Fac­ing up to the chal­lenge

A busi­ness­woman who was a sur­vivor of breast cancer con­tin­ues to in­spire other suf­fer­ers

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

AT 61, suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur and busi­ness­woman Penny Paro­lis was di­ag­nosed with breast cancer while on hol­i­day in Greece.

For her, this month, marked glob­ally as Breast Cancer Aware­ness Month, has spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance as she pon­ders her bat­tle to beat the con­di­tion. Now, aged 67, she’s been can­cer­free for five years.

South African women have a one-in-nine chance of get­ting cancer, with breast cancer the most likely.

White and In­dian women are most at risk, with breast cancer the sec­ond most likely cancer for black and coloured women.

As with many other can­cers, early de­tec­tion is cru­cial to ef­fec­tive treat­ment and a pos­i­tive out­come. The statis­tics are in suf­fer­ers’ favour – 90 per­cent of women di­ag­nosed early with breast cancer, and who re­ceive ap­pro­pri­ate treat­ment, can look for­ward to long-term sur­vival.

Paro­lis has been in the lin­gerie in­dus­try for more than 20 years, af­ter start­ing it with her son Dim­itri in Oc­to­ber 1993.

At first they trav­elled Joburg’s street try­ing to sell hosiery in sum­mer bou­tiques. But to­day, Paro­lis owns PDL Dis­trib­u­tors – im­porters and dis­trib­u­tors of high-qual­ity lin­gerie to stores around south­ern Africa.

She and her son also own three Cape Town bou­tiques op­er­at­ing un­der their brand, In­ner Se­crets Lin­gerie.

Paro­lis is frank that her breast cancer di­ag­no­sis brought enor­mous chal­lenges. But with the help, love and sup­port of fam­ily, friends and staff, she got her sec­ond chance.

“It was July 2011 and I’d just trav­elled to Greece from the Paris shows with a bad cold. I re­mem­ber tak­ing a shower the fol­low­ing morn­ing and it was then that I felt a lump in my breast and knew some­thing wasn’t right,” she says.

She im­me­di­ately told her hus­band, Harry, who told her to get dressed so he could take her to the doc­tor.

That very evening she had a mam­mo­gram and scan, and was di­ag­nosed with a ma­lig­nant tu­mour.

Paro­lis had gone for a gy­nae­co­log­i­cal check-up that Jan­uary, but the doc­tor told her the can­cer­ous lump had grown so fast. There were two options: ei­ther have the cancer re­moved in Athens, or re­turn to South Africa for surgery.

“Why me? I couldn’t be­lieve that this was hap­pen­ing to me, es­pe­cially since the bra in­dus­try was close to my heart,” Paro­lis re­calls think­ing.

Her im­me­di­ate choice was to re­turn South Africa, to the love and sup­port of fam­ily and friends.

“Within a week we were back in South Africa and I had an ap­point­ment with Dr Jen­nifer Edge, a spe­cial­ist in breast cancer and surgery. The oper­a­tion was sched­uled for the Tues­day, but be­cause of my bad cold we had to post­pone to the Thurs­day.

“The fact that my surgery had been post­poned to this par­tic­u­lar day was sig­nif­i­cant to my fam­ily and me. July 28 is the cel­e­bra­tion day of St Irene Chryso­valan­tou, a saint who means a great deal to us. I felt blessed,” she says.

Paro­lis re­calls the in­cred­i­ble feel­ing of in­ner strength she felt take over her body as she was wheeled into surgery.

“I re­mem­ber Dr Edge say­ing to me that her team would take good care of me.

“I woke up with both my breasts well ban­daged, and now it was time to dis­cuss the next step – treat­ment.”

Her ban­dages were re­moved af­ter six weeks, and tests had to be done in the US to de­ter­mine whether ra­dio­ther­apy and chemo­ther­apy were nec­es­sary.

“It was a costly pro­ce­dure to send the cells over to the US, but my hus­band said it had to be done de­spite the costs. It took an­other six weeks and the tests came back say­ing I only needed ra­dio­ther­apy.

“Af­ter re­cu­per­at­ing for a month, I was ready for treat­ment. I had six weeks of in­ten­sive daily ra­dio­ther­apy treat­ment and had vir­tu­ally no side ef­fects.”

As if that chal­lenge wasn’t enough, one of Paro­lis’s larger cus­tomer was pre­par­ing to de­clare him­self in­sol­vent – he had out­stand­ing orders worth R750 000 with PDL Dis­trib­u­tors.

“Ev­ery­thing was hap­pen­ing at once. It was a mas­sive chal­lenge for us as we had to deal with the ex­penses of my surgery and treat­ment, and now this on top of it.

“With my amaz­ing fam­ily sup­port sys­tem, we’ve man­aged to over­come it all.”

For women go­ing through a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, she stresses that faith kept her go­ing.

“From faith you de­rive strength, and from strength you de­velop a pos­i­tive en­ergy and mind­set that will get you through a crit­i­cal time.

“There’s also an­other ex­tremely im­por­tant as­pect to heal­ing and that is the help of sup­port groups.

“We are hu­man and we need to share our feel­ings and chal­lenges with oth­ers. You never know when you could be in­spir­ing and help­ing some­one else.”

Then she adds: “One last thing is that women are often left feel­ing unattrac­tive and de­pressed while un­der­go­ing treat­ment for breast cancer. Do things daily for your­self that make you feel im­por­tant and spe­cial.

“For me, wear­ing fem­i­nine lace lin­gerie had helped. I couldn’t wear un­der­wired bras dur­ing and af­ter treat­ment, so I opted for lacy bralettes that were soft on my skin, and made me feel fem­i­nine.

“It’s the small things that make the dif­fer­ence,” Paro­lis says. – Week­end Ar­gus Re­porter

PIC­TURE: CHRIS COLLINGRIDGE

Con­tes­tants take part in The 4th Av­enue Bra Run held in Parkhurst, Joburg, in aid of Breast Cancer Aware­ness in 2014.

Penny Paro­lis

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