In 2010, journalist and Talk Radio 702 producer Cecile Basson underwent a preventative double mastectomy. She and her husband, City Press assistant editor Adriaan Basson, share their memories.
Genetic testing is usually a family affair.
When I started this process in 2007, I didn’t involve my partner.
Adriaan knew about it, but was not invited to the counselling appointments.
By the time I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation, which showed I had an up-to 90% chance of developing breast cancer, I already knew all about the statistics, the risks and my options.
For three years, I went on an emotional rollercoaster while on a diligent screening programme involving regular MRI scans, ultrasounds, mammograms and physical examinations.
I was preoccupied with my breasts, my body, my health and my life – rightly so.
By the time I decided to undergo a preventative double mastectomy, the most drastic option, I realised Adriaan was still coming to terms with the test’s consequences.
When I heard Cecile had the gene I was overwhelmed by a deep sense of injustice. Why her? Why us?
A part of me wished we didn’t know. Ignorance is bliss, right? Not if your life depends on it, I later realised.
But this was no time for logic. I was angry and upset. She was only 23.
And so beautiful. We had so many plans and now we had to deal with this.
For a long time, I was in denial about the seriousness of her discovery.
The thought of her healthy breasts removed for something that may happen frightened me.
I Googled when nobody was looking.
Surely, in 2007, there had to be a scientist somewhere who could solve Cecile’s problem without surgery?
Pictures of mastectomies scared me.
Would she survive? Would we?
I was impatient and frustrated by his questions. “Why don’t you wait for better technology?” I don’t know when that will happen.
“Why remove healthy breasts?” I don’t want to wait till I’m sick.
“Why not take more time to think about it?” My grandmother died in her early 30s. And it’s my life, health and body, and my decision – take it or leave it!
Thankfully, when surgery is imminent, couples counselling is compulsory.
Adriaan and I began dealing with it together.
I was determined to make the decision myself, but ran the risk of cutting him off completely.
I later learnt the main reason many couples don’t survive was not because she no longer had breasts, but because of pure emotional strain and lack of body and sexual confidence afterwards.
My journalistic urges kicked in: I wanted to read, talk and see for myself.
I remember visiting Dr Gereth Edwards’ rooms at Milpark Hospital, seeing all the other women who consulted him about reconstructive surgery.
The difference was they already had cancer – some were undergoing chemotherapy, others looked frail and ill.
The penny dropped: Cecile had a choice. Being a man of facts, I realised her choice was a no-brainer.
Either wait for the cancer to develop, have a mastectomy and chemotherapy; or have the mastectomy now and dramatically reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
The hospital was cold the day of her operation.
I cried tears of loss and fear when she was wheeled into the theatre.
A few hours later, she came out in bandages with an enormous grin. I knew she had done the right thing.
Adriaan was scared of the unknown. And so was I.
But when he finally came on board, his support was invaluable.
As they wheeled me out of theatre, he was beaming: “You’re so brave, so beautiful, inspiring.”
No wonder I felt euphoric. I woke up the next morning feeling massive relief.
I did not feel like I had lost anything, but rather that I had gained a long and healthy life. And at last, some peace of mind.
I couldn’t wait for his morning visits to show him how well I was and how I was still me.
He arrived telling me how in love and inspired he felt, and if I could do this then he could write his first book.
He did. Finish & Klaar: Selebi’s Fall from Interpol to the Underworld was dedicated as such: “Cecile, my rock and my rose.” It was also the theme of our wedding two years later.
I’ve always thought my wife to be the most beautiful girl in the world.
I wondered what the loss of her natural breasts would mean to her own self-image and to our relationship.
We were warned by the doctors that reconstructive surgery “is not a boob job so that you can tan topless in Mauritius”.
They worked from scratch, rebuilding her breasts.
But thanks to excellent doctors, her cleavage is as sexy as ever.
Above all, a sword was removed from over my wife’s head.
I am so proud of her, and the difficult, but correct, choice she made so young.
The journey has made us stronger and deepened our bond, scars and all.