Single mom, Veronica Wheeler, speaks openly about finding out she had triple-negative breast cancer at 28-weeks pregnant and the journey of motherhood and breast cancer patient so far.
Veronica Wheeler (37) lives in Parys, Free State with her son, Deon.
Lockdown forced me to take stock of my life; I was successful in my job and a strong independent woman, but somewhere along the way I missed life. I never got married and thought I would have children later. So, I quit my job six months after lockdown and met someone, I fell pregnant but got home one day and he was gone. It felt like the absolute worst thing that could ever happen to me, little did I know.
During pregnancy my breasts were sore, everyone said it’s normal. At eight weeks, I felt a lump but my doctor said I mustn’t worry. My right breast started getting way bigger and harder, but still everybody kept on saying, “You’re pregnant, don’t worry.”
At my 28-week check-up, I asked my doctor again and don’t think I’ll ever forget his reaction. Since I don’t have medical aid, I knew this was going to be an uphill battle. I went for a sonar and a biopsy and two days later was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.
Induced labour at 34 weeks
After consulting with an oncologist, I was to start chemotherapy as soon as possible as the cancer was growing aggressively and the pregnancy hormones made it so much worse. My heart sank, what about my baby? I was reassured that it’s safe for baby but still had to see the gynae before starting treatment.
The gynae decided it was best to induce labour at 34 weeks and avoid having chemo while pregnant. Yet again my heart sank! This is not right.
I was admitted to hospital four days later and after spending eight days in hospital and two inductions later with no success, they decided on a C-section. Thank God for this as the umbilical cord was wrapped around my baby’s neck and he wouldn’t have survived a natural birth.
Accepting I can’t breastfeed
My son, Deon, was born on 7 March, weighing 2,3kg. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hold him as he was rushed to ICU as his lungs hadn’t developed enough. After seven days, my little warrior was healthy enough to come home.
Then I had to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t breastfeed. Here I have this premature baby with no immune system yet and I can’t even help him the way it was intended. I struggled with the idea of how I would bond with him as they say breastfeeding is how you bond with baby.
Four weeks later I started chemo. The oncologist decided to tackle the cancer aggressively as it was growing like crazy and I had two lumps in my neck now.
After the first session I had two days of feeling sick and then started feeling okay. I felt a lot worse after the second session. I was woman-down for days, which is difficult when you have a six-week-old baby to take care of. Luckily my mom and sisters live nearby. The angel I call my mother sleeps over when I’m not able to lift my head off the pillow and my sisters take care of Deon when I have chemo.
Taking back the power
When my hair started falling out, it was a sad day. They say hair doesn’t make the person which is true but it doesn’t make it any easier to come to terms with. The next day I cut it short but decided to shave it off as this was somehow me taking back the power. I shaved it off before cancer took it. My terms. My family and friends have been amazing, some shaved their hair off and others cut their hair short in support of me.
The way forward
The way forward isn’t clear yet. The oncologist decided on an intense chemotherapy regimen, one every three weeks and after that we’ll do surgery depending on how the cancer reacts to the chemotherapy.
Chemo is one of the worst things I ever encountered in life, but as you sit in that chair, you meet amazing people, hear phenomenal stories, see people fighting and I realised that I’m one of the lucky ones as I’m okay, except for the side effects.
I’m also on the Bosom Buddies WhatsApp group where there is amazing support and encouragement with ladies sharing their stories and experiences and even a joke every now and again to lift the mood.
I know this battle is already won. I’m blessed with a beautiful baby boy who is my encouragement. Every time I look into those amazing big eyes, I know I want to be there to kiss his ‘einas’ better. I want to see him smile and hear him laugh every single day of my life. God knew I needed him just as much as he needs me.
Image by Rika Verdoes