From breast cancer sur­vivor to carer

Vuk'uzenzele - - Health - Al­li­son Cooper

BREAST CANCER SUR­VIVOR Jo­hanna Fran­cis (56) shares her story and urges women to con­duct breast self-ex­am­i­na­tions once a month.

Fran­cis, a wife and mother of three adult chil­dren and four grand­chil­dren, was di­ag­nosed with breast cancer on 1 Septem­ber 1999, at the ten­der age of 37.

“I had a rad­i­cal mod­i­fied left mas­tec­tomy. My chil­dren were only 16,13 and seven and the thought of not see­ing them grow up pained me.

“In 2003 I had a lo­cal re­cur­rence, which was even more trau­matic be­cause cancer ap­peared on the cut­line of the old mas­tec­tomy. The med­i­ca­tion I was tak­ing, which was a hor­monal cancer blocker, was not right for me. I thus had six cour­ses of chemo­ther­apy and 35 days of ra­di­a­tion,” she ex­plained.

For­tu­nately, Fran­cis was blessed to have a sup­port­ing hus­band and fam­ily to see her through her or­deal and she went into re­mis­sion.

“In April 2016 I was again told, ‘you have cancer’. I lost my right breast. It was half ex­pected, but I was hop­ing that it would not hap­pen.

“I can­not tell you that I know it all, be­cause there is no grad­u­a­tion from the school of life. But, I learnt that year that I fall into the triple neg­a­tive breast cancer group,” she said.

Fran­cis, who has en­dured a long and hard road to re­cov­ery, is adamant that breast cancer is not a death sen­tence. “It is an op­por­tu­nity to be­come a care worker and to mo­ti­vate and ed­u­cate com­mu­ni­ties about the dis­ease,” she said.

This is ex­actly what Fran­cis does at the Keur­boom Care Home, in Bel­gravia, Jo­han­nes­burg. The home, spon­sored by Ro­tary, is one of 11 Cancer As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa care homes.

It has 30 beds and ser­vices mostly state pa­tients who are re­ceiv­ing ra­di­a­tion and chemo­ther­apy treat­ment. “Our cri­te­ria is sim­ple, clients must be cancer sur­vivors who are un­der­go­ing daily treat­ment over a four to six week pe­riod,” Fran­cis ex­plains.

Keur­boom re­lies on the pub­lic for spon­sor­ship and do­na­tions be­cause some of its clients can­not af­ford to con­trib­ute fi­nan­cially. The home takes re­fer­rals from Gaut­eng hos­pi­tals and peo­ple can also con­tact the cen­tre di­rectly for as­sis­tance.

Fran­cis urges women, who are 20 and older, to do monthly breast self-ex­am­i­na­tions, at the same time ev­ery month fol­low­ing their men­strual cy­cle.

Some signs and symp­toms of breast cancer in­clude a lump or thick­en­ing in an area of the breast; a change in the shape of the nip­ple, par­tic­u­larly if it turns in, sinks into the breast or has an ir­reg­u­lar shape; blood stained dis­charge from the nip­ple; rash on a nip­ple or sur­round­ing area; swelling or lump in the armpit and nip­ple ten­der­ness or a lump or thick­en­ing in or near the breast or un­der­arm area.

“Th­ese signs do not nec­es­sar­ily mean that a woman has cancer but any changes or con­cerns should be re­ported to a pro­fes­sional nurse or doc­tor straight away,” said Fran­cis.

Jo­hanna is a breast cancer sur­vivor who is also a bea­con of hope for the com­mu­nity.

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