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Pauline Stratham

How did the diagnosis and treatment impact my life?

When I was diagnosed with my cancer my first thought was “oh spit” as I had presumed that my cross to bear was having MS (Multiple Sclerosis), which I had been diagnosed with way back in 1967.

The cancer diagnosis did not affect me emotionally as I am a strong Christian and have always believed that the Lord is right beside me at all times directing my life.

My faith has given me the ability to accept whatever life has thrown at me. Having lived with MS for so many years with its debilitating consequences, and being blessed with a high threshold of pain, made it much easier for me to cope with the effects of having chemo.

I had retired from work less than a year earlier so did not have the added burden of juggling treatment with work commitments. Of course one’s life is impacted with the diagnosis and treatment in many ways but one can certainly try and make this impact as smooth as possible for one’s own lifestyle. One of the most important things in my life is attending church on Sunday so I always tried to have my weekly treatments on a Wednesday as I was usually feeling fairly ok four days later, so most Sundays I was still manning the church “Welcome desk”.

When all of my hair fell out I resorted to hats and scarves, wigs would have been too hot in the Durban heat – apart from the fact I always had unruly hair before and wigs were far too “smart” for me!

I do remember blaming my thinking lethargy on having “a chemo brain” and was quite relieved to find that once the chemo treatment had ended and I was asked to go back to work for a short time my “chemo brain” was a thing of the past.

My diet also changed due to my husband and I reading a particular book on Cancer. We ended up having more of a vegetarian diet which was quite spiced as I was determined to eat as normally as possible even though all food tasted like cardboard. One evening my youngest son, who was out here with his wife from the UK, invited us out for a meal.

He paid out a fortune for us all and I might as well have been eating a leather belt. This was the last time I went out for a meal whilst on chemo!

How has my current life been impacted by having had cancer?

The impact of having cancer continues into my current life, all be it in mostly a positive way.

The only negative is that four years down the line I still have to have treatment every three weeks. The three weekly treatments must be factored in to any local or overseas trip as my Medical Aid authorises it to be given at a specific local oncology centre. Although I have to do careful planning when going away it does ensure that I will not overstay my welcome.

The continued treatment is Herceptin and Zometa by intravenous. I have fourth stage breast cancer which spread to the bones of hip, rib, spine and skull.

Herceptin is for hopefully preventing any further spread of the cancer and Zometa is basically a “poly filla” for the bones that have been eroded by cancer. Apart from the three weekly treatments - if you shake me I will rattle with the tablets that I have to take daily!

The positives far outweigh the negative. I have made numerous new friends and been introduces to many new activities, which include aqua aerobics, line dancing, belonging to a social bookclub where discussion of any book is usually by mistake!

I have even done “pole dancing”! My sister was horrified when I told her but the “pole dancing” was actually three of us doing a simple line dance, entertaining other patients, in the oncology centre while attached to our drips.

As it happened our change of diet has become a necessity for my husband who has been diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease which forbids the eating of animal protein.

Unfortunately after the initial surgery I developed chronic lymphoedema. This has resulted in lifetime management by wearing an arm garment. On several occasions I have had the opportunity to share my experiences with fellow sufferers and reinforce their usage of a garment for their benefit.

Hopefully I have been able to be an inspiration and repay some of the kindness and friendships given to me. I have been asked to give my cancer testimony at my church.

Can I share an uplifting, funny, enlightening advice around cancer?

  •   For those of you who are Christian ask the Lord to give you strength and also ask your friends to keep you in their prayers. It was wonderful to know that many people were praying for me.
  •   Don’t be ashamed of your diagnosis. Tell your friends and family as you will need their support.
  •   Accept the diagnosis. Treat this as a new journey in your life – one never knows where a journey may lead you and who you will meet along the way.
  •   Remember that life is uncertain for everyone whether they have cancer or not.
  •   When having chemo try to eat normally to keep your strength up. Try different spices for taste and do not go overboard with any of the numerous “cancer cure diets” that you will invariably be sent by friends. Check with your oncologist first before embarking on any of these “cheap cures”. One can turn orange by eating too many carrots!
  •   Some form of exercise two or three times a week is obligatory, as far as I’m concerned. I find aqua aerobics and walking works for me as they are not too vigorous.
  •   Look for the positives such as “no hair” means “saving on haircuts”! Your hair will grow back again – though you may be a different “colour coding”. I am!
  •   “Hang in there” “Chin up” as much as possible.
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