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What a Chemotion…

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What a Chemotion… by Babette Labuschagne.
Chemo…
The type of cancer I have can only be treated with chemotherapy. There is no other way… yet.
All I knew about chemo therapy was what I’ve seen in the movies.
Hair loss, weight loss, fatigue, nausea…
“Babette, are you getting the Red Devil?”
“You’re probably getting that red devil one.”
Red Devil? What is the Red Devil?
I always thought Chemo was just… you know… Chemo.
But it’s not… there are different types of chemo that treat different types of cancer… and with my luck… I got one of the worst ones… this Red Devil everyone kept telling me about and to add to my already worrying mind… remove weight loss as a side effect and please add weight gain, just to piss me off a little bit more, thank you.
4 Rounds Red Devil.
12 Rounds Taxol.
That was my treatment plan. 6 months.
This red thing is so bad, I had to get an operation where they implanted a chemo port under my collar bone because they don’t want my arteries to burn and collapse.
There is nowhere you can turn to when you hear you’re going to get chemo.
“I can’t say… everybody reacts differently”
And please don’t Dr Google! 🤦🏻‍♀️
Also, I found that in some support groups, people can just end up scaring you…
So you just have to live through it.
So there I was, in the middle of Level 5 lockdown, on my own, getting my first ever Red Devil. Crying… crying… crying.
I am sure the chemo nurse (whom I truly now see as one of my besties) thought I was a little overreacting.
For me chemo felt like a really bad hangover… like I drank everything from white wine to downing a bottle of Jägermeister. And yes, you also only realize you poisoned yourself the next morning.
My scalp really hurt… then…
My hair fell out. (ALL of it… More on that, later)
I was nauseous but I never got sick.
Loss of appetite.
Stomach cramps.
Weight Gain.
My body ached.
I was really tired.
My nails hurt and discolored a little.
My gums started bleeding once or twice.
I lost my period.
And oh my… those hot flushes. (I once had to run out of Dischem to Woolworths to go and stand next to the fridge)
My skin dried out.
I got a rash on my arm.
Muscle weakness.
Tired. Tired. Tired.
But oh yes, I will do it again. If I have to. Probably…

I didn’t sleep that night… the night I heard I have cancer…

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I didn’t sleep that night… the night I heard I have cancer… by Babette Labuschagne.
“Are they going to remove my breasts?” “Chemo???” “My hair is going to fall out, if I have options I don’t want Chemo” “What if they only remove one breast?”
I met with Dr Lucienne van Schalkwyk the day after my diagnosis. I immediately liked her and knew I was in great hands.
“Babette, the cancer you have can only be treated with Chemo”
“….” No…, my hair… am I going to lose my hair?
“Yes”
“After 6months of chemo we’ll have to do surgery”
“…..” my breasts… but I like my breasts…
“Both breasts? I don’t want one fake breast” “I don’t want fake breasts”
“I would recommend doing both breasts, like Angelina Jolie did, for prevention.”
“Yeah that’s probably better”
My anxiety would kill me day and night…
During treatment I’ve mourned my breasts every single day. I’ve never been a “fake” type of person.
Yes sure, I’ve had hair extensions, and I wear make up… but I’ve never felt I’ve needed botox or fillers… I’ve never felt the need for a “boob job”.
This diagnoses immediately robbed me from every single thing that made me feel feminine and sexy. I still cry about this every day.
I am a single woman… the worst thoughts I struggled with was “who would want someone with big scars on their breasts…?” Turns out, some really great guys don’t mind them at all!
And as I am typing this I have little hair, no eyebrows, no lashes and waiting for them to remove my breasts.
My hair will grow back, my eyebrows and lashes will grow in.
But my breasts… they’ll be gone forever… and fake.
I get angry when I read and hear people telling me it’s an “amputation” of my breasts. It’s such a harsh way to describe it. It hurts.
I felt this torn up about them until one of my friends told me this..
“Babette, your “fake boobs” will be the most authentic part of your body, because you fought the biggest fight to win them. They will be a sign that you’ve conquered something terrible.”
I now choose to see it this way.
I can’t even imagine what it must feel like not to have the option of reconstruction. To be left with nothing but scars. I applaud all the women living or choosing this. Please never feel ashamed of your scars, you got them because you’ve battled in war.

Being newly diagnosed with Breast Cancer was frightening and really really alone

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Being newly diagnosed with Breast Cancer was frightening and really really alone, by Babette Labuschagne.
I’ve known one other person who had breast cancer. He was a great friend of mine that was diagnosed at 18. I haven’t spoken to him in years, although I’ve held him close to my heart all this time. (Yes men can get breast cancer too)
I didn’t know who to turn to. What to expect. It felt really alone. I had support. I had my family and close friends, but none of them understood.
My doctor said: “Babette, I can tell you what the side effects are, I can tell you you’re going to lose your hair, you’re going to be nauseous, but I can’t tell you how this will make you feel. I can’t tell you what emotions you’re going to experience because I haven’t been through it”
So where could I turn? There aren’t a lot of women that speak about it that I’ve seen.
I found comfort in google. I searched “Celebrities with breast cancer” and I read their stories and what they are doing to help with awareness.
Here are a few celebs with breast cancer:
Kylie Minogue
Christina Applegate
Giuliana Rancic
Sheryl Crow
Cynthia Nixon
Olivia Newton John
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Carly Simon
Dame Maggie Smith
Suzanne Somers
Kathy Bates
Reading their stories gave me hope, but also made me realize that its not weird for me to have it. Kylie Minogue had breast cancer at 36! The same kind as me! And look how beautiful and strong she is today, 14 years later!!
It’s because of this search that I decided to speak out. To tell all of you how I am feeling and what I am experiencing.
There are a lot of us out there… you never have to feel alone.

Why me? What did I do to deserve cancer?

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Why me? What did I do to deserve cancer?

“Babette, the word carcinoma on this paper means it’s cancer, it’s definitely cancer, do you understand?”

Is turns out, I have infiltrating ductal carcinoma… I know right? What!?

It’s triple negative…. What?!

And it’s grade 3.

“What’s the difference between grade and stage? Am I going to die?”

All these big words started flying at me… and all I could think was. “I can’t have cancer! That doesn’t happen to me.” “She probably has someone else’s results” “maybe the lab mixed it up”

“Cancer”

“What’s happening?”  “Why am I crying so profusely?” “Is this really happening?” “Am I dreaming?” “Can’t stop crying”

Infiltrating ductal means that the cancer started in my milk duct. Triple negative means that it’s not influenced by hormones and grade 3 means it’s aggressive, she explained.

Omw… I thought cancer is just cancer… but it’s not!!? There are different types of breast cancers that respond to different kinds of hormones (or not, in my case)

“But Babette”, she said, “usually if cancer is aggressive and classified as grade 3 it means 20% of the cells are duplicating. 90% of your cells are duplicating.”

“What? Why me? Did I do something wrong? Maybe it’s that cigarette I smoked at that one party… I ate McDonalds last week. Can it be my deodorant?” “I should definitely cut sugar.”

“What did I do to deserve this?”

I kept on thinking that… I did something wrong. My whole life has been one trauma after another. I must’ve done something wrong. But What?

I didn’t. You don’t walk into chemo and stare at the people wondering what they did to deserve cancer? Why do it to yourself? It has been my biggest lesson. To love myself enough to have compassion towards me. To be kind to myself too.

The tumor measured at 19.6 x 14.6 x 19.4mm. I’ve only had cancer for a few weeks. It’s growing very rapidly.

The doctors don’t really understand how I picked it up so early. They said that woman usually only feel the lumps at between 5 and 8cm!!

“How did I get this lucky!? Am I lucky?” “. I have breast cancer at 32”

“Babette, it’s just a boob. You don’t think with your boob, you don’t see with your boob, you don’t taste or smell with your boob, it’s just a boob”

“But it’s my boob” “It’s my femininity”

We needed to act quick. She already made me an appointment at my breast surgeon, Lucienne van Schalkwyk, to discuss my treatment options.

“Am I going to get Chemo????!!!!”

High Risk Factors for Breast Cancer you can’t control:

Being a woman
Age
Dense Breasts
Reproductive History
Family History of Breast or Ovarian Cancer
Generic Mutations
Personal History of Breast Cancer or other Breast Diseases

High Risk Factors for Breast Cancer you can control:

Exercise
Being overweight / Obese
Taking hormones
Reproductive History
Excessive Alcohol Consumption

 

What not to say to someone that has been diagnosed with breast cancer

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What not to say to someone that has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The No-Nos

At least youre getting a free boob job. 

No. Not everyone wants implants. I loved my boobs. They weren’t big, but they were my boobs and I enjoyed the time I had with them. Its a part of my body I am losing. I am mourning my boobs. It’s not just a free boob job. 

My aunt had breast cancer. She died. 

Ok. I might die too. I might suffer the terrible symptoms that your aunt did before she passed. I get that you are probably mourning, and I am sorry for your loss. A soldier doesn’t want to hear about the casualties. Please think before you blurt out the bad news.

You brought this onto yourself. 

I am already remembering everything I might’ve done wrong in the past. Was it because I had a sigarette? Was it because of the weight I gained? Was it all the zero sugar diet drinks? 

Exactly how do you think I did this? I am questioning what I’ve done every single day. I am too hard on myself. Don’t make this harder for me. Nothing I did made me deserve this. 

It’s (insert name here) fault you got breast cancer 

Getting cancer is nobody’s fault. It’s not the ex boyfriend that broke your heart, or because you don’t like your mother in law. It’s not your dog jumping to hard on your chest because he was too excited to see you!  Don’t make me feel resentment towards people and things I know and love. 

Don’t do chemo! Go the natural route 

Do you want me to die? I am choosing the best option for me. There are different grades of how aggressive a cancer might be. If my life wasn’t at risk, I would’ve probably tried it, but please don’t question my treatment plan that was created by doctors that have studied this for years. They are saving my life. 

You still look pretty.

Once is ok. But please don’t try and force me to believe this. I know you mean this well. And I probably do still look “pretty” to you. I just don’t feel it or believe it. I have lost my hair, my eyebrows, my lashes, my breasts and my identity. I’ve picked up weight because of the chemo and the cortisone is giving me a moon face. I don’t feel pretty, I feel bloated, fat and ugly. 

In accordance with dating after cancer: “You’re in the high risk dating category now”

That’s great! Thank you for letting me know I now have a smaller chance on meeting someone who will love me. Trust me this is not true. I’ve met someone while in treatment and when I am done I might even have a slimmer chance of reoccurrence than the woman you’re dating now. 

Nothing. 

I know it’s awkward and you don’t know what to say. After being diagnosed casual acquaintances have become close friends, and close friends have dried out. Cancer has a way of showing you who really has your back.

The Do’s

Speak from the heart. 

Just tell me you love me, that you’re sorry or thinking of me. It’ll be a perfect response to my diagnosis. Hugs are wonderful, and telling me you’re bringing pizza or chocolates will give you brownie points. 

Offer help. 

Oh my word. This will really be so helpful. Instead of saying “Let me know if you need something” try suggesting specific tasks. 

Examples:

Take me wig shopping. Fetch the kids from school. Bring dinner over on Tuesday night. Join me for my next chemo session. 

Please tell me about your worries and problems. 

Having cancer is all consuming. I am not only thinking about it 24/7 but I am constantly being asked about it. I also need a break and I am still your friend. I want to know how you’re doing too. 

Thank you!

The Week I found out I had Cancer 

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The Week I found out I had Cancer

On 1 April 2020  I felt a lump in my breast. Everyone was in lockdown, but because of my anxiety I asked a nurse at dischem to do a breast examination. 

We don’t have cancer in our family, I didn’t know what to look out for or how a lump “should” feel. 

The nurse said she was a little bit worried because the lump was hard.

They sent me to radiology at Unitas Hospital in Centurion, South Africa. 

They did a sonar. 

The doctor there was supporting and very loving. I felt safe. 

It’s a daunting experience and very invasive. Everyone is touching and looking and pulling and it gets uncomfortable. These people are trained professionals that deals with a lot of women. Try and remain calm, but please remember that your safety comes first and if you are feeling disrespected or feel that someone might harm you, you are always allowed to ask for another doctor. 

Then she got this look on her face. “Usually benign lumps are round with round edges, your lump has rough edges, but it’s nothing to worry about… yet” 

We did a mamogram and a biopsy straight after. 

Even more uncomfortable! 

I remember at one stage it felt like my soul left my body, and I just surrendered in order for them to do what they need to. 

What a stressful week. I was dating a new guy, I was a student with dreams. What if? What if I have cancer? It can’t be though, we don’t have cancer in our family, only 20% of biopsy lumps are cancer, and only 20% of cancerous lumps are in woman under 50. I’ll be fine! Google… And repeat…

 I was stressing so much that the new guy thought I was seeing someone else and he dumped me. It was either that or he didn’t want to deal with a cancer girl… I felt alone and really really scared. It’s important to find support in times like these. I got comfort from my family and friends that went through similar experiences. Remember that people do have their own lives, they don’t know you’re going through a bad time if you don’t tell them. I realized that some people will drop everything to support you. Your support structure will be your saving grace! 

My gynecologist phoned the next morning: “Babette, it’s Karen Minnaar. I got your biopsy results back can you come see me  as soon as possible?” 

My heart sank, I knew. “Off course I will be there, is it bad news?” 

“Let’s discuss it when you get here”

“I know we are in lockdown, but will I be able to bring my mom with me”

“Yes, bring her with you, definitely bring her with you” 

What to expect during a breast examination: 

    • The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and determine if you have any high risk factors. 
    • Examine your breasts and lymph nodes from your color bone down and under your armpits. 
    • Check the skin on your breasts
    • Look at your nipples for any changes such as invertion or discharge. 

Here are a few things to look for when doing a breast exam: 

    • Lumps or thickening that feel different or harder than the rest or other breast
    • Nipple Discharge 
    • Skin changes: Redness, Dimpling, Itchiness, scaling or puckering 
    • Inverted Nipple

Hi I am Babette!

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Hi I am Babette!

In partnership with The M Store, we want to support and educate woman about breast cancer, not only in prevention and early detection, but with what to expect in the different stages of your treatment plan.

We want to empower you with knowledge and compassion, to know what options you might have and to make the right decisions for you.

All of us are diagnosed differently. Our treatment plans might not be the same. Some of us are early stage while some have metastasized. This road is lonely for all of us. We hope to be a beacon of comfort and support in those times.

More about me:

Age: 33

Diagnosed on: 08 April 2020

Diagnosed with: Early stage invasive ductal carcinoma – Triple Negative

Treatment Plan: 4 x AC Chemo, 12 x Taxol. (Neoadjuvent) Double Nipple Sparing Mastectomy

These past couple of months has changed my life, and as many of you know, it feels like a second chance.

I am passionate about people and appreciate love and kindness.

I am not a doctor and I don’t know everything, but I am human being going through a tough time.

I am proud and so excited for you to get to know me and to share my experience with you.

Sending love and light

B xx

 

Choosing The Correct Post Mastectomy Bra

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The most common error in fitting is choosing a loose bra band in the name of comfort and a small cup size in the name of modesty.  This actually results in a poorly fitted bra and most importantly, a very uncomfortable one. 

A mastectomy bra, apart from supporting the natural breast tissue is required to house the breast prostheses securely. A poorly fitted bra can severely effect how comfortable it is to wear your breast prosthesis.

The following are key tips for evaluating your bra fit. Evaluate each of the component of the bra according. I recommend that you do this while standing in front of a mirror.

CUPS:  if there are wrinkles or an excess of fabric in the cup area, the cup size is too big.  Breast tissue should be fully contained within the cup to give a smooth, natural silhouette.  If there are visible bulges at the top or sides, or if some breast tissue shows at the front or underarm, then the cup size is too small.  You may also want to choose a bra style with a higher front section to contain the entire breast tissue.

BACK: one very common problem is with the back of the bra riding up or the sides feeling loose; in this case, the band size is too big.  The band of the bra should stay comfortably in place, parallel to the floor.

BAND: a properly fitted bra will feel comfortably snug, yet allow sufficient room to breathe and to slip a finger between your skin and the bra band.  If the bottom band digs in, your band size might be too small.  A common mistake we see often is women wearing bras with a narrow bra band – the wider the bra band the less pressure will be placed over the chest wall. This is also an important tip for women who had a number lymph nodes removed. 

Try securing the bra at the loosest hook & eye adjustment or change the bra band size for a larger one.  If the bra moves constantly, the band is too big.  We often think a loose bra is more comfortable but it’s actually the opposite; if the bra is comfortably snug, you will forget you are even wearing one! 

The bra band further plays an important role in supporting the weight of the breast prostheses – correctly fitted, the weight should not rest on your shoulders but on the bra band.

STRAPS:  If the straps are digging into your shoulders, the bottom band of your bra is probably too big and is not supporting you properly.  Try a smaller band size.  On the other hand, the bottom band could also be too small if the straps are slipping down your shoulders. 

The straps can loosen during the day or after washing, and you should ensure they are adjusted properly first.  Remember, it’s the bottom band of the bra that is mostly supporting your breasts and your prosthesis; the straps are there to keep the breast tissue or breast prosthesis close to the chest, not drooping down.  

You can also try bras with wider or cushioned straps.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any bra fitting problems. You can reach me on info@themstore.co.za ; alternatively locater the closest M Store branch to you and let one of our certified fitters assist you in finding the perfect fit.

Let’s talk soon!

Cindy.

The M Store – Certified Fitter

First Fitting Experience by an Cindy Eriksen-Miller

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For women who have undergone surgery for breast cancer, the first fitting of a breast prosthesis can often be another stressful experience that they hadn’t accounted for. However this need not be the case as there are any number of wonderful professional mastectomy fitters and boutiques such as The M Store available. They  can advise and guide the woman through this process to help them find the right prosthesis. 

We recently spoke to a fitter, Cindy Eriksen-Miller from the M store Hilton, Kwa Zulu Natal. They have been supporting women with breast cancer for the past 4 years . We sat down with her to help us answer some of the more common questions that many women have in relation to their first fitting. 

Why should I go to a professional fitter?

It is important to go to an experienced and properly trained breast care fitter who will measure you correctly.  A professionally trained mastectomy fitter will have received specific training in fitting post-surgery bras and breast prostheses. She will understand that the two (bras & breast prostheses) go hand in hand and need to be fitted at the same time. 

They will also understand the varying nature of breast surgeries and will be able to advise on best-fit products and possible consequences following breast surgery. An ill-fitting bra can cause back and neck strain which can result in chronic long-term pain. Ill filling prostheses and bras affect women’s comfort and confidence, causing clothes and jewellery to pull to one side, just to give one example.

I have recently learned I require breast surgery, how can a fitter help me?

It is best to be properly measured before your surgery in order to get a comfortable medium support bra to see you through the post-surgery stage and even the treatment (especially radiotherapy) phase when comfort is a priority. A fitter will be able to advise on the best bra to suit your size, surgery type and personal preferences. A properly fitted post-surgery bra will be more comfortable and will help in restoring confidence.

How soon after my surgery can I be fitted for a prosthesis?

For fitting a more natural feeling silicon prostheses, it is important to let wounds heal and allow the swelling to subside completely to ensure the best long term fit. This is usually 6 to 8 weeks after surgery.

There are however immediate post operative prostheses that is reshaped and is made from fibrefill. This will assist with reducing swelling and provide you with breast symmetry.

Do I need to book an appointment?

Most fitters advise people to make an appointment so that you have adequate time to try on different styles and not feel rushed. Bring a form fitting top in a plain colour for the final fit, allowing you to observe your resulting beautiful shape and symmetry.

I am still body conscious following my surgery, is the fitting clinic discreet?

Absolutely, our private fitting rooms are behind a closed door with a private changing area within. The fitter is there to measure you and select the best items for you. She can assist you in choosing or leave you to choose alone. Our service is totally confidential. This is standard practice for all fitters.

Is it ok for me to bring a friend/sister/daughter along with me?

Yes. This can be a great support.

How long does a fitting normally take?

We advise allowing an hour, which gives plenty of time to look at lots of options and styles and to try them on. We believe in choice and selection.

Do I need to wear a special bra with my prosthesis?

Yes, mastectomy bras have pockets which hold the prosthesis securely and comfortably in place against the chest wall. This allows free and confident movement. There is a wide range of styles and colours to choose from.

How do I look after my prosthesis?

You will look like yourself again no matter if your breast surgery was conservative or extensive. You will be able to wear most or all of our clothes so don’t give away your low cuts or body hugging dresses! We have lots of tips and tricks to help with all surgery types.

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