Rosetta Chinian not only had to deal with a breast cancer diagnosis but with the loss of her husband to colorectal cancer two months later. She shares how she persevered through this gruelling time and where she is today.
Rosetta Chinian (52) lives in Mondeor, Johannesburg. She is a widow and has two adult sons and three grandchildren.
In January 2019, Rosetta’s husband, Robert, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer; he underwent chemotherapy and a permanent colostomy. Rosetta was focused on Robert and cared for him during treatment. Then in January 2020, she noticed a hard, golf ball-like lump in her breast. After a series of GP and specialist visits and COVID delays, Rosetta was diagnosed with Stage 2 triple-negative breast cancer in May 2020.
At this time, Robert was in hospital; his cancer had spread to his lungs and liver. On the same day that Rosetta received her diagnosis, Robert’s doctor informed her chemotherapy will be stopped as the cancer had spread to the brain and is very aggressive, and there wasn’t much more that could be done beside pain medication.
After getting the news of her diagnosis, she phoned her best friend to share the news then drove to her parents. “I walked in and just collapsed while crying. But I couldn’t tell them that I was sick; I told them that Robert is very ill.”
When Robert’s oncologist found out that Rosetta has breast cancer, she told Rosetta that she can’t send Robert home and suggested he go to a hospice due to what happens when cancer attacks the brain. “She said with me having to go for chemotherapy, it’s going to be very difficult for me to take care of Robert,” Rosetta explains.
Rosetta declined but assured her that if she couldn’t cope, she would take him to hospice so weekly nurse home-visits were arranged. At that time, Robert informed his oncologist that he would prefer to die at home with his family.
Telling the family
After speaking to a close family friend, Rosetta found the courage to tell her sons about her diagnosis. A day before she started chemo, she told Robert. “He told me that he is tired and wanted to rest. I asked him if he was cross with me and he said no. After Robert passed, a close friend told me that Robert asked why life was so unfair, that the person that he was leaving was now sick too.”
Rosetta drove herself to her first chemotherapy session. “I don’t know what I was thinking that I was Braveheart?” However, she didn’t feel well afterwards. “I was high like a kite.” So, she phoned her brother to come pick her up and this is how he and her other six siblings found out she was ill.
She told her parents about two weeks into chemotherapy. “My mom cried, and my dad was quiet, eventually saying, ‘I need you to pray and not lose faith.’”
The 52-year-old says she was so sick after the first chemo. “I had nausea and diarrhoea. I never expected this as Robert never had any of these side effects beside constipation. My helper came in and assisted me to get in the bath, Robert came in and sat down and told me everything was going to be okay. I told him he better not leave me as how was I going to face this without him.”
Rosetta tried her best during chemo, but she admits that she was struggling. “I lived on dry rice and Nando’s and I couldn’t stomach the smell of ginger. I lost so much weight because I wasn’t eating.” During treatment, Rosetta continued working from home due to COVID and was taking care of Robert too.
The passing of Robert
“A month before he passed, Robert asked me to get a book, so we could plan his funeral. I went along to appease him, but I was in complete denial. “
A week before Robert passed, Rosetta recalls how quiet he became. “One morning he woke up and told me that when the nurses come, he is going to tell them that he wants to go to hospice. I refused and assured him that I can cope and that he is still fine. But he was adamant.”
Ten days later Robert passed away on 29 July 2020. “He was supposed to wait until I had the op. Even though he was sick, just the fact that he was there when I got home from chemo helped me and gave me so much comfort. I was so angry with him and then I was also sad that he died in hospice alone and not with me by his side,” Rosetta says tearfully.
Rosetta’s parents came to stay with her after Robert’s passing to give her support. She finished chemotherapy in September and in October had a lumpectomy with intra-operative radiation and immediate reconstruction, plus a further 30 radiation sessions after surgery in December until February 2021. Sadly, Rosetta’s father passed away from a hematoma in November.
She was also prescribed capecitabine, an oral chemo tablet, until November, as preventative treatment.
An injection trial was also offered to Rosetta but due to her hurting her knee and taking an anti-inflammatory, she couldn’t start it. Irrespective, her oncologist was happy with the results.
Progressing back into life
The grandmother says her grandchildren keep her busy, especially the three-year-old twins. “I still work from home and enjoy it. I also enjoy gardening and have decided to teach my 14-year-old special needs granddaughter how to bake, cook and sew so she has some skills. My plans for December are to stay at home and give attention to all the maintenance that is needed on the house as this is somethng that Robert would be in charge of every year.”
Health wise, Rosetta is doing well beside suffering with lymphoedema in her feet and ankles, and fatty tissue caused by radiation in the affected breast.
She saw a counsellor a few times after Robert passed and when her dad died, and may go for more counselling sessions when she feels ready. “I also did online counselling too and found reading and journaling really helped. Often I write notes to Robert telling him about my day and even to my father. I need and want to heal but I don’t know how, I’m still figuring that out, but I see that God has put me in a position where I can offer comfort and support to others so I’m embracing that.”
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. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Write to the firstname.lastname@example.org