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Brigitte Chemla
For Brigitte
Chemla, a
French expat
in Dubai,
life has been
a constant
against her
own body.
She says,
“I have
always been
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
Ingrid Valles Po
Ingrid Valles
Po was a
when her
world was
by the
of breast
cancer. She
tells, “One
day I was
reading a
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.....”
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.”
Brest Friends
is a doctor-led, independent not-for-profit organisation. Part of Brest Friends is a support group for breast cancer
patients and survivors. Dr.. Houriya Kazim, FRCS, Specialist Breast Surgeon at the Well Woman Clinic explains, “When I decided to start the
support group, the only qualifications that I brought to the task were the experience of treating breast cancer patients and my desire to help
others emotionally survive the experience. I had never set up or run a support group of any kind in my life. I had never even read a book on
support groups. Our support group is a place for people in similar situations to give and receive both emotional and practical support as well as
to exchange information. Ladies who attend the group can expect to both learn more about their cancer and get new ideas from others who have
“been there, done that.”
Oct/Nov 2013