Breast cancer survivor Abeda Steenkamp has been in remission for six years.
Sharing her story during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Ms Steenkamp said seven years ago she first noticed that there was something wrong when she had a persistent pain in her right arm and decided to go see her doctor.
She thought that the pain could have been caused by the many hours she spent writing at the computer.
She was sent home with anti-inflammatory medication but after two weeks the pain was still there.
Then while in the shower she felt what she thought was a boil in her right arm pit.
Again she went to the doctor where she was sent for a mammogram and an ultrasound.
“I knew something was wrong. My husband called and I burst out crying. I told him that I think something is wrong.”
Soon after the Lansdowne resident saw a specialist at Kingsbury Hospital and was booked for a biopsy.
“I went home and called all my siblings and asked them to pray for me. I told them that I think I have cancer,” she said.
Ms Steenkamp was told that she had two small tumours in her right breast and one under her arm. On September 8 2009 she was diagnosed with stage three aggressive breast cancer and was booked for a mastectomy.
“I was surprised when I heard it but God prepared me for it. I accepted it and I went home. I lay on my wooden bench and I prayed for patience and strength,” she said.
Two days before Eid-ul-Fitr she underwent the mastectomy and doctors also removed seven lymph nodes under her right arm, five of which were cancerous.
“I was so sick I was vomiting all the time. The next day my family came to see me and I felt much better. With every illness we must embrace it. Believe in God and give everything over to him,” she said.
Ms Steenkamp, 57, was then booked for six rounds of chemotherapy.
She said the first session went well but the second was quite difficult.
“My family wanted to go with me so I let them but I preferred sitting and listening to thikr. My husband sat there and held my hand. With the second session I had this craving for fish and chips. I felt so drained when I got home. My hair fell out but I didn’t want to have my hair shaven,” she said.
By the third chemotherapy session half of her hair was gone and her eyebrows and eyelashes also fell out.
“I couldn’t eat anything; everything made me nauseous. I had to find out what works for me and ginger tea worked. The only thing I could eat was pickled fish or Provita biscuits with no butter. I lost a lot of weight as well. My kids told me to eat more but I couldn’t,” she said.
Her last chemotheraphy session was in December 2011, followed by radiation treatment.
Ms Steenkamp said that the only thing that made her feel better was walking on the beach. “It made me feel comfortable and close to Allah. I felt calm, relaxed, and rejuvenated. I could feel Allah around me, all his miracles and the movement of the waves,” she said.
She said that her journey with cancer has changed her perspective on life.
“Allah chose me to make me more aware of him and brought me closer to him and made me realise that death can also be beautiful.”
Her advice to others going through the same situation is to use the time in hospital to reflect on life.
“Cancer taught me to slow down and enjoy the quality of life and take one moment at a time.
“A lot of people enter your life on the journey and you make so many friends. Don’t push your loved ones away. Let them be there for you and tell them how you are feeling. They want to be there for you. Let them help you and massage your head – it is soothing.”
Ms Steenkamp and her family have hosted a Cuppa for Cansa every year since 2011 to raise funds for the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA).
It started out with R32 000 and last year they managed to raise R55 000.
For the past five years Ms Steenkamp has been volunteering at the Cansa Mowbray office where she helps cancer patients come to terms with the disease and supports them.