My body might have cancer in it, but my soul doesn’t

What are the chances of husband and wife both having breast cancer? We hear how Coral and Emidio Ribeiro are facing his breast cancer diagnosis two years after Coral’s.

Emidio (75) and Coral Ribeiro (70) live in Boksburg, Gauteng. They have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

Coral’s diagnosis

Due to a terrible infection in her right arm, Coral went to her GP. He treated the infection but told her that she needs to go for a mammogram. “I explained that I went about two years ago and calcifications were found but nothing cancerous. But, he said I needed to go for another one,” Coral says.  

The mammogram picked up a lump in the left breast and after a biopsy Coral was diagnosed with a hormonal breast cancer in September 2020. A lumpectomy was performed in November and Coral is on the waiting list for radiation at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH).

“Like most people I was shocked to hear that I had cancer but by the grace of God and all the ‘pink ladies’, I’m still here,” Coral says. Emidio says it was a strange feeling when he heard his wife of 48 years had cancer. “You don’t accept it. For a while, I didn’t believe it but then after one operation and then the next, it all got real and hit home. It was difficult.”

Emidio’s diagnosis

Last year Emidio bumped his chest on the corner of a wall while pottering outside. “It became an open sore that was weeping so we went to the GP where it was dressed and cleaned up on numerous occasions,” Coral explains. “I would put ointment on it and it would look like it was clearly up but then it would just flare-up again,” Emidio says. 

“The doctor said that Emidio must also go for a mammogram, however, he was reluctant. Thankfully, I convinced him to go this year in February as I suspected it was breast cancer,” Coral says. The mammogram and sonar showed a lump behind the wound and a biopsy was done on the same day. It was confirmed that Emidio had breast cancer. 

Coral has the opinion that Emidio hasn’t really accepted his diagnosis. “We had counselling after the diagnosis but I don’t think it has hit home yet for him.” 

Emidio adds, “I am a faith-based person that is why it took me so long to go for a mammogram because I believed it would get better. I would even speak to it, saying ‘You will get better’ but it didn’t listen. I have accepted it; my body might have cancer in it but my soul doesn’t, and I will do what I have to do to fight it.” 

Emidio’s mastectomy took place in March and a decision will be made as to whether he requires further treatment after surgery. 

Family history of cancer 

A big inspiration for Emidio to beat his cancer is his younger brother. “My brother has colon cancer which has spread to the liver and whenever I see him he looks so good and is so positive so if he can do it, so can I. I might be the older brother but I see him being more mature,” Emidio says.

Other family members also have had cancer. Emidio’s mother, who is 98, had skin cancer. Twenty years ago, his younger sister passed away from metastatic breast cancer, at age 39, and his older sister, in Portugal, also had breast cancer.

Due to this family history, genetic testing (BRCA gene) was discussed in the counselling session. 

Blood pressure struggles

Emidio says he isn’t feeling ill but the open wound is painful. His blood pressure is also causing double vision and dizziness. “We used to pick up our granddaughter from school but 

we have asked our daughter to make other arrangements until the surgery is done and his blood pressure is under control,” Coral says. “The breast specialist says the high blood pressure is most probably due to the anxiety of being around doctors, which is known as white coat syndrome.” Coral adds that Emidio has lost about 10kg.

Sticking together

Even though Coral and Emidio have faced two breast cancer diagnoses in two years, the couple have an optimistic outlook on life and say their faith is the only thing that can get them throughthis. And, most importantly, they are supportive of each other. Coral was supposed to have knee surgery in March, due to osteoarthritis (she has already had hip replacements) but she has delayed it so she can focus on her husband and his healing. 

“He will have the mastectomy and he will be fine and we will be fine,” she concludes.

Photos by LuciaB Photography | Facebook @luciabphoto | Venue: Thank you to Jaqui Nel for the use of her garden.

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. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Write to the

MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams

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. Write to [email protected]