Rude awakening – you need to have chemotherapy

Romy Toussaint (42) gives a moving account of the anger she felt towards her oncologist when she heard she had to start chemotherapy.

On a very normal day in December 2015, my whole world was shaken up; after a routine mammogram and ultrasound – my first one I must add – the radiologist requested a biopsy…a what? No – not me! This was just a routine check-up – I’m sure they’re just being extra cautious. After all, I’m only 41. I’m healthy. It will be fine.

After a few agonising days of positive thinking and patiently waiting for ‘that’ phone call, my phone rang and the dreaded words “you have early stage right breast cancer” were voiced. My world stopped. I took a deep breath, thanked the doctor for the call, put the phone down and burst into tears. My worst fear had been realised.

I was advised to go to Prof Benn at Netcare Milpark Hospital. I phoned her rooms and a very friendly navigator answered and suggested I meet with her, which I did. She gently explained how and what the next steps were, and made me feel so at ease. An appointment to see Prof Benn was scheduled.

The day finally arrived. I heard so much about this woman; she was the one holding all the answers to the rest  of my life. She came into the room, with my file in hand, sat opposite me with her knees up and casually started chatting. Wow, she’s human – one of us, just a crazy busy woman doing the best she can. I felt confident to be under her care.

After numerous examinations and tests, my results, so far, were good. The breast cancer was caught early, my lymph nodes were clear and it hadn’t spread. I opted for ‘Barbie boobs’ which is a double mastectomy replaced with silicone implants.

Dr Serrurier, my breast reconstructive surgeon, carefully explained the procedure – a skin-sparing mastectomy, whereby all my skin would be preserved, and, hopefully, my nipples as well. He answered all my questions which made me feel that I was in good hands.

After a very successful surgery, my nipples were also preserved, I went for my check-up. Prof Benn was really happy with the pathology results – we got all the cancer out, no radiation would be needed, but because my results came back as HER2+, I would probably have to go on Herceptin. For me, this was okay and manageable. She then referred me to Dr van Eeden at The Medical Oncology Centre of Rosebank.

I was feeling positive that my treatment wasn’t a big deal and that I just needed some injections for a few months, but then Dr V (as I like to call her) started talking about when I start chemotherapy. I corrected her and said “You mean when I start injections”…no, I heard correctly…yes chemotherapy. In my mind, this translated to full-on-hardcore-red-devil-radical-lose-my-hair-feel-sick-chemotherapy. I burst into tears, and through my waterfall of tears, I gave Dr V the deadliest of looks. How could she tell me this? How could she be so mean and want me to have chemotherapy like a cancer patient? I don’t have cancer, we got it out remember? There’s only plastic in there now!

How could she be  so mean and want me to have chemotherapy like a cancer patient? I don’t have cancer, we got it out remember? There’s only plastic in there now!

She went on to explain that my cancer was triple-positive, and the size of my tumour was 2,8cm, so in case of spread during surgery, she wanted me to have eight sessions of ‘preventative’ chemotherapy. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much and glared at someone, with so much intent, in such a short space of time in my life. Dr V was adamant in her decision and assured me that it was the best decision, but made it clear that, ultimately, it was my choice. What a rude awakening. Dr V had changed the course of my life forever!

A few weeks later, I started my treatment which consisted of five months of chemotherapy, every third week, and recently I began my year-long prescription of Herceptin. All I can say now, is that I am so proud to have pushed through it, and am extremely happy that Dr V wanted to save my life, and she did. We have come so far – from the dirty looks to the high fives we share today. I am very grateful to her and Sister Andrea for their expertise, gentle approach and human touch to getting me to this day.

I feel huge gratitude and pride. I found strength that I never knew I had, and my friends and family have amazed me which has been a great reminder to celebrate life and each other. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey.

Written by Romy Toussaint.

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