UKZN student’s breast-cancer battle

2015-10-14 06:00
PHOTO: nqobile mtolo

Last year UKZN theology student, Fortunate Barridge discovered she had stage two breast cancer.

PHOTO: nqobile mtolo Last year UKZN theology student, Fortunate Barridge discovered she had stage two breast cancer.

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“I DID not expect to get breast cancer. Breast cancer is only for white people or menopausal women,” said University of KZN third-year Bachelor of Theology student, Fortunate Barridge (22), after discovering in September 2014 that she had stage two breast cancer.

“On 26 August last year I felt an unusual pain in my left breast and mistook it for ovulation. On 28 August I went to Northdale Hospital and they ran tests. The results came back after four weeks - I had breast cancer. I did not know that my left breast was signalling that there was something wrong with the other breast,” she said.

The Witbank-born student lives at the Lutheran Theological Institute in Scottsville.

“At the seminary they took me to the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) where I received a referral letter to Grey’s Hospital. However, at Grey’s I was told that as I was neither their patient, nor a resident they could not help me until I produced a referral letter from Northdale Hospital.

“It was the first time I experienced rejection from a public health institution,” she said.

After the public health institution’s rejection, she returned to Witbank to undergo chemotherapy.

“After 20 biopsies doctors still could not see how far the cancer had spread and I could not have a mammogram because my breasts are too small. Results eventually came back that I had stage two breast cancer. I could not believe how aggressive this cancer was.

“I always thought undergoing chemotherapy involved big machines and complicated needles whereas it’s a small container with chemical treatment which they inject into your blood stream.

“The first day of chemotherapy went well but by the second week I was conscious that my body was not alive. I had long hair and it all came out. I experienced a lot of diarrhoea and my nails turned yellow. I lost weight and went down from 50 kilograms to 40. Going through chemotherapy was painful and to relieve the pain I slept. My neighbours in Witbank would visit me while I recovered. I would hear some of them asking my grandmother about funeral arrangements. They would sing poignant funeral hymns to me. One of my best friends, Levern Ryan­, even took me shopping for a casket because he said he wanted me to be buried in a casket I loved. He could not see me living another day. That was how sick I was,” recalls Barridge.

She had to decide whether to continue with her studies or stay at home for full recovery.

“My doctor did not want me to go back to school in February, but I ignored everything and went back. With a bald patch on my head and a skinny frame, my self-esteem took a dive. I was bald, skinny and suffered depression. I am an outgoing and bubbly person, but depression caused me to relapse. I went back to Witbank in February and had more chemotherapy. I was at home for three weeks and came back in March when I had a nother relapse.

“In total I had four relapses. I thought I was going to die. I even tried to commit suicide.

“Things changed when God told me he had great plans for me. After the last dose of chemotherapy in May, I asked my pastor if I could preach to the congregation on a Sunday, and he agreed. I preached about how God has power over everything and that day I felt this heavy weight lift off my shoulders.

“The following Tuesday I returned to school. Since then I have not relapsed. I went for a MRI in June and in August and results showed that I am clean. However, my doctors said they could not say that I am a breast cancer survivor because I am in remission.”

Barridge received chemotherapy at Life Cosmos Hospital in Witbank.

“I owed the hospital R40 000 and a good Samaritan from the Lutheran Church at the seminary offered to cover the costs,” she said.

Dealing with cancer has not been easy.

“When I tried to commit suicide, a voice told me that tomorrow is another day. Yes, I have cancer, but so what? Life from May has been the greatest. I have learnt to accept life and be strong.Cancer has taught me to pray every­ day and to pray for others who have cancer. I pray for oncologists to find a cure.

“Cancer can come and go as it pleases,” she said.

Three weeks ago Barridge bid farewell to one of her friends who succumbed to cancer.

“Cancer can come back and claim your life. By this interview I hope I make someone better. I hope my story makes a difference in other people’s lives,” she said

Breast cancer warning signs:

• Puckering of the skin of the breast;

• lump in the breast or armpit;

• change in the skin around the nipple or nipple discharge;

• dimpling of the nipple or nipple retraction;

• one breast unusually lower than the other, nipples at different levels;

• enlargement of the glands around the breast or armpit; and.

• unusual swelling in the armpit.

- Cansa

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