Get abreast of can­cer aware­ness and have the check-ups

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION - Sher­lin Barends

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.

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