‘Cancer is not a death penalty’

Myra America was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It took two mammograms and several blood tests before doctors finally confirmed that the “stretchy” feeling Myra America felt across her breast was cancer.

The 62-year-old Manenberg woman first felt that something was wrong in 2014.

She went to the day hospital and got a referral to Groote Schuur Hospital for a mammogram, which was done in May last year.

The results came back negative – she did not have cancer.

Doctors did a blood test and a biopsy on June 6, and they too came back negative. But Myra wasn’t happy – the “stretchy feeling” was still bugging her.

She went for more tests. Finally, another mammogram and more blood tests picked up cancer cells in her left breast four days later, and she was told that her left breast would need to be removed by the following Monday.

She had stage 2 breast cancer.

She had the mastectomy that week and was prescribed Tamoxifen, a drug used to treat certain types of breast cancer in both women and men.

She takes the tablet every night and will do so for the next five years. She also goes for regular check-ups at Groote Schuur.

Myra’s story is all to familiar to the countless other women who have faced a breast cancer diagnosis.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) more than 500 000 people died from breast cancer around the world in 2012.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and, according to a 2015 WHO study, breast, bowel, lung, cervix, and stomach cancer are among the five leading cancers among women.

“I felt a little depressed about it and sad because I had to tell everyone about it, and they would wonder why I never told them sooner,” said Myra, recalling the moment she was diagnosed.

“But I had little time between finding out that I had cancer and the operation. Everyone was more shocked and they cried more than I did.”

She feels more time is needed for breast cancer awareness – a month is not enough to reach all those who need to learn about the illness.

She advises those caring for cancer patients to consider that those with the illness are on a journey and not all of them will deal with it in the same way.

“Some people will heal quickly and others won’t, but it is an emotional journey and people need support,” she said.

Myra volunteers at the Cancer Association of South Africa and visits cancer patients at their homes, offering them support.

“I explain to them that I also had cancer and that they are not alone on this road.”

She urges anyone who detects a problem with their breasts to get tested. Not everyone may have the patience to sit at the day hospital all day, she concedes, but that one day could save their life.

“People should take things slowly and look after their health. They should put time aside to get their breasts tested. Some people feel scared to go, but they shouldn’t. Sometimes you feel a lump and think oh it’s nothing, but they should go get it examined. Feel your breasts on a daily basis and check for lumps.”

She said she felt “a bit nervous but not too scared” about going for her next test on Tuesday November 29.

“Cancer is just a name, it is not a death penalty. It comes with some changes, but it makes you slow down in life and brings families together,” she said.