But it didn’t come as a shock for her, as she says she knew it was cancer for five whole months before she went to the doctor.
“I noticed the breast changes at the beginning of the year, but I was in deep denial and didn’t go to the doctor,” she says. “I noticed all the symptoms: my breast skin was dimply, the breast was hard, red, sore, and the nipple was inverted. I knew in my heart it was cancer before I went to the doctor.”
Liezl who stays in Cape Town has always been an advocate for getting yourself checked out and regular visits to your doctor or gynaecologist, but her denial kept her from taking the next step. After five months, she was ready to take the next step and went to her doctor for a mammogram and biopsy.
“I was heartbroken. Even though I knew what the answer was going to be, I was still very sad about it. I cried a lot. But peace came gradually,” says Liezl about her diagnosis.
But there was hope along with her diagnosis. Liezl asked her surgeon if she was going to die, and the surgeon told her, “most certainly not!”
The initial treatment plan included chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy. Liezl is currently near the end of her chemotherapy and will have a mastectomy to remove her breast and then continue the Herceptin injections, which happen every three weeks and will continue well into 2020.
Liezl decided to cut off her hair before the chemo, instead of waiting for it to fall out. “It was like deciding that you are in control and not the other way around,” she says. “I cut my hair in stages so that it was not too overwhelming. And I’m very grateful that I have a decent shaped head and could pull off the bald look,” she jokes.
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There are so many costs involved when you have a life-threatening, possibly terminal illness. Luckily, Liezl has an excellent medical aid plan, but when she had to pay out of pocket, she hosted quiz nights.
“I’ve also been blessed with the most generous friends, who would send me donations because they know cancer is expensive,” she says.
Liezl works for a provincial government department that has been incredibly supportive during her illness. They’ve allowed her time off if she needs it, and her work isn’t too strenuous. She’s grateful for this.
The worst part of having cancer? Liezl says it has to be telling people about it. “People get very sad when they hear about cancer, and I didn’t want to make people sad,” says Liezl.
Liezl says is not letting the cancer control her life. “I’m just someone who goes for chemo every week, and when I leave the hospital, I take a nap, then continue living my best life. If I feel overwhelmed by my emotions, I cry it all out,” she says.
She lived with the weight of anxiety and unhappiness for five months before she eventually went to see a doctor, so now she’s living in the moment. “I just let the emotions happen. And then I continue living because that is the decision I made – to live,” says Liezl.
But she isn’t in denial about what’s happened to her either. “I’m still a bit pissed that I’ve got cancer, I feel very betrayed by my body. But I’ve reached a point of gratitude for being alive and reacting positively to the chemotherapy,” she says.
Her friends have been her most significant support system and that they will message her to see how she’s feeling or take her out so that she can get out of her head and be in the real world. But Liezl wants you to know that even if you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, or if you know someone who has been diagnosed: cancer is many things, but it is not the end.
“It’s expensive! And it’s tiring. But it’s most certainly not a death sentence. It can be overcome; you just have to believe it.”
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