Cancer survivors tell their stories

Breast cancer survivor Samantha Noon.

After Samantha Noon heard she had breast cancer, she threw a party where she shaved her head.

Ms Noon, of Grassy Park, and other cancer survivors, told their stories during a breast-cancer awareness event at the Lansdowne civic centre last Friday.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and, according to the National Cancer Registry, breast cancer is the most common cancer faced by women. Other cancers in the top-five are colorectal, cervical, uterine, and lung.

Smoking and drinking are the two biggest contributing factors to a cancer diagnosis, but others can include being overweight, a sedentary lifestyle and family history.

Women who have never had children or who have only had them after the age of 30 are also at greater risk.

Ms Noon, 45, was diagnosed with stage-one breast cancer in April 2016 after she felt a lump in her right breast. She visited her doctor who then referred her for a mammogram at Kingsbury Hospital where she was diagnosed.

The following day, she went for a biopsy at Rondebosch Medical Centre, and the following week she met with the surgeons at Kingsbury Hospital who would be removing both her breasts.

By that time, her cancer had progressed to stage two, and the tumour had almost doubled in size.

A tiny spot of cancer was found on one her lymph nodes during the surgery so even though the tumour in her breast was removed, she was advised that she needed preventative chemotherapy.

She stayed in hospital for 18 days for the bilateral mastectomy, followed by two more unexpected stays as her wounds split open at different times and needed to be cleaned and stitched again. Her fourth visit to the hospital was to have a port inserted for chemotherapy.

“I learned throughout my chemo that everyone has a different journey. I made a conscious decision that I would be just fine and that chemo would be a breeze.

“When I started the Red Devil, I was fortunate enough to not get sick once, for which I am tremendously grateful as this isn’t the norm,” she said.

The chemo drug doxorubicin is dubbed the “red devil” because of its colour and often uncomfortable side effects, including hair loss and vomiting.

Ms Noon decided to shave all her hair off before it got the chance to fall out from the chemo. She threw a party and invited her family to be there. Together with nine family members, six of them shaved their heads and the other three trimmed their hair shorter.

“It was a day of note. That night, I thanked God that I have a round head. I had gone from having the thickest bush of hair to nothing. I loved it, I embraced it, I looked and felt great.”

Although she will be on tamoxifen (a drug that helps to prevent breast cancer) for the next 10 years and is still considering reconstructive surgery, she is hopeful that she will have a healthy life ahead.

“The radiation was the easiest part. I still have the scars, although they’re fading slowly. I have no emotional scars though. My faith, family and friends were my rock. Cancer has given me a reason to live life to the fullest. Now, I have a new lease on life and it’s about giving back,” she said.

Another breast-cancer survivor Nicole Jejane, 30, was diagnosed in April 2016 with stage-two breast cancer.

At a routine check-up with her gynaecologist, she discovered a lump in her left breast.

She went for a scan and mammogram and her cancer was confirmed a week later.

Ms Jejane had her left breast removed at Christiaan Barnard Hospital in November that year. She had chemotherapy for six months and was placed on Herceptin for a year. She is now cancer-free.

“I am feeling quite fine now. I advise people to always go for check-ups. Try to be in a group of people that support you. Love yourself and don’t look down on yourself. Make the right decisions and remember that you are loved and your family loves you,” she said.

Lansdowne clinic nurse Masoeda McNiel stressed the importance of having regular breast checks and pap-smears (to detect cervical cancer in women).

Too often cancer is diagnosed at a late stage, and treatment does not work because people are too afraid to get checked,” she said.

“When you are at home, do your self examinations and make start with your neck, underarms, and breast. Check for a change in size, colour of the breast, and squeeze the nipple to see if pus or blood comes out.”