Cape Town - You only live once, goes the saying. But breast cancer survivor Naomi van Wyk says she’s had a second chance , and intends making the most of it.
In September 2008, she and her daughters lay on the bed together. Naomi’s oldest daughter, 12 at the time, lay with her head on her mother’s breast. She was the first one to raise the alarm. She told her mother that she’d felt a lump.
Naomi went to the bathroom and did a self-examination of her breasts. She felt the lump too. The next day she saw her doctor, who referred her to a specialist. After several tests, the doctor told Naomi – who was 35 at the time – that she had stage two breast cancer. Had she waited one month more, the doctors say her cancer would have progressed to stage three.
“It was a shock. I never thought it would happen to me. I didn’t have it in my family. I lived a healthy lifestyle. I didn’t drink or smoke. In the beginning, I didn’t handle it well,” she says.
Several thoughts raced through her head: would she see her two daughters finish school; would she see her 40th birthday; would she ever get to travel.
The hardest part, says Naomi, now 39, was having to tell her family she had breast cancer.
Then came the news about her operations. She didn’t need to have a mastectomy. Instead, surgeons would remove only the cancerous tissue in her breasts.
But Naomi would have to have her ovaries taken out too.
“I had just met a new man whom I loved. I thought I would start a life with him, and have another child with him,” she says.
Her new boyfriend was understanding and supportive throughout the process. And, she realised she was lucky to already have two wonderful daughters.
After the surgery Naomi went through several rounds of chemotherapy, which resulted in drastic weight loss and complete hair loss, and she was admitted to hospital. After the chemotherapy, she underwent daily radiation for 10 weeks.
It was the support of her family, friends, neighbours and church members that helped her through her illness. She also had the support of the Cancer Association of SA (Cansa).
All of these people helped her stay positive. A support network and staying positive played a big role in her recovery, says Naomi.
While she was ill, Naomi planned her goals, the things she would do once she was healthy again. They included travelling overseas, building a pool at her Northpine home, and watching her daughters finish school.
In March 2009, Naomi completed her treatment. She’s been in remission for over three years.
And her life has changed drastically. She has been to India and Dubai.
The pool, she jokes, needs a clean.
And she’s excited because next year she’ll see one of her daughters matriculate.
Naomi has always been outspoken, but now, even more so. She shares her story of hope with various groups.
“I want to be an inspiration, and if I can make even just a small difference, I’ll be happy,” Naomi says.
She urges all women – whether they’re in their 20s or 40s – to educate themselves about the illness.
And most important, whatever the outcome of the test, she wants women to remain positive.
Talking about the horizontal scar on her right breast, Naomi says she feels absolutely comfortable wearing low-cut dresses.
“The scar has become part of me… I’m just living life to the fullest, and looking forward. There is life after cancer.”
Celebs who had cancer treatment
* Giuliana Rancic, host of E! News and wife of The Apprentice winner Bill Rancic, underwent radiation and surgery for her breast cancer, diagnosed last year while she was seeking fertility treatment. She and her husband recently welcomed a baby boy born via surrogate.
* In August 2008, Christina Applegate announced she had a double mastectomy and underwent reconstructive surgery. The former Samantha Who? and Married With Children actress elected to remove both breasts even though the disease was contained in only one. Applegate now has a daughter born in January 2011.
* Sheryl Crow was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2006. She has since adopted two sons.
* Best known for her role as Miranda Hobbs in Sex and the City, Cynthia Nixon, mother of three, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. She had a lumpectomy, followed by six- and-a-half weeks of radiation.
* In 2005, Australian singer Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37. She is in remission after surgery and chemotherapy.
* Singer Melissa Etheridge performed bald at the 2005 Grammy Awards after a rigorous course of chemotherapy for breast cancer.
* Edie Falco, known for her role in The Sopranos, and now in Nurse Jackie, had breast cancer in 2003. She underwent chemotherapy and continued filming Sopranos. She has since adopted two children.
* Diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 29 in January 2003, singer/songwriter Anastacia has since developed the Anastacia Fund through the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. – AP and Reuters
Live healthily and lower your risk
According to the Cansa fact sheet, women are more at risk of getting breast cancer if:
* You have never given birth or your first confinement was after the age of 35. Pregnancy reduces a woman’s total number of lifetime menstrual cycles, which may be the reason.
* You’re using, or have recently used birth control pills (oral contraceptives) for many years. The risk decreases if women stop using them for 10 years or more.
* You have two or more alcoholic drinks per day. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Those who have two or more drinks daily have almost twice the risk of women who drink no alcohol. Excessive alcohol use is also known to increase the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and liver.
* The risk of breast cancer can be reduced by being physically active, not putting on weight and adopting a balanced lifestyle and avoiding environmental carcinogens. - Cape Argus
* For more information visit www.cansa.or.za.