Lee-ann Goliath speaks openly about how she was in complete denial when diagnosed with breast cancer and how finally facing the truth of her emotional pain, she can now help others.
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Lee-ann Goliath (41) lives in Mulbarton, Gauteng with her husband, Ismael, and two children (18 and 16).
In February 2018, Lee-ann went to her GP as she was feeling fluish, she casually mentioned that she felt a lump in her left breast while in the shower. Her GP sent her for a mammogram. “Because I was under the age of 40, the radiology practice wanted a motivation letter before they would see me, so I left it,” Lee-ann explains.
But then in June Lee-ann got the news that her aunt had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that prompted her to go back to her GP and get the motivation letter.
“My husband came with me. The mammographer asked if she should call him into the room. I said no. She explained that she was picking up something and I needed a biopsy, so I already had a feeling that it was breast cancer. It was all a blur, I couldn’t even tell hubby what she told me,” Lee-ann recalls.
It was confirmed as an invasive hormone positive breast cancer. After consulting with a breast specialist, Lee-ann and Ismael phoned both sets of parents to share the news and told their children. “I’m so proud of how my kids handled it as we had just moved, and they started new schools and then this, so they had to deal with a lot of change,” the mother says.
The 41-year-old opted for a skin-sparring bilateral mastectomy which took place in October. She explains that she chose this due to the chance of it developing in the right breast too. Reconstruction (silicone implants) took place concurrently with the mastectomy.
In December, Lee-ann underwent 30 sessions of radiation. The only side effect that was experienced was itching as the skin was red (burnt).
In January 2019, Lee-ann was put on tamoxifen for five to 10 years and a three-monthly goserelin injection to suppress her hormones.
A few months after surgery, Lee-ann experienced lymphoedema in her left arm due to lymph node removal and consulted a physiotherapist. Thankfully, it subsided.
Unfortunately, a year later, another operation was needed to remove scar tissue that had enveloped one of the implants which made it harden, and for a new implant to be inserted.
Unbearable side affects
After four years, in March 2022, Lee-ann stopped taking tamoxifen and the injection as she couldn’t handle the side effects and being in early menopause. “The worst is the hot flushes, but I also had constant headaches, hair loss and extreme weight gain.”
Due to Lee-ann also having an underactive thyroid which has similar symptoms to theside effects of tamoxifen, she felt confident in her choice of choosing general well-being.
Not facing the truth
Lee-ann admits that for a very long time she was in denial and not emotionally invested in her diagnosis. “I just went through the motions as I wanted to get it over and done with. I told myself that I had to be strong as I had my kids to think about and my husband has to go through all of this stress with me.”
In October 2021, Lee-ann was diagnosed with major depression and borderline anxiety disorder and was put on an antidepressant. “After counselling with my psychiatrist and psychologist, this diagnosis stems from not dealing with issues and burying my emotions, with my breast cancer diagnosis being one of them. I was forcing myself to be strong for everyone and wasn’t truthful to myself. I couldn’t speak about it.”
“Media makes breast cancer look nice and easy. We should stop trying to hide from the pain and trauma caused by it and that is what I was doing, not facing the trauma I was experiencing as I was being strong for everyone else. What I have learnt too is that pain is not a sign of weakness.”
Since seeing a psychologist, Lee-ann says she has started healing emotionally. “I can now speak about my cancer diagnosis without feeling broken. Last year I shared my story for the first time ever at a high tea I held in support of breast cancer awareness. So many women were encouraged, and this is when I realised that at times we can be so absorbed in our pain that we don’t recognise that by sharing our stories, we can help or guide other people. I now want to be there for other cancer patients, I want them to know that they don’t need to shut out people because at the end of the day, we do need people to start our healing journeys.”
Even though Lee-ann battled to deal with her own emotions, she says her support system was excellent.“I have the most amazing parents, they live in the Free State, so a week after we told them they came to stay with us during treatment to help with the kids and support me. My husband was great, he came with me to every single appointment and would do all the talking knowing that I didn’t have the capacity to.
Close friends were always at my house helping out and our pastor was constantly praying with us and for us and, most of all, God was my hope, He pulled me through this.”
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Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. firstname.lastname@example.org