October is breast cancer awareness month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer, and to help uplift women in need as Nurse Raldia Jackson, a 49-year-old nurse at Groote Schuur Hospital, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2019, is hoping to achieve. According to the Cancer Association of South Africa, approximately 19.4 million women aged 15 years and older live at-risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer, the cancer affecting women in South Africa the most.
“I felt a lump in my breast in November 2018. I felt nothing of it and just went on with my life. In January 2019, I went for a biopsy and my worse fear has been realised. I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” recalls Nurse Jackson.
“When I was diagnosed it felt like a death sentence because a few months prior two of my colleagues had died of breast cancer, and I asked, was this the end for me? My family was called in and doctors had to explain to them my condition. I had stage three breast cancer. I remember going home that day and my daughter asking me, ‘mommy, are you going to die’?” said the mother of two children, who lives in Mitchells Plain.
In February 2019, Raldia’s left breast was removed because of the cancer having spread. She went for chemotherapy and radiation therapy as treatment. “This was terrible, very traumatic and emotional. After my first chemotherapy session I had nausea for two weeks. After my second session my hair started falling off. You would look in the mirror and ask if this is you. No day looking in the mirror would ever be the same.”
After all the treatment there was a shining light for Nurse Jackson. “In September 2019, doctors informed me that I was free of my cancer. I would just need to get some more chemotherapy and radiation therapy to make sure the cancer would not come back again. That worked because up to now I am free of the cancer.”
Nurse Jackson has been a theatre nurse for all her life in nursing, spanning 25 years. Currently, she is the Operational Manager in the day theatre in the outpatient’s department at Groote Schuur Hospital. In her area about 60 surgery cases are done per week. This includes about seven cases that are done on a Monday for the removal of lumps with patients who have breast cancer. “This part of my job really gives me so much joy. After having gone through breast cancer I understand what those patients are going through. I have so much empathy for breast cancer patients. Emotionally I can support them, and I have so much patience for them,” says a happy Nurse Jackson.
Having had breast cancer and helping to treat patients with breast cancer at the hospital feels like Nurse Jackson has gone full circle and she advise women on the following: “Please make sure that you self-examine your breasts regularly and if is detected that it can be treated successfully. Do not hesitate to call your doctor if you have noticed a lump or other breast change that is new and worrisome. If you do have breast cancer, be positive in your journey and have the necessary support system at home. Take it one day at a time and accept the journey. Breast cancer can be beaten.”