For many, Valentine ’s Day is the day one receives flowers, chocolates and cards. This year in particular, South Africans will remember it as the day Jacob Zuma finally resigned as president. But for me, it will always hold a very different memory – 14 February 2018 is the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I turned 39 at the end of January. A mammogram is something you always hear of as a woman, but usually we get told to start having them at the age of 40. It was at the back of my mind to ask my gynae about it when I had my annual checkup in May. I had felt no lump, nor was I concerned, but I think having a special needs child, you are forever dictated by routine checkups. Then a friend of mine told me that she had discovered a malignant lump in her breast (our birthdays are a couple of months apart). I mentioned to my husband that night that maybe I should just go get checked out. His reply was yes, it would at least give me peace of mind.
So that Friday, I found a nearby breast screening centre and made an online enquiry before the school run. They phoned me an hour later while I was driving and asked if I could come in that morning. My only concern was the length of the appointment, as I had to fetch my daughter at 12h00. They assured me that a mammogram took less than half an hour.
So in I went, on my own, not knowing my life would yet again be turned upside down. A lump was found, a biopsy done and the radiologist informed me that it was very likely malignant. We would have to wait 3 to 4 days though to confirm the diagnosis. Now I’m not in any way comparing Down syndrome to cancer, but in those moments, I was transported back to Nicholas’s birth. You get caught unaware and a combination of shock, disbelief and devastation overtakes you. How can this be happening? In both cases, we had to wait days for the lab results. Both times though, my gut feel told me that the results were positive – Nicholas had Down syndrome and I had breast cancer.
Last week was a whirlwind of appointments. I found out that not only was the lump in my breast malignant, but that the cancer had also spread to my lymph nodes. It’s an aggressive form of cancer, but thankfully caught very early. The breast specialist wasn’t surprised I hadn’t felt the lump. It’s that tiny. I’ve since had a CT scan and the rest of my body is clear. I’ve met with the oncologist and will start chemotherapy next Monday, for 6 months, followed by surgery and radiation.It’s going to be a tough year but my prognosis is very good. My hope was to be finished treatment by my 40th birthday in January, but I’m assured it’s very likely that I’ll be done by Christmas.
Who knows what would have happened if I’d waited until May to have a mammogram, or worse yet, when I turned 40. My friend’s news was the nudge I needed and for that, I am forever grateful. One of the radiologists I met, said that they are seeing so many women lately with breast cancer, in the 35 to 40 year range. If you are reading this, you are that age and you have not yet had a mammogram, book today! Maybe this is your nudge!
I’m feeling positive and I know I can get through this. There will be good days and very bad days, but I will keep my eyes on the finish line. 5 years ago I added ‘proud special needs mom’ to my repertoire and by Christmas, I’ll have a new one to add to the list – breast cancer survivor.