“SEVENTEEN people die every minute from cancer in the world,”— this according to the World Health Organisation.World Cancer Day is commemorated annually on February 4 to raise awareness about cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.This World Cancer Day, survivor Karen Buxton chose to share her journey with cancer to encourage others to never give up hope.Buxton was first diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago. She said that when she went for a routine mammogram and ultrasound, it picked up a cancerous lump in her right breast. “I was told to book an appointment immediately to see a surgeon. “I remember sitting in my car crying hysterically, unable to drive. I phoned my husband to tell him but I could barely get the words out I was crying so hard. “He arrived at the hospital car park and just held me, telling me we will get through this. “A couple of days later I saw the surgeon and he booked the surgery for Valentine’s Day (of all days). “He also referred me to a wonderful and very understanding oncologist who took me through all my various options. “At that stage, the surgeon had informed me that they will only know what they are dealing with once he had done the surgery. “My best case scenario was a lumpectomy — a breast conserving surgery to remove cancer where only a portion of the breast is removed. “The worst case was a mastectomy... but he would only know once he had operated,” said Buxton, who added that the fear of what she was about to go through at that stage was indescribable. “All I could think of was that I needed to stay alive for my husband and my children and that I wanted to see my children grow up. I didn’t want to die. “I have a fear of hospitals and anaesthetic, which added to my stress. Strangely, the fear of losing my breast didn’t affect me — I could cope with that — I just didn’t want to die.”“I prayed like I had never prayed before and I felt very alone, even though I wasn’t. “The day of the surgery I was an absolute wreck. I cried from the time I arrived at the hospital, very early in the morning, until they wheeled me into theatre at midday.“I was one of the fortunate ones. “I had a lumpectomy and the surgeon assured me that he had removed everything and that all the surrounding tissue that he had removed was fine. As a result, I never needed chemo or radiation. “The oncologist wanted me to have treatment ‘just in case’ but the surgeon, who I had put my trust in, said that he was happy that he had removed everything and that the surrounding tissue was fine. He said he didn’t feel that I needed to put my body through the treatment, and I trusted his word.”However, just two years after her brush with breast cancer, Buxton found out that she had ovarian cancer after a routine visit to her gynaecologist for a pap smear. During an ultrasound, the doctor found a huge mass on her left ovary. “This time I didn’t have time to be scared — I was rushed into hospital after he did a blood test. The results showed that my iron levels had dropped dangerously low and I needed an iron transfusion immediately. He said that without it, I would have been dead within three days. “I had been feeling very tired and lethargic for ages and had just put it down to day-to-day stress.“Two days after the transfusion I had a hysterectomy. “The doctor left my right ovary but removed everything else. He said I was too young to go through early menopause so, as a result, he left my right ovary. Now, I go every year for a CA125 blood test.”Buxton now proudly calls herself a cancer survivor.“I am one of the lucky ones and for this I thank God every day. “I go every year, without fail, for a mammogram and ultrasound and every year in January/February I still stress about ‘what if’. I always take a friend with for moral support. I went for my tests last week and I am clear.“I don’t think you ever truly get over something like this. Even now, I’m still in tears if I talk about it. Just remembering brings back a memory of a time that I would not wish on anyone.“Did it make me a stronger person? No, it just made me realise that we must live each day to the fullest. “Don’t put off things that you can do now,” Buxton advised. She said that there are counselling groups all over Durban for people who have cancer — you don’t go through this alone. You need to have a support group — whether it is family or friends, or strangers who are going through the same, or those who have been through it and who are survivors.“The right mind set is also so very important. “I started meditation classes at a time when I was feeling too stressed to cope. “Learning relaxation skills helped me to cope when I was alone and having panic attacks as a result of stress,” she added.