A smile for breast cancer survivors

In keeping with Breast Cancer Awareness Month a truly great social awareness campaign once again warmed our hearts and restored our faith in humanity.

Launched by Prof Carol Ann Benn (founder of the Breast Health Foundation), Khanyi Dhlomo (media mogul) and international fashion and fragrance icon, Carolina Herrera de Baez, the Support With A Smile initiative is currently in its second year of operation.

Through hired caregivers, the programme aims to educate, support and give hope to the hundreds of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. They begin their work at diagnosis, and continue to help patients through the duration of their treatments. According to statistics one in 35 women is diagnosed with breast cancer in South Africa. Caregivers help around 40 new patients a week between the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and Helen Joseph Hospitals in Gauteng. Once a week they do home based visits, which take place after the first and second chemotherapy treatments, since this is the most critical time as most patients struggle to cope with their treatment and side effects after the first two cycles of chemotherapy. In honour of breast cancer awareness month, the Support with a Smile initiative celebrated special journeys and victories that formed formidable anything-is-possible partnerships in the face of a terrifying diagnosis.

The Carolina Herrera Brand has always been associated with strong, fiercely independent women. Therefore it lends its support to women suffering from breast cancer as they take on one of the bravest battles they will ever experience. The Carolina Herrera brand will donate in total R5 Million over a five year period from the proceeds of the fragrance sales in South Africa.

Sharon Lottering (50)

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2012. After my surgery I had undergone two cycles of chemotherapy of six sessions each. I was confined to a wheelchair as I left hospital following my on-going treatment for breast cancer. Doctors told me I would never walk again, however, after seven months I was back up on my feet. I believe that modern medicine truly is a miracle, but most of all I never doubted God - I know my God is good! There are many truths I have learned along the way of my cancer journey. It hasn’t always been fun and it certainly hasn’t been easy. I never could have made it without the support of my family, friends and all of the people I met during my treatment. The support from the Smile Campaign surely helped me to forget entirely about my breast cancer and gave me hope when my path seemed completely dark.

Ivy Mahlangu (46)

At the age of 40 and a mother of two lovely children, I was diagnosed with stage 3-breast cancer. I began chemotherapy first to shrink the tumor. At the beginning of 2010 I had my mastectomy. I am involved as a councilor with BHF and am also a volunteer at our local clinic in Geluksdal to educate the community on breast cancer. Every Friday we give care bags to patients at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital - I love it! Giving this little gift with a smile as a message of support makes me feel better too! In May 2014 I was diagnosed with cancer again. I had a small ‘pimple’ between my breasts, the size of a mosquito bite. My doctor referred me for a biopsy - the results confirmed cancer. I had to undergo more chemotherapy, which I finished at the end of October. My story is for everyone to see that although the disease is ugly, there is hope on the horison, a sunset over the mountain that you climb.

Vera Van Nieuwenhuizen (61)

With a family history of cancer - my mom and two brothers - I knew it raised my overall risk of developing cancer. In February 2014 I felt a lump in my breast. I went for a mammogram, which confirmed breast cancer. On 27 October 2014 I had my mastectomy. The chemotherapy was awful, but all Glory to God as I experienced minimal side effects. My hair loss was quite devastating, I’m still getting used to the wig. The goodie bag I received from the Smile Campaign simplified everything, plus it helped so much to disguise the drain, which certainly alleviated my self-consciousness. Currently I have finished my chemo treatment, but I’m scheduled for radiation in February 2015. I am quite optimistic that the results will be good!

Elizabeth Chaane (49)

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on 29 August 2013 at Mediclinic, Vereeniging and had a bilateral mastectomy on April 8th, 2014 at Milpark Hospital. I was very scared when I was first diagnosed and also through my treatment. I received my treatment at Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre and had 16 sessions of chemotherapy. For me the worst thing on my cancer journey was having those sleepless nights, every time, before I had to go for my chemotherapy. By day I am a saleswoman and by night a wife and mother. My kids are 13 and 18 years old, respectively. Since I’ve been part of the Smile Campaign the battle has been easier, because of the assistance they have provided - they took time with me to explain what I’m dealing with and answered my questions.

Refilwe Sedumedi (37)

A new me was born when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2013. The support I got from the Breast Health Foundation has been tremendous, the importance of a smile as an alternative way of facing the disease definitely offers strength and emotional support. I continue to attend the monthly workshops. My two beautiful kids (8 and 14 years old) and boyfriend, plus my friends have also been very caring. I underwent six chemo sessions. As I experienced severe vomiting during my treatment, it often felt like I was losing the battle. I was devastated when I found out I had breast cancer - my hair loss was the worst. I do, however, trust that God has a huge plan for me and that this is just a minor bump on the journey. I love modelling but never really had opportunities, so maybe this is my chance - after all I made the cover of a magazine!

Shrine Kock (53)

I have been a breast cancer survivor since 2001. I had a mastectomy on my left breast and was in remission for 5 years before the cancer came back in the left upper femur. I received 20 sessions of radiation and chemo. I was again in remission for 5 years when the cancer returned in my scull, spine and left femur in 2011. I had to receive chemo again and am now cancer free. The support from family and friends has been remarkable and certainly amended my recovery process. The Geluksdal Cancer Support Group has also played a big role in my life - my soul sisters there have been a true blessing! The encouragement from everyone at my support group definitely helped me to stay positive.

Written by Elsje Beneke