BeautySouthAfrica.com reader, Lindika Byron, survived her battle with breast cancer. In aid of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we asked her to share her inspiring story.
“I woke up early one morning and as I stood in the shower, I felt a pain in my breast, must like I was about to get my period. I wiped my hand over my breast and stopped suddenly as I felt a very hard lump, like a marble. I immediately went to my husband, Ed, and asked him to feel. He confirmed that this was not something we felt before, so I called and made an appointment to see my doc that same day. She told me not to worry, but that I needed to have a mammogram.
The doctor called on Monday to say that she managed to obtain an appointment for me the next afternoon. They were to do the mammogram, sonar and fine needle aspiration. After the mammo, I had to wait while they reviewed the results. After what felt like an hour, the nurse returned to say that they needed to do a sonar. The sonar revealed some problem areas. They said that they had contacted my GP and advised their findings and that I will need to see a surgeon. At this point, I was hysterical, and I demanded to see a surgeon immediately. As no one was available, I went home and waited for their call.
My GP managed to get me an appointment that Thursday. The surgeon, Dr Odendaal at Blaauwberg Netcare, informed us that the results would be ready the next day. Well, Friday was the longest day ever and every time the phone rang, I froze. Dr Odendaal called and he confirmed the worse – I had breast cancer. I immediately called my husband and both of us burst into tears.
I was under the age of 40, why would I get breast cancer? Well I did, at the age of 34.
The next two weeks involved test after test and doctor after doctor. Dr Odendaal said that he had discussed it with a few other doctors and due to my age, it would be best to do a mastectomy. I was completely shattered and we left the room in silence. The next step was to see the plastic surgeon. We all agreed that I would have an expander inserted, as they were not sure whether I would need chemo and radiation. Due to the time of year, there was a delay in getting a date for all the necessary doctors to be in theatre for my surgery, and it was booked for Saturday 13 December 2008, almost a month after my diagnosis.
It was not an easy time, in fact, it was once of the most difficult things I had to do. I was admitted the evening before and I was hysterical – I had to sign a form stating that they can remove my breast!
I was discharged on the Thursday morning. The next day I received a call from my surgeon to say that they found cancer in my sentinel lymph node, which was removed during surgery. My life was turned upside down, once again. I had to be back in hospital on Tuesday 23 December 2008. My initial thoughts were for my poor kids, what about Christmas? I had my 2nd op and my husband brought our boys together with their Christmas presents to open at my bedside. The staff arranged for my husband and children to join me for Christmas lunch, and set a table for us to sit together as a family. After lunch, I was discharged and went home.
The lymph nodes which were removed were all clear, but because they found cancer in my sentinel node, I had to have chemo.
The results from the tests revealed that I had Mucinous Carcinoma, which is a very rare type of cancer. My oncologist, Dr Rika Pienaar from GVI Oncology, Panorama, said that of all the breast cancers, this was the “best” form to get. Had they not found it in the sentinel node, I would not have needed chemo. However, the cancer in the node was a tumour developing on its own and was not linked to the breast, therefore chemo was a must. My cancer was also hormone receptive, which meant that I would need to have hormone treatment for five years after treatment.
Chemo started on 29 January 2009 with a combination known as “AC” – the A stands for Adrimycin, which is also known as the “Red Devil” (that is the chemo which causes your hair to fall out as well as mouth ulcers). The C stands for Cyclophosphamide which is a clear chemo, which causes the nausea and the vomiting.
I was blessed to only need four cycles of chemo, which are given intravenously every three weeks. After each chemo I was really tired and would sleep for up to three days, only surfacing to eat and sleep again. The councillor at the oncologist suggested that I dedicate each chemo to somebody, as it helps to get through it and also to realise that you are not just doing this for yourself, but for your family. My first chemo was dedicated to my wonderful husband, Edwin, who had been my pillar of strength throughout. My second chemo was dedicated to my nephew Jayden’s birth and my third and fourth ones were to each of my boys, Brandon and Gareth.
Ten days after my first chemo, my hair started falling out. I only wore my wig once, I just felt more comfortable wearing a bandana, and I had every colour to match every outfit.
I was due for my reconstruction in July, but in May I had to have my gall bladder removed and emotionally could not deal with being in hospital again. I postponed till further notice. Reconstruction went ahead in April 2010; the easiest of all the ops and recovery was so much quicker. I was on an injection, Zoladex, for two years. I have also been on Tamoxifen, which is a hormone blocker, for five years, of which I now have ten months left.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for myself and my family, but with God, we have survived and just take one day at a time and try and live our lives to the fullest. I kept a blog from the time I was diagnosed to the end of my chemo, which really helped to relieve some of the stress. I have family and friends all over the world, and in this way I could keep them all informed and up to date. You can read some of my entries here: www.lindika.blogspot.com.
Next year I am turning 40 and am looking forward to celebrating five years cancer-free, five years of tamoxifen and the big 40.”