I have always taken good care of myself. I exercised, maintained my weight, never smoked, drank socially, kept my gynae appointments and had mammograms done from age 40 every three years, so I was not likely to be a breast cancer candidate, right? Wrong! In January 2019 taking a shower after a Pilatus class, I felt a golf-ball size lump in my left breast in the upper middle section. Painless, but clearly visible.
7 February 2019
After many tests and scans, I was diagnosed with stage 3 left metastatic breast carcinoma cancer Luminal B HER2 negative, hormone sensitive, estrogen and progesterone positive, aggressive with a KI 86% growth rate. It was a whole new vocabulary for me to get used to. But I thought about young David’s unlikely victory against Goliath. He had slain his Giant against all odds. Cancer was going to be my own Goliath and I had no option but to slay it!
Cancer has never been a topic of discussion in our family because no-one has ever had cancer! When the diagnosis was made, an old memory came back. When I was 21, I had Cervical Cancer surgically removed from the neck of my womb. It was dealt with quickly and was never made a big deal. I did not receive any follow-up treatment at all. I must have blocked the memory totally, as at that time it was prayed over, and the cancer episode was gone and forgotten. Now the stark reality came back vividly.
I started treatment with six months of chemo, including The Red Devil. We changed the name
to Red Angel as it was going to save my life. The day after my Red Angel chemo, my two daughters and daughter-in-law harvested some of their hair, and together with all my long blond hair, I had a wig made. I only wore it on two occasions as it was too uncomfortable and hot. I preferred my scarves and hats. A while later, Nandie, my daughter, cut off all her long blond hair, to empathize with me. She donated and raised an amazing R14,000 for Hairs with Love, a campaign to provide human hair wigs to people suffering with illnesses. A 12-year-old cancer girl was blessed with Nandie’s hair.
Two weeks after the first chemo session, I had to be hospitalized. I was extremely sick. I had no immune system, and my blood count was exceptionally low. I had to continue to inject myself in my stomach with Filgastrim Booster injections a week after each Red Angel chemo on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, to keep on increasing my white blood cells and treat my low neutrophil count.
The Red Angel was at work. I lost my remaining hair, I was forced into menopause, my face broke out in terrible acne, my brain was caught up in a chemo fog, and many more side effects. I brushed it all off with “Die cancer die!” At times, the headaches were so bad that I had to hold onto my head when I walked, taking small steps. On two occasions I went to the bathroom and woke up on the floor in front of the toilet.
After six months of chemo, I had a Bilateral Breast and Nipple Saving Mastectomy with Direct Reconstruction silicone implants, and 29 Radiation sessions. At the end of my 1st year, I was clean and in remission. I had slain my Goliath, or so I thought.
A woman is defined by her hair and breasts, and I lost both. I just stood on it that if you Look good you feel good. I never wanted to look like a cancer patient, so I got up in the mornings, got dressed, put on makeup, my big earrings, and hats and scarves that matched my outfit. I educated myself about cancer. The power of knowledge is crucial in the fight against cancer. I had to take control of cancer, not to be fear-driven, but to be positive, to believe and stay strong, for myself and others. I really wanted to slay my Goliath and a positive attitude was part of my strategy.
Second Year, 2020
On a routine follow-up exam, they found fast growing Cancerous Lymph Nodes under my arm. It had to be removed, but only after another six months of Gemzar Chemo. This chemo burnt like hell, and I gained 10kg. During my very last chemo the sister could not find a vein and said they will have to take me into theatre to put a stent in my neck. I asked if she could not try to find a vein in my pulse. The sister remarked quizzically that I had never taken the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) band off my wrist. The story behind that is that my son, Armandt, slipped it onto my arm on the day I was diagnosed. It is weird in times like these that we hold onto anything that might give hope. But bless her, she tried anyway, and WWJD? He gave me a vein!
Unfortunately, the chemo and sentinel lymph node surgery were not enough, and I was put on another 6 months Capexa chemo pills, as I could not take drips in the arm any more. It came in 100gr or 500gr and I received 3000gr a day. It dried out my hands and feet so badly that in the morning I would wake up and find flaked-off skin in the bed and on the floor. My feet started to go red then purple, the skin turned into big blisters, and the soles of my feet peeled off in one piece. I persevered. I was still fighting Goliath.
Third year, 2021
A PET CT scan normally gets done when you are clean and in remission. So, the doctors ordered a full body PET scan for me just to confirm. They found a lesion on my liver, the size of a coin, and, yes, it was cancerous. By this time, I had really had enough. I did not want to do any test or treatment anymore, I was negative, emotional and I fell into a deep depression. I lay in bed for 4 days not wanting to do anything. I thought to myself, “Is this now how the rest of my life is going to be?” Then I realized that I had come so far in my fight. Was I now going to give up and allow Goliath to kick my butt? I was telling everybody that the Lord was always with me, so now I had to stand on that conviction. By his stripes I AM healed. I took my Rhema Bible School Bible and searched for all the healing scriptures and typed it out. My “Medication for Meditation.”
Soon my faith pulled me through, and I had my courage back. I had good days and bad days and I learnt that you could cry, you do not have to be strong all the time. Its ok not to be ok. I was ready to do battle!
The doctors decided not to operate on the liver as I had already gone through so much. A very delicate Liver Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure was done, which means that the affected area is burnt with radiation.
A month later, another PET CT scan was done. I was optimistic for this one, but I was devastated. The results showed two Lymph Nodes, deep in my abdomen, next to my liver. And they had tripled in size in one month. Guess what? More intravenous chemo for another six months. I had to get a second port and I lost all my hair again. I was in full battle again.
BUT as if all these cancer treatments were not enough, I had to pay in R64,000 co-payment for the last six months of Halaven chemo. To just add another dimension, while all this was going on, I was bitten on the hand by a big black dog causing severe damage. Although no tendons were severed, there were nine serious wounds, and I had to have surgery to repair the damage. This was followed by five weeks of rabies and tetanus injections. At the time I was also mourning the loss of my eldest sister, Anita 69, who had passed away from Covid the previous year (27.06.2021). We also had to scale down from a large free-standing home to a townhouse, and I had to pack with my bandaged-up hand. A change like that is already regarded as one of the top stress factors. And then, just before Christmas, I got salmonella food poisoning from an oyster. Was that it? No, I got Covid. And the engine block of my car cracked, and it had to be sold, leaving me stranded. It felt as if life was never going to stop batting me curveballs!
17 March 2022
I was so excited on this day because it was the day of my last chemo! I felt like celebrating as the sisters pulled the needle out of my 2nd Port. At that moment I received a call to inform me that my brother, Andre, had just passed away from a massive heart attack. This was devastating to me. We were very close. Two months previously he had blessed me by buying me a brand-new Toyota Starlet, which lifted the weight of my financial burden. Through the pain of losing him I took it as my sign that my cancer Goliath had died with him.
5 May 2022
After a total of two years of chemo and 40 IV drips sessions, a PET CT Scan confirmed that this time I was clean and in remission. The whole journey lasted 3yrs and 3mnths under the excellent care of Professor Carol Ann Benn’s team and my oncologist Dr Jason Naicker. For now, I am on hormone blocker pills, and I go for check-ups every three months. My Goliath was thoroughly slain!
Thank You Jesus for helping me to keep on fighting through all of this! I feel much more loved. I am stronger, more sensitive, and compassionate. I love to share my story to give Hope, as it has No Expiry Date. At times it felt as if I was at my own funeral, not because of all the flowers, but because so many spoke such good things over my life. Why did I get cancer? Who can really answer that question? This was all part of God’s plan with my Life. The positive I got out of cancer is that it had blessed me with many gifts. The biggest gift: Life! I have also started to write my Autobiography which is an honest recollection of events in my life, focusing on my breast cancer journey. It is at the publishers waiting for approval. Slaying cancer together!
I am 52 and have been happily married to my soul mate, Werner for 32 years, we live together in Northcliff, Johannesburg. We are blessed with three chidren and four grandchildren. I am truly honoured to have such an amazing support network, my loved ones and friends have been by my side throughout my journey.
**Thank you so much for sharing your incredible story with us, Lindie! So many readers come here looking for hope and you have definitely inspired so much hope. Good luck with your book and here’s to many, many more years of living life to the fullest!
Love, Joanna xo