Tanya Keevy says when your back is against the wall you can either fall apart or you can give it your best. I chose to give it my best!
Do you have a story to tell? Watch this video to discover just how powerful this initiative is. Click on this link to submit your photograph and story. We want to hear from you. And – by telling your story, you will be adding your voice to the collective shout in raising the national and international awareness that is needed to shake the truth from the trees: South Africa’s people urgently need an equitable and effective breast health policy!
Warning: some of the language is a little explicit, but we think the video is well worth watching.
THE QUESTION I ASK IS:
DO YOU THINK LIFE CHANGES AFTER BEING DIAGNOSED WITH ANY FORM OF CANCER?
This is my story of Faith Love and Hope. Without these three I don’t know how I would have handled every situation that came my way in the form of cancer.
The word cancer was never mentioned or heard of in our family or generations before us. But in the year 1992 the first blow came and the youngest of seven children who was also my twin sister was told she had breast cancer. This shocked the whole family she was only 37 at the time with two children at school. How can this be and why? I think when one does get cancer these are the questions that taunt us.
She had to undergo a complete mastectomy but no treatment. We could not understand this. Two years down the line the cancer had spread to her lungs and she fought a hard battle right to the end. To see her suffer this way was not easy for us as a family. She never got to see her daughter matriculate and son finish school.
Just before her 40th birthday she passed away, struggling to breathe. The night she died, my nephew who had had a brain tumour removed, came out of his coma. He was a young father with twin boys aged 4 and a wife. We all had mixed emotions: both sadness and joy, but all mindful of a sister we had just lost.
My twin’s love for God never wavered and not once did she complain. I realised then that I needed to get my priorities right I went to church but that was all and I thought it was ok. Greg (my nephew) did not have it easy after that and he battled along, he always had a joke to tell no matter how he felt and in 2001 he too passed away. Greg was the eldest son to my eldest brother.
In 1999 my life took a change and my love for God grew in leaps and bounds and I knew that God had a plan and purpose for me, not knowing from now on the word Cancer would be part of my life. In 2005 my brother-in law and I were both diagnosed with a cancer and sadly he passed away five months later.
When I was told I had cancer in April of 2005 I could not believe it. Who me? An athlete who ate healthy who did not drink or smoke had competed in three Comrades marathons had a lot of ultra- marathons as well as many smaller races under the belt. Oh boy this was just too much. But surprisingly I accepted it so well due to the fact I knew my Lord and Saviour and that through Him I made a promise that I would fight this battle, not alone but with help of my husband, our son and close friends who kept on praying for me.
One night during this time I called out to God and asked Dear Lord how much more could I take! I just could not handle being sick anymore and as I lay on the cold bathroom floor seeking the coolness of the tiles with nausea, a head that felt like it was in the sun too long and a body that ached I had a vision of the Cross. What an answer from God. I realised at that moment how much my Saviour suffered for me and I realised what a wimp I was, here I am moaning and groaning about being sick and yet He suffered much much more than I would ever feel or take. I asked God to forgive me for complaining and to help me through this ordeal.
A scripture reading that remains my favourite is “I will never leave you are forsake you” this verse played a major role in my life after that. In that same year my eldest sister was diagnosed with bladder cancer stage 4. She had just buried her husband and now she was told she now has cancer. This was a lot for her children to take in. The memories I have of her is that she fought this battle with courage and strength: no matter how she felt life went on.
On the day she died we were travelling to East London to say our goodbyes to her as she lying dying in hospital. As we got outside East London I got a call to say she had just passed away. I Cried to God why take her now I was so close in spending a few last minutes with her now she gone. But then I remembered that God had given me time with her two weeks prior this. She always reminded me how naughty we twins were setting mom’s wedding dress alight and almost burning the house down. We got a spanking for this.
My mission in life was to get my family saved by acknowledging Jesus as their Saviour. I knew where I was in my walk with the Lord and I needed to know where they were in their walk with Him. She told me “Stellie I know my God I have accepted Jesus as my Saviour and I am ready to go to a place where there will be no more suffering for me anymore”. She was now the eldest sister to pass away from our family. My three older brothers were also diagnosed with early prostrate cancer.
Now I come to one closer to home … wait for it … my husband Theunis who was diagnosed in 2010 with colon cancer. This not only hit me harder but this time it affected our son as well. It was bad enough that mom had to go through cancer and treatment and now his dad has it. He was a scared and angry young man and overwhelmed by it all. I really questioned God. Why did Theunis have to get this big C? He is the bread winner etc how are we going to cope? Why let him get cancer – a guy that does not wrong anyone? He is always giving to the poor or food to the beggers. This was too much!
Theunis and I met after running our first Comrades Marathon 1978 and we married in 1979. It took me to a whole new level of prayer interceding for my husband and deeper soul searching to fine peace and assurance from God that He is close to those who call upon His name and that in time of troubles He will lift you up on wings of eagles you will soar and not grow weary.
Theunis got through the long operation and he was so fortunate that the doctor could cut away the bad part and re-join the colon. The good news was Theunis did not need a bag. What a God we serve. He had to undergo treatment which meant that he would get chemo and today he is still in remission. Dad Botha was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2011. He too had lost his first wife at an early age to breast cancer when my hubby was only a boy of 10 years. To lose a mother at that age was hard for him.
My story does not stop there. After being in remission a year another blow was dealt to me. I now have bladder cancer. The good news was that all I have to do is have a check-up every three months and if it’s there surgeon will remove it and that is how it is going to be for the rest of my life.
In 2012 I had to go yet for another procedure. This time the left lung as there were markings and the doctors did not want to take a chance. I came out of it well until two weeks later I started to battle with my breathing. X-rays were done and I was told that the lung had collapsed due to air leakage. My real testing came at this time when no matter what the specialist tried, the lung would not take to the lining. I suffered panic attacks and became depressed. I lost weight. At times I felt that if only I could jump out the window all this would be over. I would cry out of sheer frustration and ask God “what now? Why this on top of it all?”
The problem was that here I was attached to pipes and oxygen and nowhere to run I could not take the pipes out as they were there for a purpose. I was scheduled for another operation so that the specialists could found out which hole was leaking. Can you imagine for a moment lying on a bed in ICU, drips and drains attached, and next to you are all the men and women who have just undergone heart surgery. This is not funny. All you see is monitors beeping and going off then you look at yours to make sure your heart is ok. It’s really nerve raking. The lining of my lung was removed and 6 weeks later the lung had improved and I could go home.
I came home to a house filled with close friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. What a surprise. This year both my hubby and myself did the Relay for Life. We were the only two in the team we walked and ran throughout the night to come 4th overall out of all the teams that ran that night. Another feather in our cap.
It is with Faith Hope and Trust in God that has taken us through all this knowing that He is near to those who call upon His name. He promises us in His word that He will never leave us or forsake us for He is with us in all situations.
When I look back through these last nine years I thank God for His Faithfulness, Love and Mercy that through it all I have become a stronger person relying on Him for inner strength.
Through all this I continue to be a candle in the dark by giving hope to newly diagnosed breast cancer men and women by encouraging them to take one day at a time and to trust in God no matter what life throws at you. To Love God with your whole heart , with all your mind and with all your soul. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. I give Him all the Praise and Glory.
The question I asked you all earlier was “do you think life changes after cancer”?
The words ‘social media’ and ‘Twitter’ make many of us feel inadequate in trying to understand it — let alone use it! Remedy? Never forget the edu-power of Google! That’s how we learnt to use social media for connecting with like-minded people for support and friendship, as well as to raise our voices as policy-challenging advocates.
Twitter is perhaps the most powerful social media platform to get your message out to many, many people – quickly. Twitter allows you to advocate in your own way; you yourself can be gentle and consistent in your approach, whilst others may take a more assertive, bull-by-the-horns approach. The only rules in social media are: be yourself, be diplomatic and know your facts. Otherwise, that’s all there is to it!
ABC’s Short & Sweet Cheat-Sheet on How to Tweet
- Create your ‘handle’ which should definitely be memorable and unique! (‘Handles’ are really just usernames that begins with an @ symbol.)
- Remember (always!) that Google is your best friend! When you see something on Twitter that confuses you, just Google it. For example, ‘What is #FF on Twitter?’ #FF means ‘Follow Friday’ which you use in your Tweets on Fridays to recommend people worth following who have followed you that week, or who are key influencers in the breast health advocacy arena. e.g. “Brilliant #breasthealth people doing amazing things: @BreastCancerABC @CanSurvive @RevlonSA #FF”
- ‘Hashtags’: “People use the hashtag symbol # before a relevant keyword or phrase (no spaces) in their Tweet to categorize those Tweets and help them show more easily in Twitter Search.” (Quoted directly from Twitter’s own glossary.) You, for instance, would potentially search for #breastcancer to discover the latest news about breast cancer, as well as discover like-minded people you would like to follow and engage with. (One of our key hashtags is #breasthealthpolicy.)
- Depending on who you follow and what you tweet about, Twitter will begin to suggest people for you to follow that are usually relevant for you.
- You can share content such as videos, photos and links to website pages – always remembering to use a hashtag that’s relevant to what you’re sharing. eg. #oncology or #breastcancerpolicy or #mammogram
- Retweeting means that if you find someone else’s tweet interesting or valuable, you will share it by ‘retweeting’ that tweet. Here is Twitter’s guide: How to Retweet.
- Never start a Tweet with someone’s handle. If you do, only your followers will see it, which means your message won’t reach an effective amount of people.
- Always play nicely! Don’t get into heated arguments! Stay calm and tweet sweetly on 🙂
We discovered this wonderful video to prove that you’re never too young, too old or too technologically-challenged to use Twitter as a dynamically interactive and powerfully influential advocacy tool. Have a watch and let us know when you’ve created your Twitter handle! #wink
What tends to happen is, as noted in our Journey to Joy post, each woman will move through her cycle of emotions in a way that is completely unique to her – based on her particular life circumstances, the degree of support she has, her personality/emotional style, the type of cancer she has, the type of treatment she needs.
Sometimes we get stuck in one emotion for interminable months – even years. Sometimes we pass through the different emotions quickly and with a degree of relieved ease. Sometimes, we shift into reverse, backing into a stage again if we find we’re not ready for the new emotions, feeling and responses we find ourselves experiencing.
And all of this is normal. It is ok. There is no right way, or wrong way. What must be emphasised is: we must be gentle with ourselves as we try and observe ourselves, almost standing away at an objective distance, as we move within this set of stages, which again – could helpfully be viewed as a journey. So too we must be gentle with those around us who adore and cherish us – who are faced with their own journey and how they’re going to move through their own ones.
What we’re seeing in South Africa is that the vast majority of people being treated for breast cancer do not have access to psycho-social support, nevermind knowing they have a constitutional right to receive support as South African citizens. An effective, equitable breast health policy will ensure that these rights are actively recognised.
We leave you with this:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Now that we have a firm grasp on what advocacy is, let’s put it in the context of breast cancer – and more specifically, within the framework of South Africa and its absence of a breast health policy, what the consequences of this are and how an equitable and effective breast health policy would change lives – and save lives.
Let’s take UNICEF’s definition of advocacy and fit it into ABC’s framework:
“Advocacy is the deliberate process, based on demonstrated evidence, to directly and indirectly influence decision makers (i.e. government), stakeholders (i.e. pharmaceutical companies) and relevant audiences to support and implement actions that contribute to the fulfilment of people receiving breast cancer treatment and survivors’ rights: accessible and equitable care, treatment and support.”
Below are just some of the current consequences of not having a breast health policy in place – most especially for the people receiving breast cancer treatment within our public health system:
- Cannot afford the treatment itself, and very often, even the cost of transport to and from the treatment centres themselves, especially in the rural areas.
- Do not have access to the information they need in order to understand their cancer and know how to cope with and manage their diagnosis, treatment and potential surgery and its aftermath.
- Long waiting periods between diagnosis and treatment resulting in negative treatment outcomes.
- Do not have access to psycho-social support for both themselves and their families.
- Are very often breadwinners (and even sole breadwinners) and face unpaid leave of absence and very possible unemployment as a result of time spent recovering from treatment and/surgery.
- Have cancers inadequately diagnosed because of poor quality diagnostic technology and must therefore face the dire consequences of incorrect or inadequate treatment and/surgery, as well as the aggravated risk of metastatic BC.
- Had they been sufficiently (or at all) educated about regular breast self-examination, may have discovered their lumps in efficiently treatable time.
- Do not know what their rights are as South African citizens, and therefore do not give voice to their needs, questions and right to ensure they get them met – fairly and equitably.
We need to ignite a revolution in the hearts of South Africans to call policy makers to task! Let us combine what we know about our current breast health crisis with what we know about what an equitable breast health policy looks like and why and how it will work!