Preparing for Treatment: The Long & the Short of It!

It is absolutely imperative that you thoroughly understand the particular treatment recommended for you. Make very sure you know both the benefits and the side-effects.

The initial anxiety surrounding the immediate effects of treatment can often distract us from properly listening to and understanding the long-term effects of the treatment being explained to us. Two examples, used by The Cancer Lifeline Programme, are:

  1. One woman was thinking about what the chemotherapy would do to her nails, hair and energy levels. “Will I still be able to work? Will I be able to properly care for my children?” And amidst this hurricane of worries, she may miss the fact that chemotherapy could potentially cause sterility.
  2. Another woman was worried about the Tamoxifen causing possible weight-gain – and didn’t take in the fact that Tamoxifen also carries a 5 – 10% risk of triggering endometrial cancer.

Though knowing each and every postive AND negative of one’s recommended treatment is daunting (understatement?), it is still infinitely more positive and empowering in the long run. Knowing the flip-side of the coin gives you time to mentally, practically and physically prepare for a worst case scenario — instead of it catching you off-guard and unprepared!

TREATMENT TIP #1: schedule two separate chats with your doctor:

  • one about the short-term effects, and describing – step by step – what it will be like for you to progress through the treatment
  • the other about the possible long-term side-effects of treatment

TREATMENT TIP #2: Google with caution!



Article: Knowledge is Key, Says Breast Cancer Survivor




{ adapted by kind courtesy of the Cancer Lifeline Programme, Dr Rosy Daniel of Health Creation }


Advocates for Breast Cancer - Dr Rosy Daniel - Integrated Medicine


TREATMENT: Preparing for It

For the rest of this  month, we’ll be looking at treatment: preparing for it, understanding it, living with it, coping with it. And today we’ll be looking at why it is so crucial to establish firm, positive and open relationships with your doctors – and how to go about doing this!




  1. It will give you peace of mind and a stable platform of security
  2. Ditto for your family and supportive friends!
  3. Your right to receive ample time, care and attention from your doctors will be embraced, met and respected
  4. Being treated like an equal (and placed at the centre!) within your medical team will empower you!

And here are the HOW’s of setting up the very best relationship with your doctors: 


  1. Tell them how you, as a unique individual, are viewing your specific situation
  2. Explain the ways in which you are choosing to deal with your situation
  3. Make sure they understand how much information you want to be given
  4. Tell them how hard you want to fight your cancer and to what medical lengths are you prepared to go
  5. You have a right to choose not to have medical treatment — or to stop the treatment you are already having
  6. Explain how you are feeling about your situation. Terrified? Numb? Hopeful? Downright peeved?
  7. Tell the how you are coping – or not coping, for that matter!
  8. Ask your doctor to be tolerant of the healthcare choices YOU are making



Advocates for Breast Cancer - Patient-centred Treatment


So what if you’ve already found yourself stuck in a patient-doctor relationship that makes you feel even more vulnerable and downright uncomfortable than you need to be? One option would be to try and ‘start over’ with your doctor by sitting down with them and explaining all of the above to them. (TIP: jot down the points you want to make on a piece of paper to take with you to the doctor.) The second option is to stand on your right to be referred to a different doctor. You are entitled to go back to your GP and ask for a referral!

Finally – your aim is:
  • to get all the information you feel you need about your situation
  • to be given time (and allow yourself time!) to digest, understand and respond to it
  • make informed consent to treatment
  • prepare yourself for treatment
  • embark upon your treatment feeling fully confident that YOU have picked the very best course of action for YOU!


{ Inspired by the Cancer Lifeline Programme, Dr Rosy Daniel of Health Creation }


Advocates for Breast Cancer - Dr Rosy Daniel - Integrated Medicine


I Have Cancer & This is What I Need You to Know

i have cancer_lynn edwards

The presentation of some evidence-based ideas on the pathway to optimistic care and support of those with advanced breast cancer. By LB Edwards (August 2015)

These ideas are based on the research findings of 3 studies (2 International surveys and one local (SA) qualitative research project):

Count Us, Know Us, (2013). Join Us Advanced Breast Cancer Survey, Harris Interactive,. (Read here.)

•Mayer M., Hunis A., Oratz.R., Glennon, C., Spicer, P., Caplan, E., & Fallowfield, L. (2010). Living with metastatic breast cancer: a global patient survey. Community Oncology. Sept 2010 (406-412)

PLWC Cancer Advocacy Research Project (2014). Pv 41, Pv 58, Pv 130 , Pv 131, Pv 132, Pv 137. PLWC National Photovoice Project: ABC focus Group. Edwards L & Greeff L (Eds.) PLWC CT South Africa.

Water Your Own Garden: Ten Facts


How and Why to Take Charge of YOUR Recovery!

Advocates for Breast Cancer_Integrated Medicine


We’ve collected together these 10 FACTS to calm, empower and encourage you. Read them when you feel frightened, discouraged or lost!


FACT ONE: Cancer is a two-way process: it can grow – but it can also shrink or go into remission.

FACT TWO: People have recovered from every single kind of cancer and are living to tell the tale!

FACT THREE: A healthy body has detection and repair mechanisms for cancer cells.

Maintaining the optimum possible health of your body + mind + spirit + environment = assists in the repair process and boosts your natural anti-cancer mechanisms naturally present in your body.

FACT FOUR: There are many factors and options (aside from orthodox medicine) over which YOU have primary control and which may affect your survival time with cancer. YOU can empower YOURSELF: explore and experiment with these different options to see which best fits in with your unique personality, lifestyle and cancer-type!

FACT FIVE: Your personal response to cancer can make a huge difference to both your quality of life and your survival.

FACT SIX: You are a unique individual — and statistics never apply to individuals! Nobody knows your particular survival time with your particular kind of cancer – especially once you become active in your own defence.

All of the conventional statistics are historical and most likely based on results of people who remained entirely passive, using medicine treatment alone to combat their cancer!

FACT SEVEN: You should see your conventional treatment as ONE component only of your cancer recovery plan — and become actively involved in your recovery process.

FACT EIGHT: It is vital that you do not rely too much on the effectiveness of your medical treatment alone to “cure” you of cancer. Choose to turn your back on the passive patient role and proactively & self-assuredly join forces with your medical team! (Notice the word ‘team’? You are your BEST cheerleader!)

FACT NINE: It is you and not your doctors who are in overall charge of your situation.

FACT TEN: Many people who have chosen to embark on a holistic healing approach end up saying that they are ultimately GLAD they had cancer because they are now feeling more content, self-assured, happier, healthier and more alive than ever before.


{ Adapted  from the Cancer Lifeline Programme, Dr Rosy Daniel of Health Creation }


Advocates for Breast Cancer - Dr Rosy Daniel - Integrated Medicine

Biopsy Basics: HER2 Positive

HER2-Positive Breast Cancer is one that tests positive for a protein called “human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) which causes cancer cells to grow.

Advocates for Breast Cancer - HER2 positive breast cancer
{We were unable to find the original sources of the two images we used. Please let us know if you do so we can attribute them accordingly.}
  • Approximately 1 out of every 5 breast cancers possess cancer cells which have a gene mutation which produces an excess of the HER2 protein
  • HER2 is more aggressive than other types of breast cancer.
  • HER2 breast cancers are not sensitive to hormone therapy – but many people with HER2-positive breast are still able to benefit from hormone therapy.

Excellently effective treatments for HER2-positive breast cancer are those that specifically target HER2 (see below). They are so effective, in fact, that the prognosis for HER2 is really positive!

Another light at the end of the treatment tunnel is the constant development of new medications, a number of which are currently undergoing clinical trials!


Even though some standard chemotherapy drugs don’t specifically target the HER2 protein, they can also be effective in the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancers.


When breast cancer recurs or spreads (metastatis), the cancer cells must be retested for hormone receptor status and HER2 because change in the cancer cells can very possibly evolve from the original diagnosis.


If medical jargon doesn’t sound like Chinese to you and you’d like to dig a little deeper into this topic, here is a great website which gives quite in-depth explanations (with images) about what breast cancer tissues look like under the microscope: HISTOLOGICAL DESCRIPTONS OF INVASIVE BREAST CANCERS by Dr Steven Halls, MD, FRCPC — a Canadian radiologist who designed a Breast Cancer Risk Calculator  and specialises in breast cancer research and oncologic imaging,  mammography, breast cancer biopsies, staging and follow-up scanning.  (NB: Whilst Google is a phenomenal source of information and online support, we always suggest that great caution be used when info-hunting. Always check out your findings with your medical team! )

This is a wonderfully frank, honest and real website called HER2 Support which is maintained by and for patients, caregivers, mothers, daughters, sons and husbands of breast cancer survivors who are HER2 positive. ‘We gather here to seek information about the illness. Here you will find newly diagnosed patients and long term survivors willing to share their experiences and knowledge.’

BIOPSY BASICS: What a Biopsy Reveals

Advocates for Breast Cancer: Biopsy Basics

In our last blog we explained what a biopsy is, the 3 different kinds of biopsy that can be performed – as well as what to expect if you are going to have one done. But what exactly will the doctor be looking for when the results come through?

From an advocacy aspect, the same diagnostic tools are used in both the Public and Private sector in South Africa – and a management decision is made by a team of specialists using all the information they can get. eg. (This will include the size of the tumour and whether it has moved into the lymph system.)

If the biopsy results show the presence of cancer, the doctor will also be able to see exactly what kind of breast cancer you have. And because there are so many different types of breast cancer, a wide variety of treatment options are available.

In terms of our goal of lobbying government to create an implement an effective and equitable BREAST HEALTH POLICY, this is an important fact to note: malaria or TB are ‘single’/simple diseases which only need one kind of treatment — thus making them more ‘affordable’ diseases for the government to manage, as opposed to the complex — and expensive — variety of breast cancer treatments!

The biopsy results help the surgeon and the oncologist to decide on the right treatment for the right patient at the right time. Tumours can be separated into 4 main types based on their ‘histological’ type (i.e. the type of tissue where the cancer originates), the grade of tumour (how fast it is growing) and whether the breast cancer cells have receptors for the hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. These hormone receptors are proteins (found in and on breast cells) which pick up hormone ‘signals’, telling the cells to grow.

Therefore, a cancer is called oestrogen-receptor-positive (ER+) if it has receptors for oestrogen. A cancer is progesterone-receptor-positive (PR+) if it has progesterone receptors. This means: cancer cells can receive signals from hormones which could make them grow faster.

***FACT: about 2 out of every 3 breast cancers test positive for hormone receptors.***

Her-2-neu Oncogene: A biopsy will also tell the doctor about the cancer’s Her-2-neu oncogene status — i.e. if there is a genetic link to the type of cancer you have. (Watch the video below for an excellent visual summary of Her-2-neu.)


Guest post by Dr Judith Whittaker, consulting pathologist.

Dr Judith Whittaker - Oncologist