WITH OCTOBER BEING BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH, HEALTH MET WITH THREE REAL LIFE BREAST CANCER SURVIVORS WHO NARRATED THEIR HEROIC TALES OF SURVIVAL AND HOW THEY COPED.
Muriel Landais is a 46-yearold French homemaker and mother of two children. She discovered her cancer when they returned from vacation last February and accidentally felt a lump in her breast. She says: “The next day I called to see Dr. Houriya Kazim
who had been recommended to me by a friend doctor. Fortunately, I was able to see her the very same day and she did a mammogram and scan the following day. After two days, the first exams showed a lump. The next step was a biopsy, done the week after. Dr. Houriya called me at home two days after, around 6 pm, to tell me that it was cancer. When I heard this, I felt my world falling apart. My first thoughts went to my two daughters who are too young for me do die, and also to my mum, who had been diagnosed with cancer at the same age and who died two years later. My husband was travelling that day but fortunately I had a very dear friend of mine visiting from Switzerland. We first cried together before starting to talk over it. Dr. Houriya was very reassuring and pragmatic when she called me that day. She told me what kind of cancer I had, how big it was and that I had good chances of recovering, she also explained what would be the next steps to see if the cancer had spread. Luckily the breast cancer was limited only to my breast and there were also good chances that it hadn’t spread to the lymph. The first three weeks of not knowing exactly what I had were the hardest. I first underwent lumpectomy (removal of the lump only), then I had chemotherapy until July. I have been quite positive I would be cured, even though sometimes doubts came due to my fear. When it would happen, I always looked at the positive things: how well breast cancer is now cured, and how fortunate I was, compared with my mum who 25 years ago didn’t have all the technology that I benefited from. I had three months of chemotherapy and I chose to have bilateral mastectomy because with the gene mutation that I have (BRAC1) I had very high chance to develop a new cancer in the other breast within two years. Now my risks are extremely low and the follow-up will be ‘light.’ My advice to other women is to take professional advice on how to check yourself and do it regularly.
For Brigitte Chemla, a French expat in Dubai, life has been a constant struggle against her own body. She says, “I have always been battling with health problems in one part of my body or another from a very young age. Regardless of these sicknesses I never stopped from having a very active life,” she says. Little did she know that in March 2007 when she noticed a change in her breast she would be facing the biggest battle of her life. “My nipple became very red and itchy, at first I thought it was just an allergy, it continued for a month but when I realised that it was not going away I consulted a doctor who upon examination prescribed an echography which showed absolutely nothing despite the redness and itching. Six months later, not only had my nipple gotten redder but also the itching part was now painful. Due to the pain, I decided to consult a doctor again but this time a gynaecologist. When I removed my bra, she was shocked just looking at my breast, she could not believe I had seen a doctor before and been given such quick diagnosis with no further investigation. Then it all went very fast, the same day I had a mammography as well as another echography. It was the mammography which showed the ‘fatal’ white point. Referred by my gynaecologist, I quickly got an appointment with Dr. Houriya Kazim, who immediately took biopsy of my breast. The fear of waiting for the result of the biopsy was worse than the biopsy itself. The next afternoon my worst fears were confirmed when I was told I had cancer. I burst into tears thinking I was going to die; I felt as if I had been given a death sentence. The first results of my cancer were very optimistic; I was told it was a small tumour of nine millimetres but still very aggressive. I then had to face the prospect of a serious mastectomy surgery. Losing a breast is the kind of life changing experience that no one women can express in the same way. For me, undergoing the mastectomy was an amputation, literally of my breasts and mentally of my soul and confidence. Luckily I underwent immediate breast reconstructive surgery at the same time as the mastectomy. After the surgery I realized how important this was for me personally because after the six hour surgery my first reflex was to look under my blouse to check if I still had two breasts. Words cannot explain my feelings as I breathed a huge sigh of relief at seeing my two reconstructed breasts. Thanks to Brest Friends I started the long path to healing mentally and physically, and I know that there is a life after cancer. Thanks to my doctors I am still here and very much alive, and thanks to my friends and family I am still loved and able to give my love back.”
Ingrid Valles Po
Ingrid Valles Po was a working mother when her world was rocked by the diagnosis of breast cancer. She tells, “One day I was reading a magazine, when I was drawn to an article on breast cancer – my grandmother had died of this and my older sister had suffered from benign cysts. After reading the article, I did further research on the net and discovered a self-examination chart. That night – January 16, 2003 – I discovered a lump. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I was only 34 years old with a five-year-old daughter. I visited a hospital in Dubai and was scheduled for a mammogram a month later and a needle incision in early March was followed by a lumpectomy two weeks later. On April 1 my doctors confirmed that I had breast cancer. They told me I was ‘lucky’ because it had been caught in the early stages. While my first thought was of death, I opted to remain positive. I asked the doctor for treatment options, and made a decision in 10 minutes. For the sake of my daughter, I chose the most severe – a mastectomy – as it offered me a better chance of survival. My mother flew in from India just before I was scheduled for the mastectomy and wanted to help. But when I saw her at the airport, I was devastated. She had lost a good 10 kilograms and her clothes hung on her. That night I set the rules: no crying or I’d put her on a plane back to India. I was going to fight this disease and be strong, and I needed strong people around me and my daughter. While I was in the hospital, my mother looked after my daughter and prepared meals and in the evenings, she would come to see me and help with a sponge bath. She did a lot for me, and words will never be enough to explain what wonderful moral support she was. My next – and most difficult challenge – was chemotherapy. My first chemo was booked for May 12. All went well until I completed the dose. As soon as the nurse left my bedside I did not know if I wanted to throw up, cry or die, and I spent a restless night in hospital. In two days’ time my mother was travelling back to India, and the thought of how I would cope was troubling me. The morning after my mother left, I decided to fight the nausea and take on the disease with a vengeance. I prepared breakfast and then found the strength to prepare a meal for lunch. Of course, I overdid it and caught an infection which turned to full blown flu with tonsillitis. My hair had started to fall out and I was feeling particularly low. But the thought of our daughter growing up without me made me decide to fight for my life. After a week in hospital, I was discharged. I went home. Although the rest of the chemo went well, I suffered memory loss after my second treatment, which was really scary. A few weeks after completing the course of chemo, depression struck. I was bloated; I had no hair, eyebrows, or eyelashes… I felt like an alien. The doctors refused to give me anti-depressants, saying I had to get my life back on track myself. The first step was losing weight. I began dieting and after three months I had the figure I wanted. Then, four weeks after the last chemo, on August 15, while on holiday in India, I noticed what I thought was prickly-heat on my head but it was my hair growing back! I really feel that I have been truly blessed and that I have been given a second chance…..”