to Elim Hospital who immediately transferred her in an ambulance to Baragwanath Hospital where she would be closer to her parents.
She took it all in her stride, eager to get rid of the stabbing, burning pains she had suffered for the past six months. It was explained to her that she had a “growth” and they would remove the entire breast but leave the nipple intact. After three weeks of recovery at the hospital she was sent home, happy and content with her familiar flat chest.
Four years later Shumani was developing into a gorgeous young woman. “I would look at myself and realised that I didn’t look like other women, or even girls my age. I wore a bra and stuffed socks into the empty left hand side so that I could look like the other girls and people would laugh at me and ask me why I was wearing a bra when I was so young. Young girls don’t need to wear bras.”
“When my son was born I was worried about breast feeding with only one breast but the doctor said it was fine and I breastfed him for 17 months. I was lucky because I had lots of milk and he was a big, healthy baby!!”
“After the breast-feeding my breast became all big and sagging and it did not look nice but I lived like that, hiding my body and my shame from people around me.”
“I lived like that, like half a woman, until last year. Then I couldn’t stand it any longer and I went back to Bara to the breast clinic there and I asked them to help me be normal.”
“I went there in 2011 and in November, after about four visits, they agreed that they could do the operation because they had some free breasts donated by Allergan. I was so excited and couldn’t wait but they had to keep putting off the operation because they had so many emergencies to operate on. It is really sad. There are many, many women at the clinic because they put breast cancer and plastic surgery together.”
“Finally I had my operation in February this year. They removed the tissue from my right breast, made it smaller and used the donated prostheses to make both of my breasts look the same. The doctors and sisters and the hospital were so nice. They really know what they are doing.”
I feel so good now. I couldn’t wear nice clothes before, but now I can wear anything I want. Even my 13 year-old son, Tshepang, likes it! Thank you to Allergan and thank you Dr Potgieter, now I feel and look like a real woman.