Cancer does not always spell untimely death

A Practicing Nurse narrates her recent experience with the dreaded disease

Rekha Singh

The word ‘Cancer’ brings different emotions in an individual, depending on their experience.

Initially, I was overwhelmed with the reactions I received when I posted a simple message on Facebook a day or two after mastectomy (June 15, 2017).

I said that everyone should learn from my experience and have medical insurance and regular screening, as I was so lucky that my breast cancer was diagnosed early.

Overwhelming attention

I was naive in thinking that here was I, an ‘attentive nurse’ who could motivate any individual to listen and rush off for screening, besides getting insurance and seeing their GP for early prevention of health issues rather than suffering if undiagnosed.

However, that was one ‘nurse instinct’ totally misinterpreted. I was flooded with lots of chocolates and flowers.

Everyone was asking what I wanted to eat and what they could do for me.

Initially I was soaking up the attention, but then, the underlying misconception dawned on me when people started to ask if I could eat anything, or when I was going to have chemotherapy.

I realised that people were actually worrying about my health, rather than understanding the proactive message I tried giving them on Facebook.

It appeared that to some people Cancer always meant a cruel, untimely death.

Self-confidence overstated

My eye-opening experience was nothing short of a miracle.

I attended a routine mammogram with my colleague a little earlier than I was due, as the Breast Screening Caravan had come to the Mall near our work place in May 2017.

In the past, I could have been overdue for mammogram by two months.

“I will book for an appointment when I am free,” I would tell myself.

I would normally get screened in the same year I was due, but was not overly concerned. I was under the impression that my chances of getting breast cancer was low as I didn’t have any family history; I had no lumps that I could feel, no lymph nodes or nipple discharge. I thought if I screened routinely I would encourage other women, who were at a higher risk than myself, to do likewise.

“I am a Nurse so I should set an example,” I reasoned.

‘Warrant of Fitness’

The atmosphere in the caravan was amazing. The receptionist was busy but very friendly and professional. She had answered about ten calls in five minutes as well as attended to about five clients including my colleague and me.

The mammogram technician examined once, took another test and sent me home, making me feel that I have a complete Warrant of Fitness.

Two weeks later, I was surprised to receive a letter to attend an appointment at the Super Clinic. When I visited the Clinic with my husband, we were told that I had tiny calcifications the size of a pinhole, which was not present in my previous mammogram.

They asked me if I wanted a biopsy, saying that it is probably nothing.

I agreed but could not help asking, “Are you sure it is my mammogram?”

Indeed, it was mine. To verify they asked my date of birth until I protested that I hated the

question.

My biopsy results came back positive for infiltrating lobular cancer.

It is the second most common cancer in women and is often missed in mammograms, as

there are no palpable lumps or lymph nodes that can be felt, like ductal breast cancer which is the most common type. Lobular cancer can affect bilateral breasts. I was told that I needed to have an MRI which would determine where my actual cancer was; if both or one breast was affected or how far it had spread and so forth.

Shocking News

The news was a shock to me. I went through a rollercoaster of emotions and although I had a very good support system, like having a Doctor for a husband and knowing a lot of surgeons personally, I felt totally helpless.

My husband supported my decision to have MRI privately and I got my appointment within a few days. The results of the MRI were a great relief as it showed that the cancer was only on the right side. It was grade 1 or 2 and lymph nodes were not affected which indicated a good prognosis.

Now that I had a diagnosis and knew that I would definitely need surgery, the onus fell on me to decide what I wanted. My supportive husband gave me all the necessary information but said the decision was entirely my own. My lovely Surgeon, Dr Stan Govender, did the same. I read a lot but I got more confused as every woman’s case was different.

I wanted my husband to decide for me but he refused and that made me angry.

Thinking back, I am now glad that he did not decide for me; I would have blamed him if I was unhappy!

What really helped was talking to women who had been through it all and recovered.

External support

Every woman that I spoke with gave me their honest opinion which produced a lot of strength and positivity. It was because of them that I decided that I would have double mastectomy and expenders.

This option meant that I did not require radiation. Moreover, being diagnosed so early meant that I did not require chemotherapy either. Having reconstruction at the same time helped me with my feminism and my personal image.

Yes, the decision was radical but I felt that my prognosis would be better for it, as I have a long bucket list still to fulfil (lol).

The message I want to convey to every woman is: “Early detection is the best prevention. Don’t wait for symptoms but get your screening done when due. If any symptoms or any family history, earlier screening is recommended.”

Rekha Singh is a Practising Nurse Manager at Eastside Family Doctors based at 96-988 Ti Rakau Drive, Pakuranga, Auckland.

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