Get abreast of cancer awareness and have the check-ups
MY BREASTS didn’t grow fast enough. Then they grew too fast.
One moment I was sadly staring at my flat chest and the next I was wearing four sport bras to ensure they didn’t bounce up and down during a hockey game. I also remember feeling extremely exposed in the body-hugging black off-the-shoulder dress I wore to my high school sweetheart’s matric ball, uncomfortably tugging at the neckline all night.
My bust has grown over the years and I’ve come to love it. Today I comfortably rock most any style: low-cut, tight-fit, bustier or braless, but until recently there was a lot I didn’t know about how to take care of my breasts.
After speaking to my family, female friends and random women on the streets of Cape Town varying in age, race and class, it became clear that I wasn’t the only one. Most of them also couldn’t answer the following questions: what is a mammogram? How often should we get one? What is a good age to start? Does it hurt? Are mammograms expensive? Where do you get the procedure done?
Yet, when asked whether they’re concerned about breast cancer, everyone answered “yes”.
We should be concerned. Many of us know at least one person who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s one of the most common cancers among South African women and is on the rise.
Early detection is key. I’m told that 90% of those who are diagnosed early go on to live relatively long and healthy lives. So with this in mind, I made an appointment for my very first mammogram.
The Mediclinic in Gardens does not smell like a hospital. It could easily pass for a three-star hotel. On arrival I’m told I am too young for the low-dose X-ray. Women under 40 have an ultrasound instead.
I might be too young for a mammogram, but that doesn’t mean I’m too young for breast cancer.
The weeping 20-something-year-old brunette seated in the row behind me was testament to that.
The sonographer with the neat, long dreads reminds me of a younger Lisa Bonet. She’s thorough and spends about 15 minutes on each breast.
“My mom passed after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I want to check and double check I don’t miss anything,” she said.
I got the all-clear, but before
I left the doctor reminded me of the importance of these annual professional examinations in conjunction with monthly selfexaminations.
It was monthly examinations that saved Warda’s life. She diligently inspected her breasts because the cancer runs in her family. I meet the mother of two at Groote Schuur Hospital. She noticed a lump and it was growing: “First thing that went through my mind was my kids. My other worry was I was no longer on medical aid. You hear horror stories about government hospitals.”
Thankfully, Warda had heard of Project Flamingo – an organisation that ensures timely and holistic cancer treatment for many Capetonian breast cancer patients in public health. Tears streamed down her cheeks: “Patients wait long periods before they get help. But Project Flamingo helped me. Everything just fell into place.”
Warda started reciting dates: “I was diagnosed in June 2016. From August 1 to December 29 I received eight rounds of chemotherapy. On February 18 I had a double mastectomy, followed by more chemotherapy.
“I couldn’t look in the mirror for a long time, but I eventually got to a place where I could look at myself again. It’s mind over matter.”
Warda was “nervous and excited” about an upcoming date. On November 30 she’ll receive a breast augmentation. Her message to women: “Don’t be scared to get yourself checked out. You could be saving your life.
“Don’t be scared to depend on the people in your life for support: I had an entire team behind me.”
While she was receiving chemotherapy, her 10-year-old son asked: “Mommy, do you prefer living with pain or dying?”
To which she responded: “Mommy can’t die, darling. I must first meet your ugly wife.”
We often think that our hair, curves and breasts make us feminine and beautiful, but when I look at Warda, it’s her strength, her will to survive, the love she exudes and her humour that make her most beautiful.