LEPHALALE — October is breast cancer month. Thousands of women get diagnosed with breast cancer every year. But how do they experience this long journey? What are the triggers?
Nowadays breast cancer is one of the most curable cancers provided you detect it at an early stage. This is why self-examination of the breasts is so important.
Mogol Post interviewed Marcelle Ellis, a resident of Lephalale who was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2015.
Marcelle made it clear that the treatment plan that she was recommended to follow may not be the same as another person’s. In many cases it depends on the oncologist one has been in consultation with.
“For many years when I was younger I lead a very unhealthy life. I was overweight (cancer loves fat), I drank quite a lot and smoked and often quite stressed. Although I led a very active life I did not do regular exercise. Another huge contributing factor according to my oncologist is the fact that I took contraceptive pills for many years and then when I reached my menopause I took HRT pills (hormone replacement therapy). Research has shown that this form of medication messes with one’s hormones and the risk of cancer becomes higher.
“My type of breast cancer is hormone related.
“When a woman starts going into menopause, you want to get rid of the hot flushes, you want to get your mood stabilised, so you take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and the gynaecologists advocate it because they say it is good for your bones, skin, you will stay younger for longer. I would suggest rather than taking HRT to lessen the chance of getting osteoporosis for instance is to rather follow a healthy lifestyle which includes sound nutrition and good exercise.
“In actual fact, it messes around with your body’s natural functions. It’s like someone continually putting peroxide and straightener on their hair; the hair is going to fall out. Of you are doing all these things to your body it’s going to collapse. It is a pity is that many medical practitioners, gynaecologists included, still prescribe HRT. All they advised me to do was to go for regular mammograms. The irony is that when I went for a mammogram, it was too late.
“I realized something was wrong when it hurt if something pressed on my breast.
“My doctor suggested I make an immediate appointment with a radiologist. After scans and the mammogram, they did a biopsy of the tumours detected. The laboratory results tested positive for cancer. Two tumours in the left breast and a suspected one on the right breast. The oncologist I went to told me that she and the surgeon’s treatment plan was to go for chemotherapy first and then a possible double mastectomy.
“When you are diagnosed with cancer, you are so shocked you cannot think straight. You are so emotional; how can you make the right decision?
“It literally took me weeks to make an appointment to start with the chemo. I wasn’t concerned about losing my breasts, however, I was terrified of the chemo.
“Everything changed that Thursday when the ladies from CANSA Lephalale paid me a visit and urged me to get a second opinion. If there was just one thing that I could emphasise today, it is that you have the right to go for another opinion. It is YOUR body. Don’t stop until you are satisfied that you will get the right treatment.
“I asked a long-standing friend, who is a doctor in the Cape, for advice and he told me that if it was his wife, he would have said ‘you go for it with all guns blazing’ meaning, a double mastectomy, chemo, the works.
“The second oncologist that I went to had a different opinion. She prescribed me pills to shrink the tumours and after three months they had shrunk enough to be removed. This procedure is called a Lumpectomy. They also removed the sentinel node under my armpit which could be a channel for cancer cells to spread. Remember this was the right procedure in my particular case.
“Research shows there are more deaths in the case of a mastectomy due to the long recovery process and the trauma associated with it. I personally think that you’re trying to interfere with nature. Many diseases have an impact on your psyche, especially if you go through so many traumas.
“I was originally prescribed with a medication called Letrozole which is an aromatase inhibitor which prevents oestrogen absorption. This often helps to shrink the tumours. It is often used in the treatment of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
“Three months after the Lumpectomy operation I went for radiation therapy every day for five weeks.
“I was prescribed Tamoxifen at a later stage because I suffered terrible side-effects from the Letrozole. Tamoxifen attaches to the hormone receptor in the cancer cell, blocking oestrogen from attaching to the receptor. This slows or stops the growth of the tumour by preventing the cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.
“I was recommended to drink it for five years. The side-effects are just as bad! You suffer from brain-fog, your moods are indescribable and you generally do not feel normal. Many women stop taking it because of the side-effects, but there are those who cope with it mentally and put up with the side effects. I struggle. I started to get heart palpitations and anxiety attacks. I eventually was prescribed anti-depressants … This has helped a lot. “Many women, myself included, benefit with the additional support of a good psychiatrist.
My oncologist says that she considers a restrictive or special diet is unnecessary, but stresses the importance of not putting on weight, cutting out sugar completely, taking a Vitamin D supplement and she also recommends using olive oil on one’s food generously.
“I lost 13 kg in my first year by juicing in the morning, eating nutritious foods, limiting dairy and carbohydrates. I use coconut oil to cook and I drink three litres of water every day. I also started exercising for the first time in many years. You have to do some kind of exercise for 30 minutes a day. The better you are feeling, the better you can cope.
“We have to learn how to deal with stress. There are things that you can do to alleviate stress. You have to educate yourself. A lot of people say that getting a disease like cancer or diabetes was their greatest gift, however it’s not a nice gift, but it does open your eyes because you start to learn about what is good for you and what is bad.
“My recipe is – change your lifestyle. Eat nutritious food and you can eliminate the hundreds of supplements people advertise.
“Go for as many opinions as you want for a treatment plan after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Find out. Do research. My wish is that you feel satisfied with the professional advice you will be getting. It’s a long road ahead and there are many who have successfully walked it.”