Primary school teacher, Rozetta van Ross, tells us how she continued teaching throughout chemotherapy and how she broke the news of her breast cancer diagnosis to her students in Life Orientation class.
Rozetta van Ross (51) lives in Winchester Hills, Gauteng with her husband, Andries. They have two adult sons, Bradley and Bradford.
In June 2019, once back from a fantastic holiday in the Maldives, celebrating her 50th birthday, Rozetta felt a lump in her right breast while doing a breast self-examination.
She immediately booked a mammogram and consulted with a breast specialist who referred her for a biopsy. The biopsy revealed HER2 postive high-grade ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
“I was devastated! How could this happen to me? I’m young, energetic and full of life and enjoy my career. I still have so much to offer my learners. I thought my life was over,” Rozetta recalls.
A bilateral skin and nipple-sparing mastectomy was recommended by the breast specialist; this would remove the lump and surrounding tissue.
Once the surgery was done, the tumour was sent for more testing which revealed the cancer to be invasive Stage 1A HER2 positive. Due to this finding, Rozetta had six months of chemotherapy, and Herceptin injections every three weeks which she still takes today.
Telling her employer
“I’m blessed to have a good relationship with my employer and colleagues. They are like family to me. I took the day off when it was confirmed that I have breast cancer. This proved to be a good decision as I was extremely emotional. Thereafter, I had a meeting with my boss to inform her that I have breast cancer. She was so supportive and understood my situation because she lost her mom through the same disease. So, she knew what cancer was and what it does to a person,” says Rozetta.
Working throughout treatment
Thankfully leave was not an issue for Rozetta. “My oncologist proposed that I be booked off sick for the period of the chemotherapy, but I decided not to. Because of my faith and prayer of family, friends and colleagues, I handled both treatment and work.”
Rozetta continued working and only took sick leave on the Friday of the chemo session and on the Monday to rest.
“This gave me the weekend to recover. I was then back at work on the Tuesday. I didn’t want chemotherapy to dictate my life. The friendly and supportive nurses at the out-patient oncology department made the chemotherapy sessions so much easier. Plus, colleagues were compassionate and didn’t treat me differently.”
“The major side effect was fatigue, especially later in the day. Fortunately, my work day ends in the early afternoon and I went home and slept, or sometimes I left early if needed. Because I lost all my hair due to chemo, I wore a wig which was like my normal hairstyle so I still looked the same,” the teacher explains.
Life Orientation class
Rozetta explains that she wanted her students to know what she was going through and since Life Orientation is one of the subjects she teaches, she felt that would be the best place to tell them. “Talking about life is something that comes naturally. So, I used this opportunity to break the news to the learners.”
The 51-year-old teacher goes on to say, “My learners didn’t know much about cancer. What I realised was that, quite frankly, many people know very little about cancer. They see it as a death sentence. Even the chemotherapy treatment was a mystery to learners as well as to many colleagues. Interestingly, one learner proposed that I use rhino horn powder to make the cancer disappear.”
“My learners were surprised as they expected me to be down and out. Their mental picture of a cancer patient is somebody sick in bed or hospital that can’t do anything for themselves. And, I wasn’t like that. I was working and I was positive, not allowing cancer to bring me down. I am glad that they saw this and hopefully it has changed their ideas of a cancer patient.”
Losing her mom
Despite Rozetta’s determination to beat the cancer and stay positive, her mother’s sudden illness during chemo treatment shook her and depleted her strength. “I had to be strong for her as well. Sadly, she passed away during my treatment,” Rozetta says.
Today Rozetta is doing well healthwise and continues to love her job of teaching. “I love my job in that I can make a difference in my learners’ lives. When they come back years after I taught them and tell me how I impacted their lives, there is nothing more satisfactory than that.”
The mother and wife spends as much time with her husband and sons and admits she loves caring for them and keeping them together as a family.
“To be content means having an inner happiness that is not determined by external factors. Since breast cancer, I have gained more appreciation for life, realising how fortunate I was to have access to the best treatment and facilities. There are many women going through the same illness that don’t enjoy the same privileges. Most importantly, I realised that cancer can only do to you, what you allow it to do. For me, it allowed me to be honest and open with my students and hopefully made them more aware of breast cancer and that there is life after breast cancer.”
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. email@example.com