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11 November 2009

Living with an attitude of gratitude

Linda Remke is one of a growing number of breast cancer survivors who has not only lived to tell the tale, but has found a renewed vigour for life. This is her story.

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Linda Remke (46) was diagnosed with DCIS breast cancer on January 1, 2008. It’s a day that changed her life forever, and a date she will never forget. Thankfully however, she is a survivor and more than a year on she is savouring every moment of life with her family and friends. This is her story.

“My cancer was caught relatively early and was non-invasive. Initially I was shocked, then numbness set in, and finally acceptance.”

Linda’s cancer was fortunately only limited to the one breast, although she still required a mastectomy to remove all the tissue surrounding the affected area to ensure the cancer had no chance of spreading.

Coping with a cancer diagnosis
She considers herself a very ‘lucky lady’ in that she did not require chemotherapy, radiation or hormonal treatments. But make no mistake; it was still a traumatic and demanding time for both Linda and her family.

“As I am a Christian, I know where my strength comes from. I found myself positive in knowing that ‘there may be a higher plan’. I also tried to equip myself with as much knowledge as possible.

“The fact that I was in the best earthly hands possible - those of Professor Apffelstaedt and Professor Graewe - brought me much peace of mind.”

Linda says that the two weeks following the 10-hour mastectomy and reconstruction operation remain a blur, the pain numbed by painkillers. However, the cancer had not only affected her physically, it had taken an emotional toll too - and not only on her, but on her family and friends too.

Cancer doesn’t only affect the patient
“My husband, Otto was with me every step of the way and we broke the news together. Professor Apffelstaedt had drawn pictures, and we shared these with our kids who seem to understand it easier. This was very helpful when it came to sharing it with our family and friends. Everyone has been amazingly supportive.”

Linda adds that at first her then 19-year-old daughter went into denial, but has slowly come to terms with the situations, and realises that she has to take extra care and pay close attention to her own body.

“My husband went into ‘auto’ mode when I was diagnosed. Shocked by the news, he internalised it and became very focussed. As we are also business partners, he had a lot to carry on his shoulders and I believe the busyness of business kept him ‘sane’.

“Physically he took on everything he possibly could, but I think that emotionally he battled to stay in the present. Slowly but surely he is coming to understand that he may not have recognised the emotional trauma around my diagnosis.

“However, now he’s much wiser and can openly speak about the journey. We have always been close, but the experience has made us realise how quickly things can be turned upside down. The fact that, physically, my body has ‘No Entry’ written on it also creates some levels of frustration.”

Don’t keep it a secret
Linda urges any women who have recently been diagnosed to share their news with their family and friends, and not to go through it alone.

“You will be surprised to learn that there are so many other women who have been touched by this. Somehow you come to realise that you are not alone. Just be wary of too much conflicting information as you may start doubting your diagnosis, and whether you are doing the right thing.

And while a breast cancer diagnosis on its own is enough to set your mind racing, Linda says that amid all the raging chaos, she feels it is very important to spend time with each and every person in your home to gauge their feelings and emotions.

Advice for others
Having been down the road herself, Linda says the best advice she can give other women is to know your body, as early detection is key.

“Self breast analysis and annual mammograms for all women who are 40+ are vital. Should you feel a lump, do not procrastinate as it will not go away - check it out soonest. “

She also strongly suggests the following:

  • Annual mammography for women over 40 is a must.
  • Women also need to know their personal family history and need to take heed earlier should they have a gene pool of breast cancer.
  • Self examination needs to be daily intervention.
  • Find out as much as you can about the cancer and empower yourself with as much knowledge as possible.
  • Be sure to obtain the correct information and knowledge from a reliable source prior to the operation as it assists with the overall expectations post the operation.
  • Post operative, I recommend that one needs enough time off for physical and emotional healing and acceptance.

One year after diagnosis
More than a year after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Linda says she has only just realised what a traumatic experience it all was, and how it impacted her life and her family.

“I must admit that going for my mammogram this year was daunting. Although I did not initially experience it like that, sitting in the doctors rooms prior to going in, my floodgates opened. It came as quite a shock because I thought I’d dealt with all the emotions. But it soon became clear that I am scarred for life – outer scarring as well as inner scarring – and that I will never be that same as cancer lingers in the back of one’s mind.”

However, on reflection she realised that after she was diagnosed she faced two options, “stay in the shadow or come out into the light. My choice has been the latter”.

“I have experienced a sense of ‘living on the edge’. It’s like there is no tomorrow. Somehow the possible ‘death threat’ reduces the fear of approaching new things and pushing boundaries. However daunting, it’s like I am up for any challenge - things I may never have broached before!” she said.

It is this enthusiasm for life that led her to share her story with others after realising she had been given a second chance.

“It has pushed me to appreciate and love life more than before. In many ways I have tried to slow down, however there is so much that needs to be done and I yearn to partake in what life can offer.

“Breast cancer has enhanced my awareness of what is important. I realise I have a story to tell, and which will inform others and bring hope.”

What the future holds
Linda now glows with the energy and vitality of someone who is thoroughly enjoying life, and has been spreading her message of hope to anyone who would listen – from Good Hope radio, in publications, at public appearances such as Cuppa 4 Cansa and Smile Foundation fundraising – and most recently took part as a fashion model at the MNet Breast Cancer Luncheon.

But that’s not all.

“I am embracing a new career which is in Life and Executive Coaching and once I become a Practitioner Coach soon, I look forward to launching a new career in this direction. I look forward to facilitating processes in others as I during my life I have always had a saying and belief - “helping others prosper prospers me”.

“I have made many new friends, and have a ‘bosom buddy’. The two of us were connected through the oncology division and our relationship has grown from strength to strength. Sharing our different breast cancer experiences, together with our emotional well being has been a saving grace for both of us and has brought great learning.

“I have met many breast cancer survivors during the past year and having common ground one experiences an immediate connection. It still surprises me how open most are to share their experiences. It is as if there is no tomorrow and the sooner we can share our story and knowledge, the better.

“So in a nutshell, since diagnosis I have:

  • Realised what is important to me – my family, friends and resources.
  • Experienced tremendous personal as well as spiritual growth.
  • Realised that I only have one life, and that I need to ensure that I make every moment count.
  • Realised as a woman with so many roles in life, it is important to take time-out, so in order to nurture others, I need to nurture myself.

“Now my motto is: “have an attitude of gratitude’.”

(Amy Henderson, Health24.com, November 2009)

Read more:
Breast self-examination
Sex after breast cancer

 
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