Breast cancer is among the top five types of cancer affecting South African women, according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA).
The others are cervical, colorectal (colon), uterine and lung cancer.
As Breast Cancer Awareness Month is marked in October, Faieza Arnold, 61, who lives in Athlone, shared her story with Atlantic Sun.
Ms Arnold found out that she had breast cancer in 2004.
She first noticed that something was wrong when she felt a lump in her right breast in July that year.
At the time, Ms Arnold was about to retire, so she booked an appointment with her gynaecologist before her medical aid membership was terminated.
She was sent for a biopsy and was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I just sat there, and the first thing that I thought was that God wouldn’t give me something that I couldn’t handle.
“They called my husband and he came. I couldn’t believe that it was happening to me,” said Ms Arnold.
Her right breast was removed on August 11 and she started her first of eight rounds of chemotherapy on September 6. “I was the most aggressive and rude person at the hospital. I was shouting all the time, and I felt so sorry for myself. I just laid there and wouldn’t get up. The first (chemotherapy session) went well, but the second one made me nauseous, and I had nose bleeds,” she said.
The smell of food, oil, and coffee nauseated Ms Arnold while she was undergoing chemotherapy every 21 days. “I called the oncologist and told her that it was making me sick and she said I must come see her. She gave me Panados and sent me home to rest.”
Ms Arnold said the third chemotherapy session made her so weak that she struggled to walk.
She said that she had a warm feeling across her chest and pain similar to heartburn.
Doctors could not proceed with her fourth chemotherapy session as her blood count was too low so they gave it a break and started radiation treatment from December 1 to the end of the month.
“It was horrible. I lived in Sea Point, but I couldn’t go out in the sun because of the radiation. I couldn’t get it wet so I couldn’t swim either and it was summer. But the journey really gave me so much patience.”
Ms Arnold’s hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows fell out and she described her skin as being left with a leathery feel.
She said that she had often struggled to sleep and would lie in bed for hours and then realise it was morning again.
She then decided to stop the chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
For five years after that she continued to go for regular check ups and has now been cancer free for 13 years. “If I hear the word chemotherapy now I get goosebumps and I get the smell of oil and coffee again which nauseated me. I feel so much better. Cancer has made me a stronger person.”
Her advice to other people who have also been diagnosed with cancer is that they should not rush the process but take it one day at a time.
“Think positively and have good thoughts. Create your own normal, be generous and help others,” she said.