True Love

True Story – Conquering Breast Cancer

Velisa Sishuba, 22, first got diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer at 17 and beat the deadly disease not once, but, twice. She shares her story of triumph and inspiratio­n


“In 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 17 and doing Grade 11 at Southdowns College. I was oblivious to the changes that were about to happen in my life. Weirdly enough, earlier that year, one of our teachers called all the girls aside after assembly and shared her breast cancer story. She told us about the importance of self-checking and said one in every three women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Sitting in that room, I didn’t even think that I would be one of them.

There wasn’t a build-up of events, but I woke up one morning and felt a huge lump on my left breast. It was blueishgre­en in colour but it didn’t hurt. I told my parents about it and we went to the doctor who gave me medication to try for a week. She thought it was hormonal but when I went back the following week, she decided to do a biopsy. I had continuous tests from August until November. I was then referred to a specialist who diagnosed me with a rare form of cancer called angiosarco­ma of the breast. This cancer grows within the blood vessels and can move to any part of the body.

I was distraught. I had been going to the hospital for three months doing tests and biopsies and they hadn’t told me anything. I was later told that they had to operate and my first surgery to remove the lump was scheduled. They removed the lump, which almost weighed a kilogram, and I went back home. The following week, I went back to Milpark Hospital for a check-up and they told me that they unfortunat­ely had to go back in and take out more tissue to ensure that they had everything out. It was a precaution­ary measure and they also removed a muscle from my back to help reconstruc­t my breast with an implant.

This was in December 2015 and luckily, I didn’t need to do chemo or radiation because they felt that they got the cancer and that I was young so I would fully recover. We had, fortunatel­y, detected my lump early and I was diagnosed in time, so I didn’t need aggressive treatment.The following year, I was in Grade 12 and had to feel beautiful for my matric dance but I wasn’t feeling anything close to it. I had just got a dummy breast and had to get a filler for my bra so that no one would notice the difference in the sizes of my breasts. In April that year, I also had to have a nipple reconstruc­tion because they had cut my nipple during the first surgery I had. This was to ensure that once the reconstruc­tion surgery happened, my boobs would be symmetrica­l and my nipples would match. I was then given an all-clear.

I was on the road to recovery and pursuing my dreams. I had enrolled at

Rhodes University to study journalism and was excited but anxious about my first year away from home. I lived at the top of the hill and didn’t think anything about my back aching or my hands shaking. I just thought it was stress but when I saw a reddish rash on the side of my left breast, I got concerned. I was going home for the June holidays, so I told myself that I would go for my regular check-up then.

In July, I had a mammogram and biopsy done, which showed that I had a re-occurrence of cancer, not on my breast this time, but my back. During surgery, they cut a lot from my back, like three-thirds of my left-hand side. They had to make sure that the cancer didn’t come back. They even thought of taking out a rib, but luckily they didn’t. I had chemo and radiation this time around because of the severity of the cancer.

I tried to be positive, but it was tough. I dropped out of varsity, which was frustratin­g, because I had already taken a gap year to focus on treatment and getting better before. I already felt left behind by my peers. Chemo was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure in my life. I didn’t know what to expect because I had heard horror stories. I did chemo once a week for three months and all I was thinking was ‘can it be done so that I can get back to my life’. My body was just tired. I was in constant pain and a lot more irritable than I usually am. I was trying to keep it together but a lot of people wanted to treat me like I wasn’t sick. The fact is, I was sick and some days I just wanted to be sad.

When you’re undergoing chemo, your body’s in so much pain and turmoil that even doing the simplest thing like picking up a glass hurts. I felt like I was losing myself. I had the least harsh chemo but I still lost my hair and eyebrows, and as a young woman, that affects you. I had a super support system: my friend, Alex, her mom and my mom also cut off their hair. They chose to go through that pain with me. I deleted all my social media accounts because it hurt to see other people progressin­g and I didn’t know where my life was headed. I went through a dark time. There were days where I considered suicide, but somehow faith pulled me through. We don’t talk about how much cancer affects us as families. There was friction at home from the grave weight that the disease had; it was hard for all of us to get through. I learnt to give myself time to go through everything I was feeling. To anyone suffering from cancer, give yourself time to grieve and be kind to yourself. Now that I’m here, my fight with cancer feels like a memory and I look back in awe of the mountain I climbed. I’m healthy, but I still carry a lot of emotional turmoil from my experience. I’m back at varsity, in my second year, and I’m a brand ambassador for Check Know Prevent. I love that they’re giving support to people who suffer from cancer and making the journey easier for them. My biggest passion is creating awareness about this disease. I went through it and by the grace of God, I’m here and looking forward to a bright future. I’m thankful for it!”

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