Support eases the burden of cancer survivors

Samantha Noon

Three women whose cancer is in remission, believe that it was having a strong support structure that enabled them to overcome many of their challenges with breast cancer.

As the country observes Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the three women shared their stories with Southern Mail.

Samantha Noon, 48, of Grassy Park, said she was 45 when she felt a lump in her breast and immediately went to her general practitioner, who sent her to have a mammogram.

The same day, she received the results and was diagnosed with cancer.

The mother of two, aged six and 12, said it was a coincidence that she felt the lump, which wasn’t sore, but “they told me that if the lump is not sore, it may be serious.”

The tumour was removed and to prevent the cancer from spreading, the doctors removed some of her lymph nodes as well.

Unlike many other cancer patients who get sick after chemotherapy, Ms Noon said, “I had to have aggressive chemotherapy but I was very lucky, because I never got sick once.”

She said she had a lot of support.

“It sounds surreal,” she said, but when she was put off sick for a few days after chemotherapy, “I got bored at home and I wanted to get back to work.”

Still optimistic, her family supported her when she started losing her hair, which is one of the side effects of the chemotherapy.

“As you know it is very traumatic when you lose your hair, but I organised a party and we all had a shaving hair party and my family members shaved their hair.”

Ms Noon’s faith in God carried her to another level, where she never felt depressed.

“I went through a lot of operations such as reconstruction of breast tissue.”

The experience, said Ms Noon, was “life changing and I started being active in creating cancer awareness”.

And it was with her fellow congregants at St Faith’s Anglican Church in Plumstead that she found solace.

Michelle Poggenpoel, 57, from Lansdowne, lived by the motto “one day at a time”.

She was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 when she turned 45.

“Since the age of 40, I have been going for my annual mammogram. On October 21, my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with a very aggressive breast cancer in the tissue.”

On November 1, Ms Poggenpoel had a mastectomy and a procedure to remove her lymph nodes.

On November 20, her year of treatment started.

“That is four cycles of chemotherapy, which we call the red devil. I experienced many side-effects: weight loss, vomiting, tiredness, loss of appetite, no immune system, sore mouth, discolouration of skin and hair loss, to mention a few.”

The next four cycles of chemotherapy caused severe sensitivity in her toe nails.

“I could not wear closed shoes. My fingernails were also affected. They would just break off. There was constantly a horrible lead taste in my mouth. Everything I ate tasted like lead.”

She said her chemotherapy had to be adjusted because of the huge amount of weight she was losing.

“My oncologist had to prescribe antidepressants, in order for me to gain weight. At that time I weighed about 40kg.”

Her next challenge was six weeks of radiation, which left burn marks on her skin.

“Thereafter five months of Herceptin treatment followed. This caused constant tiredness. I completed this in November 2009.”

Then followed 10 years on Neurogen, which she completed in November 2019.

“It is only after the first year of treatment that I started to feel my normal self. During the first year, every day was a battle. My motto, however was, one day at a time.”

However, together with, “my faith, my family and my friends’ support, my son and my daughter, I kept the daily fight in me to beat this disease,” she said.

Abeeda Steenkamp, 60, from Lansdowne, was diagnosed in August 2009 during the holy month of Ramadaan.

She had stage 3, aggressive breast cancer and had to have her right breast removed, as well as seven lymph nodes under the arm, five of which had cancer.

Ms Steenkamp said the first thing she had to learn was to embrace the illness.

“It was a gift from Allah and I had to put my trust completely in Allah and to let go of the worry and anxiety.”

Her biggest support came from her husband, children, siblings, neighbours, friends, madrassa buddies, as well as the moms of her children’s school mates, and teachers.

Ms Steenkamp had six rounds of chemotherapy, once every three weeks. I did five weeks of radiation after chemotherapy.”

“Today I can say that I am, through the grace of our Allah, cancer-free.”

Ms Steenkamp said all cancer journeys are unique and “there is a purpose for all of us who were chosen.

“My purpose was to slow down. This has changed my whole perspective on life, every day is a gift so appreciate all the beautiful moments nobody can guarantee tomorrow, so don’t stress about the small stuff in life. Enjoy the moment and the beauty therein, make memories.”

* For more information or to become a volunteer, contact the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) at 021 689 5347 for more information.