Four-time cancer survivor tells her story

MF Books publisher Melinda Ferguson, Lauren Segal and former editor of Marie Claire, Jackie May.

Most people have been touched in some way by cancer. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is a fitting time to launch a book on the topic.

Held at the Book Lounge on Tuesday October 10, packed with supporters and cancer non-profit organisations, Lauren Segal, author of Cancer: A Love Story, is more than experienced to write on the topic of cancer as she is a four-time cancer survivor. Cancer occurs when abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue.

This Johannesburg wife, mother to two children and author’s first liaison with the disease was a melanoma in her thigh at age 23.

In 2012 she was diagnosed with Stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ, basically breast cancer. Aged 45, her children, aged 9 and 13, she and husband Jonny decided she should undergo a bilateral mastectomy after painful hours of soul-searching.

They believed that removal of both breasts would put an end to the “future rhythms” of her life and prevent it from being dictated by scans and endless investigations. This was not to be.

Two years later, on June 24, 2014, what she thought was scar tissue was in fact a malignant breast tumour – the cancer had spread to her chest wall.

At the book launch, MF Books publisher, Melinda Ferguson, introduced Lauren and her book, describing it as a book beyond brilliant. “An excavation of cancer and of life and how it changes your life,” she said.

In conversation with freelance writer, journalist and former editor of Marie Claire magazine, Jackie May, Lauren’s “shit show” of 18 bouts of chemotherapy, forced menopause, needle phobia, a love of life and her family and community and a journey of self were all discussed.

During the second liaison with breast cancer, Lauren realised she could survive and saw it as an opportunity. She turned to writing, hoping her confusion would untangle and help to navigate through the disease while also informing others.

In her story she includes emails and lists; Lauren is good at lists, not for shopping or to-do, but her attempt to streamline questions and confusion and to help her select and prioritise her next steps.

Her first list of 10 injunctions are around “living as if you were to die the next day”.

Over the last two years, since finishing her cancer treatments, she has become involved with cancer advocacy work through the Breast Health Foundation which is a member of the Cancer

She said one in eight women in South Africa will be diagnosed with breast cancer and that many more of these women will die than in America because of late stage presentation of the disease.

“This is partly as a result of lack of awareness, fear of cancer, a shortage of diagnostic tools, and lack of access to treatment. Some women are so afraid of the disease that they arrive at the breast clinic with their tumours having grown through their skin. One woman said she had sought help from the church for treatment and they had administered enemas for what turned out to be a Stage 4 tumour,” said Lauren.

Two years have passed since she wrote the last chapter. In September 2015 she had a melanoma on her upper arm.

Lauren has co-authored five books ,One Law One Nation; Great Lives, Pivotal Moments; Mapping Memories; Number Four; the Making of Constitution Hill and Soweto: A History and is a partner of Trace, a design and exhibition company. MF Books is an imprint of Jacana.

Look out for a review of Cancer: A Love Story in a future edition of this paper.

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