Never ignore symptoms, says cancer survivor

About 50 people marched through the streets of Heideveld on Saturday to create breast-cancer awareness.

About 50 people marched through the streets of Heideveld on Saturday to create awareness in the community about breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The march was led by breast-cancer survivor Mercia Sauls who was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast in 2006.

The wall of cancer survivors and a wall of remembrance for those lost to cancer.

The team set up a breast-cancer awareness stand outside of Daphne Court in Heideveld. It included a wall of survivors and a wall of remembrance for those lost to cancer, posters about breast cancer, and accounts from breast-cancer survivors.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in South Africa, according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA).

The awareness stand outside of Daphne Court in Heideveld.

Ms Sauls noticed a lump and pain in her left breast in May 2006.

“It was really just by chance that I felt the lump. I was up getting breakfast ready for the family, as I usually do, but it was May so the mornings were cold and I wrapped my arms around myself and felt the lump and pain with my fingers in my left breast, but I thought, ’No man, I don’t have a history of breast cancer so it’s probably nothing.’”

Two weeks later, it was still bothering her so she saw her doctor who referred her for a mammogram at Gatesville Medical Centre. The scan showed a mass in her left breast.

In June, doctors referred Ms Sauls to a specialist at Vincent Pallotti Hospital where a biopsy confirmed she had Stage 2 breast cancer.

Ms Sauls went for an operation to remove the mass and lymph nodes under her arm, and, in January 2007, she started chemotherapy followed by radiation, until June that year, which gave her nausea and fatigue.

Her struggle with cancer had been hard, but support from her family and friends had given her the motivation she needed, she said.

“There was never a day where I felt unloved or useless or not needed. My family and my friends stood by me all the time with whatever I needed.”

Don’t ignore cancer symptoms because the earlier it was detected, the better the chances were for a full recovery, she said, adding that it was also important to stay positive, accept the diagnosis and get help.

Cancer patients should also realise that the diagnosis had an impact on their families.

“There is help out there, for you and your children,” Ms Sauls said. “People asked me why am I so happy, why am I up and about and so busy. Because I wasn’t dead. I was grateful to be alive. People think they must make drastic changes in their lives, but you don’t need to because that will make you sick. Make small changes, but be selfish and put yourself first,” she said.

Research a diagnosis to prepare for what lay ahead, she said.

“People lose hope because they don’t know what to expect. That is why I always tell people to read up and learn as much as they can so that they are not completely taken aback by doctors’ reports.”

Elizabeth August 79, from Heideveld, lit a candle for her daughter, Felicia Hendricks, who died of breast cancer.

According to Cansa, the risk for breast cancer increases as women grow older, but many women under the age of 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer. While all women are at risk, the risk is greater among women with a family history of breast cancer. Being overweight, inactivity, consuming alcohol, poor diet, smoking and exposure to chemicals add to the risk.

Breast-cancer warning signs include a puckering of the skin of the breast, a lump in the breast or armpit, a change in the skin around the breast or nipple discharge, dimpling of the nipple or nipple retraction, an unusual increase in the size of one of the breast, one breast unusually lower than the other, an enlargement of the glands in the breast, or unusual swelling in the armpit.

For more information call Cansa at 0800 22 6622 (toll free) 072 197 9305 for English and Afrikaans, 071 867 3530 for Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and Siswati, or email info@cansa.org.za