Sally Roberts is battling metastatic breast cancer, but you’d never guess it from meeting this bright-eyed, can-do, endearing woman.
“Borrowed time – that’s what I’m living on.” This is how she defines her life after her diagnoses. When Sally was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer at 35, it wasn’t the first time she would have to hear a dire prognosis.
“I was in Dubai at the time I was diagnosed in 2006, but decided to come back to South Africa to get surgery and treatment. I had my first mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction, chemotherapy and radiation.”
Two and half years later, Sally was diagnosed a second time with Stage 4 breast cancer metastases to her lung, abdomen, bones, liver and brain “Research told me I had two and half years to live. Fortunately for me statistics are not set in stone, and there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy here. New treatments and good doctors have kept me alive beyond two and a half years and have inspired the hope of many more.”
This 44-year old woman refers to herself not as a survivor but a thriver. “I’m not a survivor, because I’m not cured.”
For Sally cancer has been both a blessing and a curse. “It has allowed me to get back to things I love, like crafting and working with natural elements making jewellery, which is the most relaxing and gratifying thing I can do for myself. I also keep busy with running a Postnet business with my life partner, Noel Roach, and seeing friends and family.”
“Cancer has taught me what is important to me and how I want to live the rest of my life, regardless of how long it is,” says Sally. “I have already planned my funeral the way I want it to be with my parents and Noel.”
In the Roberts’ family, there was never a history of cancer. As a grateful daughter to an 80-year-old father, Sally says helping her household come to terms with her illness and managing the emotional aspects of this journey has not always been as easy as having a good laugh.
“We have still managed to find our way. My mother and I were diagnosed almost simultaneously, however, she had Stage 1 (Her treatment up to now has been very successful). My dad had to learn how to cook. He took care of both my mom and me. Since the beginning they were an amazing support system; my father takes me to every chemo treatment and has not missed one. He is truly an amazing dad!”
With a modest smile and sparkle in her eyes, Sally reveals that she is a hopeless romantic.
I’m on stage Thrive!
“True love does exist. I never thought I would get that special person and was scared to die alone. But, three years ago I met the love of my life. When he kissed me in the parking lot after a date night, I realised he was serious. With mixed emotions, I ordered him to first talk to his sister and two other female friends to get perspective.
I mean, I’ve got doggy boobs and might die tomorrow.
Noel is an astounding man and he is definitely my hero! Today we live together and talk frequently about cancer and mortality – fortunately for me, he is a good man with a good outlook on life.”
The view from the 4th floor is not always pretty, but Sally hopes by sharing her story, she can help others and maybe share a laugh along the way. “There is still joy and hope in my life, and I wish the same thing for all of my fellow cancer fighters.”
She urges women to go to the doctor early. “If it doesn’t feel like a cancer ‘should,’ it doesn’t mean it’s not a cancer,” she cautions. “If you’ve got a lump in there, even if it’s soft or if you even feel like something is just off, get it checked out.” Because of her advanced stage of her cancer, Sally’s treatment plan was intense from the beginning.
Notwithstanding her minor cognitive impairment, Sally had Stereotactic Radiation, which is able to target a tumour with millimeter accuracy thereby saving as much healthy tissue as possible. “I had one large tumour and three small ‘spots,” she says. Her treatment for the brain was completed in November 2013. Sally continues her chemotherapy plan for two large liver tumours. Facing an entirely new treatment plan, from the beginning Sally was clear about her priorities for this new challenge. She would pursue treatment, but she would also focus on her family, including Noel, and take the time to enjoy her life.
The inspiring advances being made in breast cancer research reinforce the fighting spirit that Sally has demonstrated throughout her life.
Ultimately, Sally says, she encourages women who are delivered a metastatic diagnosis to remain hopeful and to think outside the box. “It’s not that cut and dried,” she says of the statistics about Stage 4 disease that they might be handed.
“Don’t read too much into it. It’s a very good guideline, but find a healthy dose of hope and a healthy dose of reality!”
Written by Elsje Beneke.