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Adele James

15 June 2012 was the day that changed my life forever. on the 15th June, I had taken my friend and her baby to an after hour emergency room at a government hospital. It was clean and the staff were very friendly... Of course there were no frills and very little privacy... but, all in all, I was impressed. It all happened so fast, but at the same time, it was almost like everything was in slow motion...

From behind me, two policemen were walking a man that appeared to have been in a fight and badly stabbed in his arm. AS they got to me, the man grabbed hold of a water pipe that I was leaning against. As he did that, the policemen pulled him back, opening the wound and spaying his blood across my face and into mouth!

HORRIFIED… panic set in!... I wanted to scream but nothing came out of my mouth! I ran down the hospital corridor and it felt like hours before I found myself in the bathroom washing my mouth out with the only thing available... hand soap. “Sorry Mrs James but we have to test you for HIV before we can put you on ARV’s (anti retrovirals)...". I had to sit in a queue like everyone else and wait my turn.

My blood was taken and another hour or so passed by before the test came back negative. I was given one ARV and told to come back in the morning. I drove home, parked the car and just sat there for a long time…. I wanted to cry but there were no tears! I chose to see my GP the following day who put me on a course of ARV’s and warned about the terrible side effects. On the 3rd day…..I had my usual morning shower and checked my breasts lumps, (a habit I got used to when my mother passed away from breast cancer.)

THERE IT WAS!... a lump, and it wasn’t a small one... PANIC! I phoned my doctors rooms where I was assured that it was a side effect of the ARV, or more than likely, a swollen gland caused by the ARV. A sigh of relief! BUT... the lump got bigger and sensitive to the touch.

After 2 months, the course was finished and I presumed “the lump would go as quickly as it came”. It didn’t….so I had it checked out. I went for an ultrasound as a mammogram was not possible with my swollen and painful breast.

The scan showed that the lump was very vascular (what did that mean????? I wish that doctors could explain thing in English) I was sent to a surgeon who discovered 3 lumps.

After an inconclusive manual extraction with a needle, he decided to take me into theatre and do what they call a frozen section (this is when they have a pathologist in theatre, a biopsy is done and depending on the pathology report either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy is done)

I went into theatre on the 1st November 2012 not knowing what was going to happen but I really didn’t think I would have a mastectomy... I came out 4 hours later and my breast was gone – I was in shock!

I had gone through this with my mother, how can this disease curse a family twice! The first thing I saw when they wheeled me out of theatre was my 2 sons.. Dylan 26yrs old and Kye 22yrs old... they were devastated so I reassured them that it was all going to be fine...

When I saw my surgeon the next day he told me that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and to my liver... he also told me that the ARV has basically saved my life. The ARV had just brought the cancer to the surface (it had been there for a while already.

Had I not gone on the ARV’s who knows how long it would have been before it was detected... EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON!

My head was spinning, there were hundreds of thought rushing though my head and all the WHAT IF’s and WHY ME questions kept popping up…. I never for one second though I CAN’T DO THIS, that just wasn’t even an option... I HAD TO DO THIS... I decided to write my thoughts down and this is what I thought

WHY ME...? Why not me, why should this happen to someone else and not me!!!!!

I’ve lost a breast not a leg, arm or an eye – there are worse things to lose than a breast... I can have reconstruction and no one will even know the difference. If I had a choice what would I rather lose, a leg or a breast? Without a doubt I would rather lose a breast. Am I going to let this become who I am, will this define me, will it become bigger than me... NO WAYS. I did not invite cancer into my life. So I will NEVER sit back and say…… OKAY, you win, take over, NO, you are not welcome. Do I like this? No, I hate i... Can I change it? No... Can I live with it? YES I can and I know I’m strong enough to fight this...

The cancer was a shock, but the biggest shock was still to come... it was heart-breaking to discover that a friend I thought would stand by me and really be there for me…just wasn’t! Yet total strangers give you so much support and strength it’s amazing…. On the other hand, my sons have been so good to me and we have become closer because of this…….

It’s not easy going through chemo, I hate the thought of that poison running through my veins

I was not given any treatment options... My treatment consisted of 4 red devils, (1 every 3 weeks) followed by another milder chemo once a week for 12 weeks... I have bad days when I have to force myself out of bed, when the dark room feels like the only place I want to spend the day and it’s really hard to get up and go.. but I have fantastic days and fortunately there are a lot more good days than bad….

The school that I work for have been so good to me, the students have overwhelmed me with love, kindness and prayer… I know that if I fall there will be someone there to catch me before hit the ground. I know that every minute of every day, somewhere, someone in this world is thinking of me and that alone gives me so much strength... Losing my hair doesn’t bother me too much but losing my breast took some getting used to. Hopefully I will get reconstruction before the end year…

Having a prosthetic breast makes me feel more comfortable in public but the bra is very uncomfortable, and the silicone breast is very heavy, causing me backache. Chemo has changed me in so many ways. I have realised that I can’t just go through life accepting or living with things that don’t make me happy. I have one life and to live it and I want to be happy doing it…

It has taught me that there is so much more to life than possessions and money. Chemo has made me a stronger woman and helped me find an inner power I never knew I had... I have lost my mother and my dearest friend to breast cancer and I’ll be damned if cancer is going to take me too. I love photography and it was very unusual for me to be on the other side of the camera during my photo shoot with Pink Phoenix Cancer Foundation but it was a fun experience and the photographs were really beautiful. I can’t believe the response we have had! It was such a heartwarming revelation to know that there are so many people that care..

I would like to thank the Pink Phoenix Foundation for inspiring me to inspire others. If I could give advice to someone facing this battle, it would be.


I promised myself that I would fight this fight with everything I have. I intend keeping that promise.

Shalom Mkhize


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