While breast cancer will affect 1 in 29 South African women, according to the National Cancer Registry (NCR), it is the stories of hope, victory and inspiration that really convince us that cancer can be beaten! The stories describing breast cancer survivors’ journeys; from diagnosis, through treatment, to cancer survivor, is a testament to the resilience that lies within the human spirit.
Hearing the words ‘you have breast cancer’ leads to feelings of disbelief, shock, numbness, anger, fear, sadness, shame and guilt. These feelings are often accompanied by thoughts; of uncertainty, confusion, difficulty concentrating, a sense of loss of control, withdrawal, apathy, disorganisation and by physical symptoms which include; sleep disturbance, headaches, loss of appetite and palpitations. Many women do not even have time to process the diagnosis before the reality of treatment commences.
The incidence of clinical depression and anxiety disorders is significant amongst women diagnosed with breast cancer. The triggers include; fear of death, the interruption of life‐plans, changes in body image and self‐esteem, changes in social role, worrying about the welfare of children and spouse and financial/medical aid concerns. Many women may initially experience difficulty adjusting to the changes that the diagnosis of cancer brings. Additionally, dealing with the effects of a mastectomy, or the hair loss caused by chemotherapy, can compound this adjustment.
Every woman’s journey to survival is unique. There are however some characteristics, beliefs, traits and behaviours that all of these women have in common. There are numerous ways in which each individual may choose to cope; taking control of their lives and choosing to continue living, asking for, and accepting, help – from family, friends and support groups, opting to speak to professional counsellors about their feelings and fears, seeking information
and asking questions, modifying daily stresses through problem solving and communicating, using humour to help their children cope, adhering to medication regimes, following a healthy diet, getting sufficient exercise and sleep, ceasing or limiting smoking, putting their faith in God or a higher power, sharing their story with other women and some choose not to be victims. Organisations like CANSA run several annual initiatives to raise awareness, funds and to give breast cancer survivors a platform from which to share their stories and volunteer to help other cancer sufferers. The general public is encouraged to participate, along with survivors and their families, in activities like; ‘Pick ‘n Pay Think Pink’, ‘Pink Drive’, ‘Cuppa for CANSA’, ‘Shavathon’ and ‘Relay for Life’.
Wearing a pink ribbon has now become synonymous with breast cancer awareness month. I encourage all readers to actively participate during breast cancer awareness month. Take responsibility for doing a Breast Self‐Exam and having a mammogram done if you are over 40 years old.
My admiration to all survivors!