Cancer survivors share stories

Breast cancer survivors, Joan Morkel and Elizabeth Mentor.

Reach for Recovery marked the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a pink-themed party where survivors shared their stories.

The event took place on Thursday October 31 at the Cape Peninsula’s branch in Mowbray.

Joan Morkel, 68, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2016 after she felt a sudden pain in her breast while watching television. She thought it was a very strange pain and immediately booked a doctor’s appointment for the next day after also feeling a lump. “My doctor arranged a mammogram where they found the lump.”

Ms Morkel from Ottery, had a lumpectomy – surgery to remove the breast cancer tumour – on August 15 that year and went for chemotherapy for six weeks after that. “I had a friend who took me for chemo every day and sat with me for three to four hours and another friend would come and cook for me and that’s how I got through the chemo.”

Ms Morkel said radiation followed after a short break for another six weeks and she has been cancer-free since then. She does however, suffer from lymphedema, which is an abnormal swelling that can develop in the arm, hand, breast, or torso as a side effect of breast cancer surgery and/or radiation therapy.

“I do my exercises regularly and have a sleeve which helps drain the lymph fluid and reduces swelling.”

Ms Morkel said she could only thank God for still being here today and for getting her through that period in her life.

Reach for Recovery chairwoman, Carla Lind, went for her yearly check-up with her gynaecologist in November 2011 when she insisted Ms Lind go for a mammogram as she was turning 50 that year.

She only managed to get an appointment at the end of February 2012 but thought nothing of it, as it was just a “routine” check-up. “When the radiologist said the doctor wanted to do another ultrasound, I became concerned. I was sent to Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital for a fine needle biopsy the following week and was diagnosed on March 8 2012 with micro-calcification that had gone cancerous,” she said.

Ms Lind had a sentinel node biopsy (a surgical procedure used to determine whether cancer has spread) the day before her mastectomy, followed by a bi-lateral simple mastectomy in April 2012 where her breasts were removed.

“Although I only had cancer in my right breast there was a lot of calcification present in my left breast and the team consisting of the surgeon, oncologist, plastic surgeon and radiologist, motivated to the panel of doctors of the medical aid that cancer would most likely also develop in my left breast at a later stage and it was better to have a bi-lateral mastectomy.”

Ms Lind said cancer and the possibility of dying from it changed her outlook on life.

“I have made changes to my diet and try to do at least 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. I have cut down on enjoying a glass of wine (research has shown a link in women and breast cancer) and on sugar. I do believe everything in moderation and a healthy eating and exercise regime is good for fighting any disease.”

Reach for Recovery is a group of women who have undergone surgery as a result of breast cancer and who have been selected and trained to visit patients in state and private hospitals.

They give practical and emotional support as well as a relevant information pack to patients in hospital or at a home visit.

They meet once a month at the Cape Peninsula branch in Mowbray. For more information, log on to www.reach4recovery.org.za/ or call Ms Lind on 084 990 6656.