Diagnosis better than ignorance

2016-01-27 06:00
Zubieda Prem discovered she had breast cancer at the age of 49. Photo: supplied

Zubieda Prem discovered she had breast cancer at the age of 49. Photo: supplied

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ZUBIEDA Prem was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 49.
“I had been healthy all my life, I hardly ever got the flu, but then I noticed a little lump on the lower part of my breast. On cold days, I would feel pain like little needle pricks, but nothing else. I put it down to being overworked. But one day, my teenage daughter accidentally bumped me on the lump and asked me what it was. When I told her, she made a doctor’s appointment for me the same day,” Prem said.

“I had to go for a mammogram and I was scared, but what people say is not true, it was not painful, just very uncomfortable. When the mammogram results came back, they insisted I did an ultra sound. That was when I knew.

“My gynaecologist referred me to a surgeon who requested a biopsy, and the result was stage four metastatic cancer. Looking back, I think I knew from early on it was cancer, but I was too busy with my work and too scared to have it checked. If only I did it early. My main concern was my mom and my daughter. My mom is 78 and I am the third daughter of five, she always relied on me. It was so hard to tell her and to use the word ‘cancer’,” Prem said.

She was referred to Amanzimtoti Oncologist Centre.
“Dr Pirjol and her staff are fantastic. They have carried me on this road and eased my burdens. I needed a Pet Scan done which highlights the cancer in your body. When I got the results of the first PET scan I could see Dr Pirjol was struggling how best to tell me the prognosis.”

The second request for a Pet Scan was rejected by my medical aid because of cost.
“I inquired and they said if the scan was done at a provincial government hospital, they would pay. I discovered that Steve Biko Hospital in Pretoria could do it at half the cost and convinced them [medical aid] to assist me, and I am thankful for a caring professor who assisted,” she said.

Prem had an operation to remove the lump and her treatment consists of chemotherapy, herceptin and radiation.
“Herceptin is a very expensive drug often not authorised by medical aid, but Dr Pirjol gave me the website for Campaigning for Cancer and they helped me draft a letter to the medical aid, and it was approved.

“The chemo is strong and after 15 days my hair and even my eyebrows and eyelashes fell out. You just want to scream and cry when you look at yourself in the mirror and the colour of your skin changes. The treatment makes you feel weak and tired. I am grateful I have my family and friends by my side.
“My husband has always been a tower of strength - he is with me for every doctor’s appointment, scans and treatment. I attended a Look Good Feel Better campaign in December and it instantly picked me up and made me feel better about myself,” Prem said.

Her advice is do not suppress underlying health issues, don’t think everything else is more important than your health, have regular cancer checks, take out health insurances specific to dread diseases, never lose hope, keep your faith and always be positive.

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