Breast cancer survivors share stories of hope and ways to cope
Ten years ago, Bishop Lavis resident Trini Arries was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three months after her breast cancer diagnosis, Trini received another health update and was diagnosed with stage three pancreatic cancer.
Today, Trini celebrates being cancer free for 10 years after winning her fight against cancer with support from her family and healthcare workers.
She shared her story along with other breast cancer survivors at the Durbanville Community Centre (CDC) to inspire hope and create awareness about breast cancer for women and men. The breast cancer survivors emphasised the importance of early detection.
The awareness day took place to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October and was arranged by the Durbanville CDC in partnership with Reach for Recovery and the Tiervlei Trial Centre.
Trini, who forms part of the Reach for Recovery (RfR) breast cancer organisation, says she had to accept her diagnosis in order to heal. “I had to accept that I had cancer. It is by God’s grace and prayers that I survived this. I had to work through this, and I had to keep a positive outlook. I was caring for my bedridden mother, and I couldn’t tell her about this. I told my sisters about it and thought I would not make it as my father passed away due to cancer. But the doctor told me that I can survive this. I had stage three cancer and I was a patient at Tygerberg Hospital. I had faith in my God and the support from healthcare workers and my family made big difference. I want to encourage all women and also men to be aware of the signs of breast cancer. Men, this can affect you as well. Like me, you can survive. Awareness and early detection are very important.”
Kulsum Abrahams, from Reach for Recovery, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She shares that support from her families and friends carried her through. Kulsum has also appealed to men to be aware of the signs of breast cancer after losing a close friend.
“My friends and family were my strength after my breast cancer diagnosis in 2015. If you are struggling to cope or are afraid, speak to your loved ones or someone you trust. You can’t do this alone. Today, I am cancer free, and the road was not easy but I made it. I have decided to speak to men and ladies about breast cancer. I am not ashamed to say I had cancer. I recently lost a male friend who had breast cancer. So, I want to make everyone aware about breast cancer. Know your family history, know the signs and get help. Early detection can save your life.”
Signs of breast cancer
During the awareness day, ladies from Reach for Recovery demonstrated how to do a self-examination for breast cancer and shared the signs. The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless lump that is hard and has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer. Some cancers are tender, soft and rounded. You need to have anything unusual checked by a doctor. The signs and symptoms for men and women are the same.
Other possible signs of breast cancer may include:
- swelling of all or part of the breast,
- skin irritation or dimpling,
- breast pain,
- nipple pain or the nipple turning inward,
- change in colour or shape or size of breast,
- change in appearance of moles or skin,
- redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin,
- a nipple discharge other than breast milk, and
- a lump in the underarm area.
Breast self-examination (BSE) only takes a few minutes each month. It is recommended that women begin to do regular BSE by the age of 20. BSE consists of inspection (looking) and palpation (feeling). With regular examination, a woman will become aware of the normal appearance and feel of her breasts so that any changes from normal will be easily recognised.
For women, monthly breast self-examination just after the last day of your period is an important screening method. Women over the age of 45 should consider going for a regular mammogram. Younger women have denser breast tissue and would benefit more from an ultrasound examination than a mammogram. Post-menopausal women can perform BSE on the same day each month. Choose a date that is easy to remember. While Pregnant women can check breasts on the same day each month and breast-feeding mothers can check their breasts on the same day each month after emptying their breasts.
How to cope after your diagnosis
A breast cancer diagnosis can be scary, but help is available to you and your loved ones. Breast cancer survivors have shared three tips to help you cope:
1. Ask all the questions you need: “Once you have been diagnosed you may have questions and your family may have questions. Don’t be afraid to speak to your doctor, ask them all the facts and what you can expect when you start treatment. It’s important to listen to the doctors and nurses, they have the knowledge to help you.” – Breast cancer survivor Trini Arries
2. Feel your emotions and get help if you need to: “I did not detect my breast cancer early, but by that time I was stage four. It spread from my breast to my liver. I have had six months of chemo and I am now on palliative care. Through God’s grace, I am still here. I have days where I don’t feel good, but you need to allow yourself to feel your feelings. Now, I have a new perspective of the world. If you’re struggling to cope, it’s okay to seek help, speak to a healthcare worker or someone you trust. Reach out to others.” – Breast cancer palliative care patient Inge Janse Van Rensberg
3. Take care of yourself: “I have been cancer free for 17 years. Taking care of your health is important. Remember to follow the advice from your doctor. Do your best to eat healthy, to move your body and to get enough sleep. I had to go through chemotherapy and was hospitalised, but there are ways to feel better and taking care of yourself.” Breast cancer survivor Lorraine Mentoor.
Early detection is key – get help as soon as possible
If you detect any changes in your breast and have concerns, visit your nearest GP or clinic for support. A healthcare provider can refer you to a breast cancer clinic for further screening, assessments and support.
Support is also available through various breast cancer organisations, including:
Reach for Recovery: 084 668 2859
The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) - Email: email@example.com; Help Desk: 0800 22 66 22 (toll free); WhatsApp: 072 197 9305 (English and Afrikaans); WhatsApp: 071 867 3530 (isiXhosa, isiZulu, siSwati, Sesotho and Setswana)
Breast Health Foundation: 0860 283 343
Pink Drive: 083 301 8789
Or visit the Western Cape Government Health and Wellness website to learn more about breast cancer: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/service/breast-cancer-awareness