‘Listen when your body speaks to you’

Carol Pretorious, from Bridgetown.

Six years ago, Carol Pretorious, of Bridgetown, found a small lump in her breast: it was the start of her journey with cancer.

Carol, 60, says her breast wasn’t painful, so she ignored it at first. But she got herself checked out after noticing she had an inverted nipple – a warning sign she had read about in a pamphlet from her local day hospital. Her brother, father, and grandfather all died of cancer.

She told her daughter that she had felt “a little marble” in her right breast.

“She said, ‘Let’s go to the doctor.’ So we went.” The doctor examined Carol’s breast and advised her to make an appointment at Groote Schuur Hospital. A couple of weeks later, she went for the examination, including a biopsy and blood tests. On November 26 that year she was diagnosed with stage-2 aggressive cancer in her right breast.

“I accepted it, and I refused to see a social worker: I was fine. I knew that I had to be positive and that I had to accept it because that is the first step to recovery.”

Later she met with a panel of doctors about surgery. “They asked me if I want to remove the lump or the whole breast, and I decided that I want to remove the whole breast. My daughter researched all the information on breast cancer, and we sat up reading and educating ourselves about it.”

In January 2011, she had a mastectomy on her right breast. Sixteen of the 20 lymph nodes that were removed were cancerous.

In February the following year she started chemotherapy, which lasted until June that year.

“After the third chemo session, I felt sick. In June one day, I couldn’t lift myself and my mom looked after me. I even wore diapers because I couldn’t control my bowel movements.”

All she could eat was plain rice and non-spicy food because the chemo made her so nauseous.

“I couldn’t stomach all my favourite things, such as chips and chocolate or cheese, but now I can. You have to find out what works for you and what doesn’t.”

Her hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes also fell out because of the chemotherapy, but Carol did not want to shave her head.

In August last year, she started 21 sessions of radiation treatment.

“The thought of radiation was that I was going to burn, but it was nothing like that. It was short sessions. I did, however, have a tanned skin on my chest. The doctors gave me a list of dos and don’ts, and I had to cover up so that the sun doesn’t touch my skin.”

Her last radiation session was early October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and she was declared cancer free last year in November.

“I’m okay now. It has taught me a lot and made me more thoughtful of others. My advice to other people is to be positive and to accept what is happening, everything comes afterwards.”

She says it’s important to never take your body for granted.

“When you are tired, relax and take it easy, don’t push yourself. Listen when your body speaks to you.”

Carol has since joined the CANSA Eikehof Care Home’s line-dancing group of cancer survivors.