Last year Venetia Jacobs learnt that she had metastatic breast cancer (MBC). She tells us how this has impacted her life and how she deals with it.
Venetia Jacobs (59) lives with her daughter and grandson in Kenilworth, Cape Town. She is divorced and has two other children and another grandchild.
I was diagnosed with Stage 1, Grade 3 ductal carcinoma breast cancer in December 2014. I was hoping it would be nothing but in my heart of hearts I knew it was cancer. I never prayed so much for a positive outcome like I did. Hearing the result, I was in shock although I knew the result before the doctor told me.
When I heard that Angelina Jolie had both breasts removed, I spoke with my kids, and with them I opted to have a double mastectomy. I feared that the cancer might return in five or 10 years’ time.
After surgery, I had six months of chemotherapy. In June 2016, I had my six-month check-up and the doctor said I was cancer free.
Since then I’ve been on aromatase inhibitor therapy. It came with terrible side effects, such as joint pains and horrible hot flushes. I also suffered with chemo brain.
Stopping aromatase inhibitor therapy
In 2018, I decided to have breast reconstruction because I was very self-conscious about being flat-chested and was struggling with bras. I hated it. I decided to stop taking the aromatase inhibitor therapy as the side effects were interfering with my quality of life, and I thought I didn’t need it. I felt 100% healthy. My hair and nails grew stronger. I had a healthy appetite and could run, jump and exercise. I played netball and coached as well.
As a jewellery trainer, I could work harder and was more focused on the job at hand. There’s a lot of hammering and beating of metal involved; the pains in my wrists and ankles disappeared.
In September 2019, while I was taking a shower, I felt a big lump on my chest just above my right breast. The same breast that the first lump was detected in. Immediately, my treating doctor sent me for an ultrasound and mammogram. The outcome was metastatic breast cancer that spread to my bones.
The treatment was several bouts of radiation and six cycles of chemotherapy with bisphosphonates.
I preferred this treatment as there was no hair loss. Though, it did discolour my nails and skin, and made my eyes water. I constantly felt embarrassed because it looked like I was crying. But,it was worth it because when I went for a CT and a PET scan, the result was good.
The chemotherapy cycles have ended but I’m still on bisphosphonate treatment as the cancer has attached to the sternum, hip and spine. I’m due for another scan soon.
Emotions of living with MBC
Living with MBC feels like your body has gone through a wringer. We live on the second floor and there are no lifts and the stairs consists of 40 steps. By the time I reach the top, I’m out of breath.
Since the onset of the second diagnosis and with lockdown, things looked very bleak. Being unemployed, living with my daughter and being dependent on my children, I felt life has given me a raw deal. It made me depressed and despondent and I felt sorry for myself and was literally sick of myself. But I know that God works in mysterious ways. I’m now closer to God, my children and my grandchildren. I think I’m a better person and I know I’m a better friend. In the past, I would only talk about myself. Now I listen more and understand what my children, friends and family are going through.
Looking at the positives, thankfully my medical aid covers all my treatments.
Since the reconstruction (TRAM flap surgery) in 2018, I’ve been watching what I’ve been eating. I noticed that when I eat meat, I bloat up. So, I cut meat out and have lost a lot of weight. My diet consists of mostly fresh fruits and vegetables and white meat and I keep my portions small. I drink a lot of rooibos tea. Before lockdown, I had a perfect flat tummy. Now I have a little ‘boep’ I need to get rid of. I blame it on lockdown.
The impact of COVID-19
COVID-19 had contributed negatively to my health and sanity. My daughter I’m living with had the virus mid-March. It was such a scary time. My oncologist told me not to come in because I’m in contact with her. I took care of her while we were in quarantine and under my care she recovered quickly.
I could only see my doctor once my daughter tested negative and this delayed my treatment. Then, while going for chemotherapy in the cancer unit, another patient tested positive while I was present on that day. My doctor then postponed our next consultation for the next two weeks. Another delay! My treatment was on hold for a solid month. But here I am, by the grace of God.