Cancer

07 September 2017

‘I’m grateful my husband pushed me to have a mammogram’

Ruth Melim was diagnosed with stage 1A breast cancer in December 2016. Fortunately it was caught early after her husband pushed her to have a mammogram.

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Ruth Melim, an accountant at CancerCare head office, was diagnosed with stage 1A breast cancer in December 2016.

Although she put off having a mammogram because of the cost, her husband stepped in and insisted she have it done sooner rather than later.  

She shares her story: 

Don’t put it off

If it wasn’t for my husband, I’d probably still have the cancer growing inside me. I went to the gynaecologist for my yearly check-up in September 2016 and asked when I should go for a mammogram as I was turning 40. 

He gave me referral letter but said he couldn’t feel anything. I decided that I’d wait until 2017 because I had to pay for it out of my own pocket. 

A short time later, my husband and I were talking about a family member who had cancer (she unfortunately passed away) and he wanted to know how one checks for breast cancer. I explained that the doctor normally examines your breasts; but if you don’t have a mammogram, you won’t know for certain. 

My husband asked when I was going to have one – I told him that I would go later as it is expensive. The next day he phoned me and told me to choose a date and time. He said he would pay, but I needed to go. 

‘You have cancer’

When I heard those dreaded words, "You have cancer", I had 101 questions. How big is it? Is it growing fast? 

The gynaecologist who told me I had cancer was unable to give me answers – all he could say was that it was cancer and I needed to see a surgeon. He explained this was not his field of expertise and that he was trying to get me an appointment to see a surgeon who specialises in breast cancer. 

The worst part was that my family was in the car waiting for me. I had to tell them this sad news.

I spoke to the oncologist who treated me five years ago when I was diagnosed with skin cancer. He said it wasn’t great news but because the cancer was caught so unbelievably early there was more than enough time to deal with it. Ruth Melim, pullout quote, cancer

Handling treatment

I was fortunate as the cancer hadn't spread under my arms and I didn’t need chemo. I had a lumpectomy (this is where they remove just the cancer and not the entire breast) and radiation treatment for six weeks. 

The first two weeks of radiation were fine but then my skin became sensitive. The oncologist initially prescribed cream to soothe my skin. But towards the end he suggested I put a cabbage leaf on my breast – strangely enough this helped more than the cream! 

The radiation made me tired, so there were a couple of days where I’d go home and sleep after treatment. 

Treatment lasted 10 minutes a day – it doesn’t sound like it would affect you but it does eventually. I am a very hands-on person, so it was difficult for me to let go when I couldn’t do my daily chores or even some of my duties at work. 

Healing after the operation also took a long time – I had to be patient and understand that when I was unable to do something, I just had to let go or let someone else do the job, even if it wasn’t to my liking.

What I have learnt

Don’t refuse help! Let people help you, even if you’re a hands-on type of person. 

Cancer is not the end of the world and you are the same person you were before being diagnosed. 

Don’t use Google – speak to the professionals. Each cancer has its own characteristics and needs to be dealt with in its own unique way. 

I’m grateful that my husband pushed me to have a mammogram. I’d never have gone if he hadn’t insisted, and my cancer would not have been caught so early.

 

Ask the Expert

Cancer expert

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst. For more information, visit cansa.org.za.

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