Breast cancer has no boundaries. No matter your culture or your religion, breast cancer is a reality. We hear five culturally diverse stories from our Super Survivors.
Photos by Chantal Drummond Photography www.chantaldphoto.co.za / Make-up by Unswayed Beauty
Even though Marisa is a single mother, not once was she alone during her treatment, there was always someone who accompanied her to doctor appointments, check-ups and surgeries. The community was exceptional, making meals for her and her children. “Still today, four years later, I have people with me. That is just how the Jewish community is. You are totally supported from day one…from your community and shul, they hold your hand throughout the process,” she explained. Her belief system played ‘1000% role’ in her recovery. “I was like the story that Wayne Dyer quoted…holding on to the trolley strap…I kept going with absolute faith, never letting go,” Marisa said.
Being diagnosed, with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in 2013, proved to be a trying time for Marisa – being a single mother, having her own business and her father was also fighting colon cancer but sadly lost the battle three years later.
However, she knew she had to be an example to her children showing them that you can’t give up even if life throws you curve balls.
“That was my biggest fear, that something would happen to me, and my kids would have no one to rely on,” Marisa said. “I knew I had to survive.”
Marisa explained that breast cancer is openly spoken about in the Jewish community, adding that she was open about it since she had two young adult daughters at the time.
She underwent a left mastectomy, and chose to have the Oncotype DX test. Unfortunately, her medical aid would not pay for the test so she had to pay R30 000. Due to the results being low (chance of the cancer reoccurring) and professional advice, she opted to not undergo chemotherapy. Even though she had to pay that exorbitant amount, she is extremely appreciative for the test or else she would have undergone a year of chemo. Marisa is currently on Tamoxifen but despises how it makes her feel. “I can’t concentrate, I have put on weight…I just don’t feel nice on it,” she explained.
Reconstruction occurred a year later but due to dissatisfaction Marissa opted to have it again. “I’m still not happy. I never put a nipple on and I am never going to. My breast is not a breast, to me it is just something to fill a space,” she said.
Breast cancer was one of the hardest and best things that has happened to her. “You see the world differently. I was always a grounded person but my spirituality really came into play. You must be authentic as tomorrow is not guaranteed.”
Two years after it was discovered that Radha’s daughter is mentally challenged, at the age of 6, Radha and her family were introduced to this spiritual path – the Art of True Light. The purpose is to purify and revitalise spirit, mind and body, and it is practised between two people, with one receiving True Light and the other transmitting it. True Light is transmitted from the palm of the hand, which is held at a certain distance from the body. “We (my husband, son and I) started receiving Light and it really did good for us – the stress was released, we felt so much calmer, and could accept her condition. At that point, we chose to practise the Art of True Light and became members. We still observed certain Hindu rights but were more focused on the Art of True Light.”
It was this Light that Radha received either before or after each one of her 38 radiation sessions that gave her so much strength; she would then go to work, holding down two jobs as a beautician and an au pair. “I was often asked how come I wasn’t tired, and I can only attribute it to the Light because it gives you so much energy.” At that time, Radha was 64, her husband had passed on, her son was living in Cape Town, and all her family were in Durban, plus she had to care for her daughter. It was an arduous time for the mother of two, however, it was her positive attitude and the support of her fellow members and director from the Sukyo Mahikari Centre that allowed her to deal with her diagnosis. It was also one sentence, that her breast surgeon said, that made the world of difference to her:
“I will carry you through this journey. Don’t be afraid.”
Radha underwent a left lumpectomy, where her right breast was reconstructed on at the same time, then underwent radiation and is currently on Tamoxifen.
She explained that the Hindu community is aware of breast cancer, and that she is happy that breast cancer awareness is more prominent. She volunteers at the Helen Joseph Breast Care Clinic, adding that there are women of all cultures walking into that clinic. She is also a member of Bosom Buddies, and often gives Light to other survivors if they are in pain. “And, they usually find relief,” Radha said.
Due to Brigid’s mom being diagnosed with breast cancer, at the age of 70 (she chose not to have treatment as the cancer had spread, and passed on a year and a half later), and the fact that Brigid had dense breasts, she was very strict with her annual mammograms. However, for two years ‘life got busy’ and she missed her yearly check-ups. Then the beginning of this year, it was discovered she had ER/PR+ HER2- breast cancer in her left breast. Brigid chose to have a double Goldilocks mastectomy, which entails using the fat just below the breasts to refill them. She was so very thankful that the cancer had not spread.
Brigid was persuaded by her oncologist to have the Oncotype DX test, appreciatively her medical aid paid for it, and due to the 11% chance of the cancer coming back, she will only be on Tamoxifen for the next 10 years.
During this time, Brigid meditated to stay calm, prayed to God, and valued the positive thinking from her friends. “I would repeat positive affirmations every night after the kids went to bed…who knows if they work or not?” Brigid said. Her husband Frank, who is an atheist, has been brilliant – cooking, picking the kids up from school, and giving her constant support.
It has been hard on both of her daughters, with the eldest having once said, “I’m going to be next…granny died…you have got it…so I am going to be next.” Brigid went on to explain that her mother died because she chose not to have treatment and that the doctors have removed the cancer and she is doing good.
“Generally, people were positive about it but there are still a lot of people who are quite negative…proving there is still a stigma when you say the ‘C’ word. My gardener replied by saying, ‘it is so sad for the girls to lose a mother’…I was like they’re not losing a mother. I am still here.”
The mother of two said she knows her life is busy and that she must slow down. “I must learn not to take things so personally and to not feel so responsible for everything, and I have to take more time for myself – I will be doing that through meditation and yoga.”
Ten months after the birth of her son, Mubina felt a lump in her breast. She disregarded it thinking it was a milk lump, and it went away. Then after the birth of her daughter, the same thing happened. She became quite concerned as cancer runs in her family; her father had stomach and liver cancer and her aunt had breast cancer. Both are still alive.
After a gynae appointment, she was diagnosed and advised to have a mastectomy. Mubina decided that she will go for a second opinion. Her aunt then referred her to the breast surgeon who treated her. “She (the breast surgeon) told me I was still young and a mastectomy is the last resort,” Mubina said. The alternative treatment option that was offered consisted of 16 sessions of chemo, a lumpectomy or mastectomy (depending on Mubina’s choice) and radiation (24 sessions).
Mubina’s husband advised her to ask God to assist her in her decision of opting for the lumpectomy or mastectomy, as God alone would know which path was best for her. Mubina’s surgeon then advised her that the best option for her was the lumpectomy, as radiation was required regardless of which option she chose. Mubina then took this as God’s plan and went ahead with the lumpectomy.
During all the diagnostic tests, it was the month of Ramadan and Mubina continued fasting. “I only stopped fasting when I had surgery (lymph nodes).”
“In Islam, we believe everything comes from God, so I put my full faith in God; he knows better. He wouldn’t give me something that I can’t handle. I believe God gave me this to be closer to him and so my family could become closer to him,” Mubina explained. “My father was my inspiration – his doctors were amazed by his recovery. If he could survive, so could I. Plus, my family support was incredible!”
Mubina never wore a hijab before she got diagnosed (Muslim women wear a hijab for their modesty), however, she started wearing it throughout chemo. She continued with her daily prayers (Fajr, Zohar, Asr, Mughrib and Isha). She also used to recite verses of the Quran that her father shared with her, which relate to healing and God’s mercy. Once she completed chemo, she decided that she would wear a hijab every day as it reflects her devotion and appreciation to God. Her radiation sessions are going to overlap two weeks with this year’s Ramadan, but she will still fast.
“Breast cancer is so common nowadays, and as Muslims we believe sickness comes from God. Some might keep it a secret, but we chose to be open so that our family and loved ones could pray for us.”
In 2010, Nosiphiwo was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, a few months later she divorced her husband as he was not supportive at all, convinced she was going to die. She told her family in the Eastern Cape, but they didn’t know enough about treatment and thought she wouldn’t survive, but nonetheless supported her. “The minute you mention the word cancer, most Xhosa people immediately think death. I told them I’m not going to die, unless it is the will of God,” Nosipiwo said. “I was told that the traditional healer at home could cure cancer but because I had no reason to think I got it due to my ancestors, I decided to first focus on the Western treatment that was offered then I would go see the traditional healer.” Nosiphiwo underwent six months of chemo to shrink the tumour, then had a lumpectomy and several radiation sessions, and is currently on her last year of Tamoxifen.
After the radiation was completed, she went to the traditional healer back home. She paid R300 for African herbs to drink, to cleanse her body. “I didn’t consult with her, I didn’t want to hear what the cause was – whether it was my ancestors or not. I just wanted the herbs to remove any remaining cancer cells. I wanted both ways to work together. I was sealing it with the herbs for the cancer to never come back…I know the Western way worked because I was sick and now I am healed. With the traditional herbs, I can’t say yes it worked, or no it didn’t as the cancer had already been removed, but by taking the herbs I was preventing it from coming back,” Nosiphiwo explained.
This brave mother had the attitude that breast cancer won’t limit her life.
“I never took it as a serious thing, to me it was like flu. I never struggled. After chemo sessions, I would go out that same evening with friends. I never felt sick, however, my nails went black and hard, and I lost my hair. I realised that the minute you get scared, is when you start killing yourself.”
MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams
Laurelle is the Editor at Word for Word Media and graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She have 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. firstname.lastname@example.org