Lindiwe Mdlalase (36) is a mother of two boys – 19 and six years old respectively – who lives in Daveyton, Gauteng.
Never would she have imagined that she would get cancer in her thirties or that she would be on disability for months recuperating from cancer treatment.
During October of last year, Lindiwe discovered some sort of swelling in her breast. “I willed the lump to go away and took a ‘wait and see’ approach. I tried to keep my mind distracted, but inevitably, my hand would wander to that area in question and the lump remained. I still remember the morning in December 2014 when I finally realised that something was ‘not normal’.”
She went to her local clinic, who referred her for a scan and needle biopsy. Two weeks later doctors told Lindiwe she has stage 3 breast cancer.
Early diagnosis is key to tackling any form of the disease.
“Because my aunt had breast cancer, I was aware of the importance of self-examination. I knew it is a high-profile disease… But the moment when you think, ‘This could be happening to me’, is very isolating.”
According to Lindiwe her sudden breast cancer diagnoses harshly impacted her motherhood. “Many of my hours were spent lying on the couch sleeping, lying on the couch fighting the nausea monster, or feeling so weak I could barely get off the couch. The saddest part was my six year old boy didn’t understand what’s happening – he still cries often and it certainly affected his behavior and grades at school.”
Looking back at her journey thus far, the first piece of advice Lindiwe would give to someone else at this stage of the process is that “knowledge is power.”
“While you seem overwhelmed by information you don’t understand and there is a lot of unknown, it is important to build a network of people around you that have been through this and who can provide the support that you need at this critical time. I found that by having more information I was able to mentally prepare for what was to come. Instead of going into something blindfolded, you are able to physically and mentally prepare yourself, be strong, and hope for the best outcome.”
Lindiwe first started with chemotherapy treatment to shrink the size of the lump. She recently completed eight rounds of chemo.
Nearly 10 months after Lindiwe has been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, she says, “One thing I learned in my journey is that all people need to listen to their bodies and ensure they see their doctor when they feel something isn’t right – we are in control of our own health!”
Lindiwe’s experience during chemotherapy
With the breast cancer diagnoses, Lindiwe felt like her world had come crashing down around her. “The first thought that came to my mind was am I going to die? I fought through a haze of tears and made all the difficult calls to family to share the news.”
Even though she had no choice in getting breast cancer, she now had a choice of what to do about it. Her life became inundated with appointments.
“I had meetings with surgeons both general and reconstructive, anesthesiologists, a nutritionist, a counselor and a wig specialist. I had more tests: a bone density, a CAT scan, and blood work. There was a lot of information to process.”
The part Lindiwe probably feared the most was the chemotherapy. She explained that the infusion center at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, nicknamed Joburg Gen is quite spacious. “There were many nurses attending to patients who were there to receive treatment. There were lots of big comfy chairs with patients sitting in them, IVs attached to their arms or ports, connected to IV bags containing various colored solutions. I settled into my chair and the nurses searched for a ‘good vein’.”
She recalls the effects of the chemotherapy after completing eight sessions. “Those first 48 hours were extremely challenging as the nausea was overwhelming.
I lost 10kg in weight. The skin on my hands and feet started to change – this was quite painful. The cumulative effects of the treatments left me tired, but I tried to be active when I had the energy, especially for the sake of my youngest boy.”
One of the other things Lindiwe knew she’d be dealing with during chemotherapy was hair loss. “I didn’t know how quickly I would lose my hair. I shed tears knowing another part of me had been lost.”
Lindiwe made it through her chemotherapy treatments. The chemo did its job and shrunk the tumor quite a bit. She is determined that she is not going down without a serious fight! Lindiwe is expected to have her mastectomy on the 4th of October of this year.
Written by Elsje Smit.