Our cover girl, Lizel Wheller (Ashton), was just eight years old when her mother, Bernadine, passed away after a four year fight with breast cancer. 24 years later Lizel found a lump in her left breast.
Boy did it put a spanner in the works.” She and her husband, Morne, had but recently begun thinking of starting a family of their own. Lizel had gone off the pill in preparation and, when she felt the lump, she thought it “might just be my hormones going haywire”.
Lizel made an appointment with the gynae who did a breast examination and superfluous sonar of the breast and told her “it was nothing”. “I even asked him if I should maybe have a mammogram and he said ‘You are too young for those things’. I went home feeling kind of relieved but not a 100% convinced. Two months later I felt the lump again and my best friend, Sam, insisted I have it checked out.”
“My whole world came crashing down around me. I HAD BREAST CANCER! And, worst of all, I would not be able to have kids for three to five years.”
“Despite the delay in diagnosis it had not spread to my lymph nodes and my prognosis was really good. Because I was so young, and because I wanted a family, Dr Benn suggested that we do fertility treatment before starting the chemo so that we could harvest some eggs – just in case. She also put me on Zoladex to protect my ovaries from the effects of the chemo.”
“I was lucky and sailed through chemo. The mastectomy was also a relief – when I woke up to discover that I was not totally flat chested – as they had already put the expanders in! Yay, I had a cleavage!!” As it turned out, and despite the nightmare of hot flashes, Lizel’s menstrual cycle returned quite soon after finishing chemo. As her tumour was hormone and HER2 negative she didn’t have to go onto medications such as Tamoxifen – and that brought her dream of having a family much closer.
Late 2011 she and Morne decided that they would try to fall pregnant during 2012 and, if it didn’t happen naturally, they would resort to using the harvested eggs in 2013.
Lo and behold, in November 2011 – before they had even started to try – Lizel realised she was pregnant.
“I was very nervous. When I was about 12 weeks I went for my regular check-up with Dr Benn and Dr Demetriou. Dr Benn was so excited for me but Dr Demetriou was a little concerned. She said that the risk of the cancer returning is highest during the first two years after treatment and she was concerned that the rampaging hormones may trigger a recurrence.
Cancer will not define me … but I will make it my defining moment.
I would then have to make the very difficult choice of what to do, have chemo and risk affecting the baby – or have the pregnancy terminated.”
“I am now 35 weeks and went to see Dr Demetriou about a month ago. She was a lot more positive, and wished me all the best. She was also pleased that the Zoladex had protected my reproductive system so well and enabled me to conceive naturally. She said I was the picture of health – as every pregnant mum should be!”
“I haven’t met any other breast cancer survivors who have had babies after their treatment so I have decided to just put my faith in God and trust that this is the right thing at the right time.”
“Breast Cancer is not a death sentence. Early detection is the most critical thing. Listen to your gut. Don’t take your doctor’s word for it. If you are not happy – go for a second opinion or a third or a fourth!!