ON THE CHEMO COUCH – G.I. Jane

Ronel Nel (36) discovered a new meaning of love, faith, dreams and friendship after conquering breast cancer.

I’m an ordinary Afrikaans woman – a wife and a mother, but I was hand-picked by God to overcome the biggest challenge in my life – breast cancer.

Being diagnosed, in April 2016,  with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) turned my world upside down! With three daughters, aged 17, 14  and 7 years old; a hubby who is a professional hunter; and all the doctors’ appointments and treatments, it was a huge challenge to get our lives on track. It was a first for my whole family as no one in our family ever had cancer before.

My oncologist and I decided on chemo sessions every 21 days, due to the fact that I had to travel over two hours, from Mokopane to Life Groenkloof Hospital, every time.

My treatment plan consisted of chemotherapy, a left mastectomy, and, if necessary, radiotherapy.

My first four sessions of chemo was the ‘Red Devil’; I experienced a complete new state – both physically and mentally. The tiredness was the worst side effect, and my poor appetite did not help at all, but luckily I did not get nauseous. A common side effect of the ‘Red Devil’ is losing your hair. Bearing this in mind, I made a game out of it – to make it easier for my youngest daughter’s sake – I challenged her to see who could pull out as much hair at a time…we laughed at one another and our handfuls of my hair. After all the excitement, I asked my mother to shave off my hair. I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “G.I. Jane, you can do it!” I lifted up my chin, smiled and said, “For this is God’s plan, not mine. I will carry it with dignity!”

My second round of chemo (four sessions of Taxol) started. I suffered with joint pain to the third degree; painkillers and my bed became my  new best friends. With inner strength, I reminded myself at each chemo session “after this one, there is one less to worry about.”

Photo by Shalane-Mare Wedding and Lifestyle Photography

I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘G.I. Jane, you can do it!’ I lifted up my chin, smiled and said, ‘For this is God’s plan, not mine. I will carry it with dignity!”

After completing chemotherapy, I underwent a mastectomy on my left breast. Everything went as planned, I had a tissue expander inserted to prepare my body for the permanent prosthesis, the draining was good, physiotherapy was on track and I slowly but surely became myself again…until I saw my surgeon two weeks later. The lymph node that was removed during the mastectomy was cancerous. He now had to perform a left axillary lymph node dissection (removing my underarm tissue with the rest of the lymph nodes for precaution of possible spreading). This hit me very hard! But with my friends and family by my side I got through it. My final reconstruction was done in April this year, where both breasts were worked on to create symmetry.

I was privileged to be part of a campaign You are Enough!, showing women that no matter what, they are enough. This photo shoot made me realise that although I have changed on the outside, I am still enough to be a good mother, a loving wife, and feel beautiful as a woman!

As Afrikaans women, we rarely talk about breast cancer in general; we know about breast examinations and mammograms, but for some reason, the older generation did not talk about it at all. The ones who had it, kept it to themselves and fought the battle alone. It is for this exact reason that I made myself a promise: I will speak openly to my three daughters about breast cancer, I will speak to people who want to learn more about it, and I will tell other women what to look out for.

As a ‘new’ woman, mother and wife I learned:

From my husband – never give up on LOVE.

From my father – never give up on your FAITH.

From my brother – never give up on your DREAMS.

From my friends – never give up on FRIENDSHIP.

To each and every person reading this, show your loved ones how much you love them, keep your faith, be true to your friends, and never give up on your dreams!

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