Breast Cancer Awareness Month

As many will know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I have decided to dedicate the whole month to share a close friend’s journey with the disease. She was only 26 when she was first diagnosed and this is her story…

03 June 2015

This became the day my whole world fell apart, at least that’s how I felt at the time. It had a very slow start and yet a very draining finish.

I went to see the specialist as my appointment had requested. My initial doctor wasn’t there so another one took his place. She was friendly and asked me general questions, age, children, and lastly if I’d ever had a consultation with a radiotherapist before?

This is when I told my first and last lie to a health professional. This was because I wanted my last consultation to be completely disregarded by the unknowing doctor before me. My fear was that she would also claim that I am too young for a mammogram, especially since there isn’t a history of any types of cancers in my family.

Honestly, my heart was racing at my own deception but for my own sanity, I felt obligated to be dishonest. Even though the pessimist in me insisted that I was wasting my medical aid with the visit, there was still a tiny part of me that was determined to still go through all the trouble.

Two minutes into the exam, she asks me to put my hand over my head. I asked why, she says ‘relax, I’ll explain when I am done.’

A few seconds later, she disrupts my dwindling thoughts ‘Ms. Mpumlwana.’ I watch her face, letting her finish her sentence without any interruption. ‘The breast scan seems normal to me, what I see looks like normal fat tissue but I still need to check the lymph nodes. That is why I was scanning under your armpit. I want to be absolutely sure.’

In my head, I’m thinking that this examination will not have a different result from the last. While she’s talking I’m just hearing blah blah blah. My mind is already out the door thinking this has been a waste of my time, yet again, my symptoms won’t lead to a mammogram test.

But then she says ‘look here’ and I do. She shows me two round circles that look like black peas. She goes on to explain that two of my lymph nodes are swollen and this is cause for concern. I am almost pleased with this because now I will get what I’ve wanted all this time … Or will I?

‘Don’t worry our machines are the best in the country, they are very comfortable and safe’ she correctly detects my thoughtful expression as concern.

Somehow her affirmation of their equipment actually triggers anxiety. Then I start thinking, ‘do I really want to know my status?’

I’m ushered to the next room and the big machine stands there in the center of the room. I’m asked to step up and I follow the order. My naked breast on the left is first, the machine flattens it, and I see it being transformed into a pancake shape. My anxiety is still lurking heavily over me, threatening the rhythmic breathing happening in my chest. The right breast is next and then after a little while we are done and I am out of there.

My initial doctor who’s been absent all along finally joins us and is the one who shares the x-ray results with me. He says ‘there seems to be something in the right breast but for now it’s difficult to tell what it could be.’ He explains that the next step is a biopsy.

Before I know it, my right breast is numbed out and samples are extracted to be tested. I am told I will know in two days. When he is done, he enquires about my age. I remember hating it when he did this because it convinced me that something must really be wrong. I try to speak and give an answer but the words won’t come out. Eventually I am able to murmur softly ‘twenty six…’

Photo By: Melo Mazibuko

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