These are the words that carried Tania Jacobs through her breast cancer battle when she lost her hair. October is breast cancer awareness month, and Jacobs, 33, shares her story, of being diagnosed with breast cancer twice.
She was 29 years old when she was first diagnosed, and after treatment, she remained in remission until she found another lump in her breast in June last year.
Growing up, she said she had a normal childhood and was not prone to any serious illnesses other than the odd cold and flu. However, her paternal grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her seventies.
“I discovered a lump in my right breast, which was quite painful,” she said of the June 2014 experience.
She only decided to have it checked after some convincing from family and friends. “I eventually went to have a biopsy done at Groote Schuur Hospital. I then received a call to come in for a mammogram and ultrasound. The results came back from the biopsy and it was breast cancer.”
When the doctor gave her the results, she was surprisingly calm, she said.
“Luckily I had my mother with me when I received the results. I immediately went into ‘what do we need to do?’ mode. I know it would be a normal thing to freak out, but I did not.”
The treatment plan was to shrink the lump with chemotherapy. “I had seven rounds of chemotherapy, which was spaced out every three weeks. After I was done with chemo, I had a bilateral mastectomy in December 2014.
"I opted for bilateral to decrease the chances of breast cancer occurring in my left breast. I then underwent radiation and breast reconstruction after the radiation was completed,” she said.
Although the treatment helped her, she started losing her hair a mere two weeks after starting chemotherapy.
“This was the most emotional stage for me as a woman. I felt that this was the lasting that made me feel like woman because my breast was already failing me. Someone close to me then told me something that has stuck with me: ‘I am not my hair nor my breast’.”
“I could physically feel I was not well, and I was so exhausted most of the time. After every chemo session, I was ill and it took at least two days for me to recover from the nausea and vomiting.”
“I was in remission until I found a another lump in my right breast in June last year. I went back to the breast clinic at Groote Schuur to have a biopsy and it came back as breast cancer. This time I had more emotions. I felt like I had just claimed my life back. My hair was grown, and I felt like a woman again.”
Her chemotherapy started in February this year, and it was easier than the previous one.
“I knew what to expect, but it was nothing like what I had experienced before. My hair did not fall out and I wasn’t nauseous. This was a relief.”
She completed her treatment in April and underwent another operation to remove the lump. In August, she got married.
“Right now I am in remission. There are days I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin, but it passes. I survived breast cancer twice, I will not allow it to get me down.”
Jacobs said her body had changed, and she had to find ways to make it work for herself.
“The battle I currently face is what to wear. At the moment, I am flat-chested on my right side, so I generally wear bigger T-shirts and jackets that cover the front. I am in the process of getting bras that are designed to fit a prosthesis.”
Jacobs said she would not live with the fear that the cancer will return. “That is not living. You have one life, and you need to make the most of it. That is exactly what I am doing. Cancer can kiss my a**.”
She recently went for the same genetic test as US actress Angelina Jolie to determine if her breast cancer is hereditary.
“I have not yet received the results. My husband and I don’t have any children, and we want to start a family.
"I felt going for this test would be vital for our future and the choices we make going forward.”
With this said, she explained that the best way to get through a fight against cancer is by having a strong support structure.
“My advice to any fighter is to keep fighting and never lose faith. You will have an incredible story to tell at the end the journey. To the survivors, be proud of yourselves; you beat cancer.”