Emerald Van Wyk

I remember feeling horrified one morning in the month of July 2019 after discovering a lump in my breast. I immediately contacted my GP Dr. Lakha to set up an appointment for further investigation. It didn’t take him long to confirm my suspicion — he immediately referred me to the radiology department in Lenasia. I retrieved the results a week later and it was recommended that a biopsy be performed immediately. The news devastated me and I remember that it took me a couple of days to process — to sit with the weight of it all hanging on me. I was then faced with a huge challenge: my medical aid savings were depleted, the biopsy was expensive and I certainly did not have the funds to do it out of pocket. I pretty much saw this as a coin with flip sides: I felt a bit of relief that I didn’t have the available cash to have the biopsy done immediately. It bought me some time to come to terms with the fact that the lump might be malignant but on the flight side of things I knew that the sooner it gets done the better.

I mentioned this to a friend Vanessa Goosen and explained that I would have to wait for my savings to come through in January 2020 before I could go for the biopsy. She was extremely concerned about the waiting period but offered to keep me in prayer. A week later she phoned and asked me to go and see Professor Carol Anne Benn at Helen Joseph and she explained that she will not send me away as she believes in equal health care for all.

I consulted with her as she immediately referred me for a biopsy to be performed. I want to take a moment here to highlight how God sent an angel in the form of Vanessa Goosen to open up a door for me.

My biopsy was scheduled for two weeks later. On the day I arrived for my results Professor Carol Anne Benn was at an international conference and had sadly returned home which meant another week of waiting while my anxiety peaked. I turned to my bible and got through the week. Finally, the day arrived and I was on my way to Helen Joseph. As I sat down to talk to Prof Benn she told me that the lesion in my right breast is malignant but not to stress as it is slow-growing cancer she then walked me out and asked if I would like to see a counselor and I politely declined.

Diagnosed: 17 September 2019

From that point onward it felt like I was carrying a load of bricks on my back and it felt like a burden that was too heavy for me to carry. I found myself at her practice at Milpark and I was received by a very polite young woman Zamo Mguli who is the navigating nurse at Milpark. And there it was again she managed to bring me back to a conscious state of mind and explained the process. I felt a bit lighter as I left the hospital and from then onwards I was going to fight this demon growing so comfortably inside my breast.

I saw Prof Benn thereafter for a consultation and she referred me to the Rosebank clinic for a breast MRI. The results revealed smaller lesions in addition to the lump that was discovered. This horrified me and I remember leaving Rosebank Clinic in tears. It was explained to me that they will sit as a disciplinary committee and decide on my case going forward. This immediately sparked positivity in me as a panel of experienced doctors would decide on the best route for my treatment and I knew that God was right there guiding them. I was then contacted by the navigating nurse to advise me that I will have a lumpectomy with reconstruction surgery followed by radiation. Prof Benn was going to perform the operation and Dr. Barend the reconstruction surgery.

My 1hr30m operation was performed on the 14th of November 2019. When I woke up the following day I felt scared seeing all the machines that I was hooked up to. My operation was a bit more difficult as I am diabetic and played a critical part in the success of the operation. In partnership with Dr. Barend we managed my Diabetes well and all went well with the operation. I spent 48 hrs at Milpark and the pain was well managed. I returned home with two drains attached to my body which had to be emptied, measured, and reported to the doctor. This was extremely challenging. I then had to go to Milpark for the dressing of the wound and had to provide feedback to the doctor until the drains were removed. What came next was just as big a challenge as my wounds had to be changed at home after training was provided at the hospital.

The only way you could sleep was on your back and this was very uncomfortable as the pain was also becoming a factor. After my 4-week healing process, I started radiation on 21/01/2020 until 4/3/2020. Let me assure you that this was the most challenging part of the process. Anxiety was my worst enemy. I had to go for 31 consecutive days. The angles that they positioned you on the bed as per the calculation done increased my anxiety as you could not move and if you did they had to come again and position you again. I soon established that I was not the only one feeling that way and that often the ladies in the same boat as me were in tears; this brought me comfort and I became less anxious.

Radiation Team Netcare Clinton, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the radiation team at Netcare Clinton. Your patience is to be admired. Despite your high-pressure jobs, you remain professional and calm. Thank you for caring for your patients as individuals. Thank you for being there on days that I wasn’t coping and for the comfort you provided.

Even on days when the machine would break down, you kept us informed at all times. Even while the machine had been down occasionally you still managed to complete my 31 days of consecutive radiation treatment. To this stellar team, know that your efforts are greatly appreciated. I love each and every one of you. To Surika at reception, your pleasant face and warm disposition encouraged me to face each session with bravery.

My oncologist, Dr. Ramdas immediately noticed that I was anxious and mentally not coping so, she referred me to see my psychologist, Monica Austen, and assigned Alice Banze the Navigating nurse at Netcare to support me. I remember this day so clearly as she took me through the entire process and equipped me with the facts. I realized that there were only two ways that my journey could end: either survive or die.

I remember crying for hours as the realization kicked in that there is a possibility that I might not survive as being diabetic as well as a factor. In the same breath, the education session brought its own kind of comfort as I was now fully informed. Every day radiation came with its own challenges but my mornings started on a high as I had the most amazing driver, Alfred.

I remember one day I spent four hours doing treatment but as soon as I got to the car Alfred was still smiling and every day was the same. It encouraged me to make the effort to smile even when I was having a trying day. During my fourth week of radiation, I got severely ill due to my immune system being compromised. I was about to give up as my entire body was in pain and I was just not coping. I started slipping into depression.

The Lord intervened again and I met four angels: Lynette your vibrant personality made me laugh, my dear Tila you were our “hoofmeisie” keeping us in check but your humor uplifted us and then there was Sumaya your bravery was to be admired. Rose, the mornings we traveled together will remain precious. It made us forget about radiation until we got to the hospital. Thursdays were doctor’s days and we couldn’t wait as we could see each other again. And this is how we got through radiation.

Also, a big thanks must go to Dr. Ramdas that did not limit her job as my Oncologist and took care of me holistically. To the team at the Netcare Clinton well done you did a fantastic job!

Unfortunately, my journey didn’t end there on 25/5/2020 I had a hysterectomy. All went well after a lot of praying from different churches. I give God all the praise and Glory. I want to end by saying God is always with us so often we don’t notice that he sends his angels to help us along. This was evident in my journey: There are amazing support groups that make a huge difference. A positive attitude goes a long way in the healing process.

On the 29th of September 2020 during a consultation with Dr. Ramdass she confirmed that I am cancer-free. The Lord is great and I thank him for his mercy and grace.

I want to mention a few people who were by my side throughout the journey. To my son Justin, you held things down like a real man at your tender age of 18 as it was just the two of us living together and my gratitude for your love and support means the world to me and this precious deed I will carry forever in my heart.

Lauren, you came into our lives at such a critical time and extended your love and support and for this I am grateful. Henry, I have no idea how I would have made it through without you. You were my pillar of strength and giving up was not an option — you made sure of that. You were by my side every day accompanying me every single day for radiation. I thank you for this.

To my brother Alistaire who even in the midst of his own challenges at the time checked up on me every day and made sure that I remain positive and motivated. To my mother, thank you a million times overall I had to do was call and you would be here to help me. To my best friend, Anna-Marie I cannot thank you enough for the invaluable advice, delicious meals, and immeasurable positivity. To Monica Austen and Dr. Marshinee Naidoo thank you for ensuring that my mental health was taken care of not only during my cancer journey but over the past six years On the 29th of September 2020 I got the news that I am cancer-free.