It was 5:00am and we were driving to what was at that stage, the only government hospital in the United Arab Emirates that was sophisticated enough to have a fully fledged Oncological department with chemotherapy suites attached, which meant driving 120km to and from treatments each time. For this first session, Jaco was driving us there as we had no idea how I’d react to the medication. We’d left the girls with friends who’d kindly volunteered to babysit them. There was no question in my mind that, that was the right thing to do. What was happening to me was bad enough, and I didn’t want to drag the girls through it with me. I wanted to protect them from all of this as much as possible. In the car on the way I also had a chance to really reflect which led me to the next age old question. Did this breast cancer just happen to me or did I do something to cause it? An Aunt who I was very close to once wisely said, ‘The sins of your youth catch up with you when you’re older.’
Upon hearing that for the first time I did what many naïve young adults do, and that was roll my eyes to the ceiling. Now however it was all starting to make sense to me. I went somewhat off the rails in my late teens and early twenties, which were spent in reckless abandon. I got involved in a toxic relationship that went nuclear in the end, and in between all that I developed a taste for alcohol and cigarettes. I’m not sure if I could say even now whether the alcohol was an addiction…maybe a brief one, but I developed in to what many people call a dedicated smoker. Throughout my twenties and early thirties I’d tried countless times to quit, but I just couldn’t. It took being diagnosed with breast cancer to get me to finally kick the habit. Why is it that some of us humans always wait for the other shoe to drop before we finally learn our lessons? My mother always used to ask me why I chose to do things the difficult way and make my life so hard. I still cannot answer that question. The good news is that I have learnt through the years and bitter experience to simplify my life and not to complicate or clutter it. I think my mom’s shouting ‘Halleluiah’ from the heavens now!
There was also the other issue of fertility treatment that I had undergone years before together with the excess estrogen that came along with it. Just after Jaco and I got married we decided we wanted to start a family pretty much right away. Almost a year later when nothing had happened, we visited a doctor to see if there was a problem somewhere. The problem of course lay with me and the fact that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome and was not ovulating properly. This meant treating it first with medication and then waiting again for a while to see if I couldn’t fall pregnant on my own. I didn’t and so it was fertility treatment that was on the menu. I proved luckier than most when I fell pregnant with Rochelle on only the second cycle of treatment. After doing so much research for my breast cancer book, I have consequently learnt that fertility treatment can play a role in developing breast cancer, as hormone receptor positive breast cancer like mine feeds off excess estrogen. Like many cancers, breast cancer doesn’t happen over night. It can take up to a decade to develop the disease with all these carcinogens that one comes into contact with, and that can have a residual effect on the body.
Then there was the time when I decided to take on the project of housepainter. Yes, I took it upon myself to tackle the exterior appearance of our abode. It didn’t involve painting the actual house, just the trimmings like the gutters, window frames, security gates and what have you. This meant coming into contact with lead laden paint and thinners to clean my hands with day in and day out for weeks on end. I should’ve worn gloves of course, but I just couldn’t have been bothered at the time. Stupid and thoughtless you say? Yes it was! All those things may have added up to create just the right recipe for things to go wrong and for genetic damage to take place, but I will never know for sure. I cannot beat myself up for something that I have no definitive proof of. All I could do was take it all and use it to serve as lessons for my own daughters.
Upon arriving at the hospital I had to consult with my doctor first where blood had to be taken to check my white blood cell counts, and before chemotherapy could even start, my doc had insisted that they insert a portocath!? I was blindsided by that. I thought they were just going to use my veins, and now they want to go and shove a metal ring in my chest? What next!