Coping with cancer

By Drum Digital
01 October 2011

WHEN Gloria Tshoba heard she had breast cancer, she could not believe it. Even though she worked full time as a registered nurse and knew all about the disease, she was so shocked that she demanded to see the test results for herself.

“I asked for a copy of the lab results and took them home, where I read them over and over,” she says.

Still the news didn’t sink in. “I convinced myself that they’d made a mistake and the next day I went to the laboratory myself and demanded to see the original results. And there they were, in black and white: I had breast cancer.”

Gloria, now 64, was 46 at the time. Days before being diagnosed, she’d felt a hard lump in her left breast and had gone for a biopsy. The tests showed the lump was malignant.

“Even my experience as a nurse couldn’t prepare me for the shocking news,” says Gloria, who lives in Mamelodi, in Tshwane.

It’s normal to experience this kind of denial after being diagnosed with cancer, according to Joburg educational psychologist Tshidi Maseko.

“The first few days after being diagnosed are an emotional roller-coaster,” Tshidi says. “You can’t believe it’s really happening to you but even so, you feel anxious because you don’t know how far the cancer’s spread and whether or not you’re dying.”

All these conflicting emotions make it hard to break the news to your loved ones, especially your children. In Gloria’s case, she was a single mother of two sons at the time she was diagnosed. Her children were already in their twenties but she still struggled to tell them her bad news. She told her mother, but it was difficult because a close family friend had just died of breast cancer.

“We all know that people die of cancer, so when you’re diagnosed with the disease it automatically seems like a death sentence – especially in those days,” Gloria explains.

As with all terminal diseases, learning the sad news is a traumatic experience, says Tshidi. “Sufferers feel afraid and overwhelmed and, depending on their personal relationships, they may hide their cancer from loved ones for fear of being blamed for getting the disease,” she says.

Gloria’s cancer was caught in its early stages but she still had to fight the scary disease alone as she didn’t have a partner and only told her loved ones she was having a mastectomy days before checking into hospital.

“I didn’t ask their opinion because I didn’t want them to feel responsible if the operation was not a success,” Gloria says.

Just before having surgery she told her sons where to find important documents such as her life insurance and funeral policies in case she died. “My children were very worried but they supported me while I battled the disease. After my mastectomy my younger son wanted to know if the operation was sore and asked to see the scar but the older one preferred not to see it,” Gloria says.

Read the full article in DRUM of 10 October 2010

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