Triumph of the human spirit

My journey started ten months ago. I was a healthy, active woman who had just celebrated her 50th birthday. I went for my check-up and the gynaecologist discovered a lump in in my left breast. I could not believe that this was happening to me! 

An oncologist at Tygerberg Hospital said that I needed to start with chemotherapy treatment immediately to reduce the size of the tumour.

Fortunately, the lump disappeared after my treatment and I underwent the lumpectomy and thought that everything was fine. The surgeon did a wonderful job and my breast hardly changed shape at all. On the 18th April I got my results from the operation.

“Julie Louwrens,” called the fourth year intern and I followed the 22 year old girl into the examining room. She opened my file and said “the team have decided on a full radical mastectomy and all the nodes under your left arm are to be removed.”

My heart plummeted and I felt icy cold. “You did not know this?” she asked, seeing the confusion in my eyes.

The doctor explained that two out of the four nodes they removed had cancer cells and what they were looking for, from the lump of flesh they removed from the breast, was a 1mm clear margin around the flesh without any cancer cells.

Unfortunately, the pathologist found cells on the outside edges.” I asked about reconstructive surgery and I was sent down to the plastics clinic.

The plastic surgeons were great! They suggested immediate reconstructive surgery. We chatted with the oncologist surgeon again, and he agreed.  This was obviously happening to someone else and I would wake up from this nightmare. At home, my husband Phil had prepared chicken soup and bought me flowers. I saw the shock on both my boys’ faces. I was upbeat and the boys took their lead from me.

I was amazed at how attached I am to my own body. I have taken special care of my body and I enjoyed it. In our home I spend a lot of time with little or no clothes on, and we have all been very comfortable with being naked. It was hard to accept that I will lose my breasts. My breasts that fed my baby, my breasts that Phil has loved all these years.

I have been reading articles and looking at photos of mastectomies and I am full of empathy and support for others, but when I think that I have to go the same route I am filled with fear.

People said, at least you will be alive. Of course I knew this but I struggled with letting go. If I feel this way I wondered how Phil was feeling? When I asked, he said he would love me no matter what happened.

I underwent the operation on the 28th May and the wonderful plastic surgeons did the implant immediately. I am so grateful to Allergan and the doctors at Tygerberg Hospital for making this possible.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Written by Julie Louwrens

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