A women wearing a black sports bra with a breast cancer ribbon

Joburg mom’s secret triumph over breast cancer

A mother* whose selfless determination to shield her daughter from the news of her breast cancer diagnosis during her child’s grade 11 year is celebrating life with a heart full of gratitude. 

“This time last year, the future was uncertain. Many people think of death when they think of cancer, and I did not want the stress about my health to affect my daughter’s academic performance,” says the 50-year-old woman from Johannesburg. 

“I tried to hide it, but she is a very smart teenager and, on some level, I think she knew. I also did not want to tell her until I knew I was going to be okay, and I am so thankful to God that I don’t need cancer care for now and I am feeling strong again.

“I have been on a medical aid scheme for some time, but because I had always been a generally healthy person, it never occurred to me to go for a mammogram. I felt some tension next to my neck sometimes, and I went to the doctor thinking it was perhaps due to stress. When it did not improve, my general practitioner told me to go for a mammogram,” she recalls of the events leading to her diagnosis.

An area of suspicion on the mammogram led her to have a needle biopsy, which revealed malignancy. She was referred to Dr Adnaan Variava, a medical oncologist who is part of the multidisciplinary breast cancer team at Netcare Garden City Hospital led by specialist breast surgeon Professor Herbert Cubasch and plastic & reconstructive surgeon, Dr Nebil Lahouel. 

In addition to Prof. Cubasch, Dr Lahouel and Dr Variava, the multidisciplinary team includes radiation oncologist Dr Uzma Majeed, radiologists, consulting psychologists, social workers and dieticians working together so that the person can focus on their recovery. The team also works closely with the nuclear medicine department. 

A new breast care unit has been established at Netcare Garden City Hospital to provide multidisciplinary support to patients throughout their breast cancer journey: from diagnosis to treatment and reconstruction

“The shock of a breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming in itself, and we have established a unit at Netcare Garden City Hospital offering a complete multidisciplinary healthcare team to support patients throughout every aspect of their treatment through to reconstruction,” says Prof. Cubasch. 

“The most important member of the team, of course, is the person who is being treated. As a unit, we all provide our input on the options available to help the person reach an informed decision on what is right for them as an individual.”

“I am so grateful that I was referred to these caring doctors, who said to me from the start, ‘We are here for you, allow us to help you’. I didn’t know anything about cancer, and they gave me support on this journey that was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in healthcare before,” the cancer survivor recalls. 

“I found it especially comforting when Prof. Cubasch and the psychologist at the hospital told me that I hadn’t personally done anything to cause this. No one goes out looking for cancer, and it took me some time to fully realise that it can happen to anyone,” she says.

Dr Variava prescribed chemotherapy to shrink the tumour over the next seven months, but first Prof. Cubasch and Dr Lahouel had to surgically insert a port in order to help make the chemotherapy treatment delivery as convenient and comfortable as possible. 

“I could feel the effects of chemotherapy on my body, but I prayed, and although it was hard, I kept strong. Although I didn’t have an appetite, I forced myself to eat the foods they recommended to get all the nutrients my body needed.”

By July 2023, the chemotherapy had reduced the cancer to the point where she could no longer feel the lump, and she was ready for surgery to remove the remaining cancerous tissue and lymph node. 

“After a few months, I was feeling a lot better. My nails and skin were returning to normal, and my scar healed. I had an appointment with Dr Lahouel to discuss the options for reconstruction.”

Dr Lahouel explains, “Breast augmentation or reconstruction after cancer can either involve an implant to replace the lost breast tissue or, as in the case of this patient, a breast reduction or breast lift on the other breast can create the desired aesthetic balance. This contributes to higher patient satisfaction after surgery, having the cancer removed and breast lifted, with the added advantage of a younger breast shape than before surgery.”

The breast cancer survivor concludes, “God led me to this team of doctors who have come halfway around the world to help women here in South Africa, and they really did a beautiful job. I consider myself lucky to have found doctors who gave me hope to keep a positive mindset, and I thank God for keeping me strong on this journey to where I am today.

“I want to take this opportunity to encourage women to talk to their doctors about breast cancer and go for mammograms as often as their medical aid allows because cancer can be beaten, especially if it is diagnosed early.”

For more information about the Netcare Garden City Specialized Breast Team, contact the unit on (010) 157 0173 or (011) 495 5208 or via email at specializedbreast@gmail.com.

*The patient’s name has been withheld to protect her family’s privacy.

Main image credit: Anastasia Kazakova/Freepik

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