FEARLESS . . . happy . . . and healthy . . . are the words that carried Riana van Staden through her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
When she first felt a lump in her left breast in May 2015, alarm bells immediately went off. But with her medical aid not willing to cover the costs of the tests needed to be done, she waited a few weeks - but it did not go away. The lump only increased in size.
After endless battles and excruciating weeks crawling by, the medical aid finally gave the green light for the biopsy to be done. The biopsy confirmed the news: Van Staden had breast cancer. Some 13 additional glands under her left arm were also infected.
On September 10, 2015 - only a week after being diagnosed - she was admitted for bila-teral mastectomy surgery: the only viable treatment as the specific type of cancer she had, Lobular Carcinoma, could easily spread to her right breast and brain. Knowing this, the decision was not a difficult one to make. Instead of allowing the profound feeling of thinking her body was failing her, she chose to focus on prolonging her life by having her breasts removed.
Van Staden started with chemotherapy on October 13. But, despite taking her tablets religiously, routine blood tests and various injections, she only managed to complete three sessions of the scheduled 16 sessions of chemotherapy due to her white blood cell count being too low.
After stopping the chemotherapy, she was subjected to 25 radiation treatments at 08:00 from Monday to Friday for five weeks.
“It was extremely draining,” says Van Staden who was working at the time. “It left me tired and depleted.”
Van Staden says she was only allowed to wash with clean water and had to dry herself by pressing on her skin with a towel. She was not allowed to use any powder or deodorant.
Although the treatment catapulted her into early menopause, it did not have an impact on the intimate side of her marriage. “My husband and I were on this journey together. He supported me every step of the way,” says Van Staden.
She got the all clear after an MRI-scan in October 2016.
Not having the necessary funds for reconstructive surgery, Van Staden did not even consider breast reconstruction.
“I accepted my situation by staying positive and adjusting the neckline of my clothes,” says Van Staden. “I made peace with my breastless body and I still feel good about myself.”
Not feeling comfortable wearing prosthetic breasts, Van Staden, who never thought of herself as being sick, now wears knitted knockers which are best described as special handmade breast prostheses for women who have undergone mastectomies or other procedures to their breasts.
What message she would like to give women about breast cancer: women need to ‘get hands on’ and check their breasts for changes regularly. When you catch this disease early, you have options, you have time to consider them and you have the best chances of being okay at the end of it.
For more inspirational stories, visit Anneli Young’s Blog or Facebook Page at Anneli Young Photography.