Breast cancer

Updated 20 November 2017

Diagnosed with breast cancer

Heidi du Plessis was diagnosed with breast cancer after discovering a swelling of her breast during a routine self-examination. Here is her story.

I discovered a swelling of my breast and my nipple was becoming inverted on Saturday 19/01/2013. I went to my doctor on Monday 21/01/2013 and made an appointment for a mammogram on 05/02/2013 (it was the earliest appointment I could get).
The mammogram and sonar were inconclusive. I was referred to a surgeon and lucky to get an appointment that same afternoon. I took my shirt and bra off for the examination and before he had even examined me, he told me that he thought it was breast cancer. I was in a total state of shock and fell apart. An MRI was schedule for Friday 08/02/2013, which was also inconclusive.
I was scheduled for surgery (biopsy and possible mastectomy – left breast) depending on the outcome of the biopsy on Monday 11/02/2013. The scary thing for me was that I did not know that I had had the mastectomy until I woke up. I had to sign permission before I went into theatre.
I underwent the biopsy and mastectomy 11/02/2013 and was diagnosed with Lobular Carcinoma.
I was discharged from hospital on 13/02/2013 with the drain. The drain was removed 19/02/2013. My surgeon told me that I had 2nd stage cancer. I returned to work on 25/02/2013.
Overnight change

My first appointment with the oncologist was 01/03/2013 where she told me I had early 3rd stage cancer. I was devastated. She said that I had probably had cancer for at least a year without knowing it. Apparently Lobular Carcinoma is very difficult to diagnose with sonar, mammogram and MRI, which was the case with me.

The scary thing is that on Friday 18/01/2013 there was nothing visibly wrong with my breast and I am quite good about doing self-examinations. It was literally an overnight change in the appearance of my breast.
I underwent an echo cardiogram on 08/03/2013 and CT scans and bone density scans on 09/03/2013 to make sure there was no cancer in the rest of my body. It was discovered that there are cysts on my liver and on my left ovary. I was referred to a gynaecologist who did a sonar and blood tests to ascertain whether or not it was cancerous. Fortunately at this stage not but that does not rule out further surgery altogether.
I have had my first chemo treatment on 15/03/2013, second on 05/04/2013 and the third is scheduled for 26/04/2013. I need to have a total of 6 chemo treatments. But after the third they will redo all the blood tests and scans to see how my body is reacting and to see if my treatment needs to be adjusted in any way.
Thereafter I will have radiation treatment. At this stage I do not know when or for how long. I will also receive hormone replacement therapy for between 5 – 7 years.

No serious side effects
I am very fortunate at this stage not to have had any serious side effects and no nausea whatsoever. I have lost my hair, my skin is much drier and my eyes and nose are permanently runny. I also have some constipation which we treat with black forest tea and I suffer from very bad indigestion from time to time for which I have been prescribed Nexium.
At my last chemo treatment and check up my oncologist discovered a "fullness" in my right breast which we are keeping an eye on. I am a bit concerned but am hoping that the chemo will keep it in check.
At this stage I am feeling very good and strong and I am hoping it stays this way.
I have been blessed with an excellent medical team. I have had my fair share of ups and downs but I am surrounded by a lot of love and support and at this stage I am coping OK.

(Photo of breast cancer ribbon from Shutterstock)

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Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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