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Adelle Botes

For me breast cancer had to happen... until 2004 I was just living... I had a good marriage, two lovely children age 9 and 12, Sunday school teacher/ youth home cell leader and a make-up artist. I helped my husband in his photographic business…but I knew that SOMEDAY I wanted to do more...be more... I had a yearning inside of me that I could not explain! Well nothing like staring death in the eyes to ignite a fire in you!!

It was end of November 2004 just a few days after my youngest daughter turned 9….as always we woke up … the kids got in my bed for a cuddle while Herman made coffee... we did bible study together and then I leaned over to pick up my cup and the back of my left wrist just fleetingly touched my right breast. I will never ever be able to explain that one split second, when I just knew... NOTHING will ever be the same!

It was like a movie in SLOW MOTION…mine was slow but all I could hear was my heart beating in my ears. It is true I just knew THIS was serious... I looked up at my husband and said I have a lump in my breast... how can I explain the look on my always calm, always level headed husband’s face when he said he will call the doctor immediately!

...and so our journey started with this very unwelcome guest in our lives. I never took ownership of cancer - I never said my cancer – this was an unwelcome guest that needed to teach me something. My doctor laughed our concerns away saying that at 32 it will only be hormonal and cancer lumps don’t just pop out…it grows bit by bit…she gave me antibiotics and send me home...

Three weeks later my breast was double its size and inflamed (like I was breastfeeding) again the doctor didn’t worry but this time I insisted I want THIS tested... we had no medical aid but I could not go to a state hospital... I was booked in to see a surgeon at Enthebeni the following day.

Until now I was very reserved I could not even think of what was happening... the surgeon looked at my breast and did a needle biopsy and immediately asked us whether we had medical aid…we said no and this man reacted so violently at what type of fools we were and that we will have to sell our house and everything we owned to keep me alive...

I am telling you about this rude doctor because THAT was my pivotal moment... I realised this is serious and if I ever needed to trust God... I needed to right now! He did a biopsy and send me for a breast scan (as I was too young for a mammogram) where quite a few doctors ran in and out looking at the scan. When we were finished they handed me my scan and said I had to see the surgeon the following day as everybody has already left... I got in the car and looked at my scan. My right breast had a white heart, I looked at it and thought how weird this lump is in the form of a heart...

I started reading the report and read it was non–malignant. As a proper Afrikaner I thought well anything with non at the beginning is okay but just to make sure I phoned my doctor and ask her what it meant... she told me to come to her office immediately... she will wait for me. When I walked in she very matter of fact said “Are you ready for the fight of your life, I will be with you every step of the way”.

When we got home I went to our bedroom but instead of crying I chose to read my Bible - I opened it on Psalm.118 verse 8-9, Therefor YOU shall not die but you will proclaim the name of the Lord!

...and just like that I knew that this was my mountain to climb BUT that God has prepared me for this and that He will be with me every step of the way.

During the next year I saw God daily favouring me... although the surgeon told me I will die if I don’t sell everything to fight this... God opened the doors and on the 23rd of December I met with top oncology team at Albert Luthuli. When that rude surgeon phoned to say he got me an appointment he said “I don’t know how it happened but you must have some higher authority working”

The good thing about a state hospital is things happens a bit slower, this allowed me to prepare my daughters and to learn as much as I could about this disease. I believe that knowledge is power and that it was extremely important to make informed decisions.

Although I was officially diagnosed in November REALITY set in on that December morning and while the nurses were singing Christmas Carols I wanted to run as far from this as possible BUT my fighter spirit did not allow me too. I met with my oncology surgeon, she did another biopsy (the lump by then grew another 1cm) and send me for numerous tests including a bone scan, a bone survey ,chest Xray and brain CT SCAN – while waiting for all of this my rock, my husband Herman sat next to me holding my hand.

I was diagnosed with STAGE 2A Inflammatory breast cancer - This is a rare type of breast cancer. Only 1 to 4 breast cancers out of every 100 diagnosed are this type. It is called inflammatory because the breast tissue becomes inflamed. The cancer cells block the smallest lymph channels in the breast.

Back in the surgeon’s office, she recommended a Modified radical mastectomy of my right breast… Removing the breast is the most common operation for inflammatory breast cancer - Modified radical mastectomy involves the removal of both breast tissue and lymph nodes:

It was decided to first start with chemo - This is called neo adjuvant chemotherapy. You have this first to help control the cancer cells in the breast and reduce the swelling. It also aims to destroy any cancer cells that may have spread elsewhere in the body.

On the 6th of January I started 3 treatments 21 days apart. The first night was the worst. My 9 year old daughter Suné brought her mattress and put it next to the toilet so that I didn’t have to get up. At 3am Herman had to rush me back to the emergency rooms with my 9 year old daughter adamant to go with …two drips later with the sun coming up over the sea we left to hopefully get some sleep… after that chemo was a breeze with just slight nausea.

I decided from the start that I will NOT allow my feelings and fear to rule but that my faith in Christ will be my strength. When my hair started falling out we had a hair party. As I had long hair my youngest daughter cut it in a bob and then my oldest daughter shaved it in a mo-hawk! We took photos had cake and just celebrated us as a family. Then Herman shaved it all off.

This had been our attitudes from the start – EVERYDAY I chose to get dressed, do my make-up and look good! I opted not to use a wig as it was just too uncomfortable, I would powder my head with bronzing pearls and I was ready to face the world. I got frustrated with some of the women’s attitude of “poor me” YOUR STATE OF MIND IS SO IMPORTANT!

In April the inflammation and swelling was under control and I went for a mastectomy. I am not going to lie and say that I was not scared that morning when the surgeon came and draw her lines on my body- but a Bible verse settled in my heart Isaiah 41 verse13 For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right HAND and says to you, Do not fear; I will HELP you.

I chose immediate reconstruction (in hindsight I would have not done that as the inflammation risk was too high) and woke up 6 hours later with a little bump where my breast was.

A week later I received my results and learnt that the cancer did not spread to my lymph nodes! That was great news as it meant I did not need radiation... I continued on another course of chemotherapy 3 treatments 21 days apart and was prescribed Tamoxifen for 5 years, it is a hormone therapy for the treatment of breast cancer that tests positive for estrogen receptors (ER+) meaning that estrogen promotes the growth of the breast cancer cells. Tamoxifen blocks the effects of estrogen on these cells.

As I said previously I chose immediate reconstruction – this means you have a saline filled implant which has a port attached to the expander …every two weeks I went to have more saline put in to maximise the skin available for reconstruction – I have gone twice for reconstruction but unfortunately every time it turned into capsular contracture - meaning that the breast becomes extremely hard like a huge ball and distorted by the contracture & the implant is being squeezed out of normal position, upward and is extremely painful. The third time I opted for a very small implant just to give me some curve and now use prosthesis to fill in the rest.

One of the most common side effects of breast cancer treatments is Lymphedema which is an abnormal buildup of fluid that causes swelling, mine is in my right arm.( The condition develops when lymph nodes are removed. The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system which helps fight off infection and clears debris from the body.) I have learned to do Manual Lymphatic Drainage and now keep it controlled... now and then when it gets bad I am reminded to take time out... Cancer taught me to never put things off- during chemo I promised myself to never say “one day” again but to always cease the moment! No More One day I want to do things, I choose to do it NOW!

I have learned that my husband’s love for me is unconditional and that “for better or worse - in sickness and in health” were not just words! It has made us a family of overcomers... understanding we can face anything together.

My faith in God, carried me through everything! And now 10 years later I look back and see the plan He had for me and that cancer was part of the path to my destiny! The Bible verse Jeremiah 29 verse 11 reminds me daily that we are on this earth to do more than just exists but daily live our lives to the fullest and that each one of us have a destiny!

“For I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not to harm you, to give you a future filled with hope”

Today I run my own successful modeling academy and agency, where I teach young people to live each day to the fullest and to believe in themselves.

Shalom Mkhize


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