Sharon Bradshaw Brave & Beautiful Ambassador
- Breast Cancer
30th August 2016 seemed, at the time, to be just like any other normal week day. Little did I realize that GOD was about to perform a miracle for me - albeit in an unusual way.
After work, in my usual routine, I was rushing - as I always did in those days – to my car with a 2-tiered basket trolley piled with parcels. The trolley wheel shot off, the trolley stopped abruptly and tilted forward with me following suit - falling with force onto the metal frame. Groceries flew in all directions and I was in hot pursuit of rolling cans despite searing pain and the huge golf ball sized lump exploding from my shin.
Later, after having shown him my shin and while relating the story to my husband, Rob, we laughed about how my escapade would have made an ideal “Candid Camera” moment.
Two weeks’ later, it was no longer laughable when I discovered a lump in my breast whilst I showered. As I sponged myself, I recoiled from the electric-like shock which resulted from the sharp pain I felt in my left breast. Gingerly, I investigated the lump with my fingers and with terror, the realisation struck me that this was a dreaded lump. In panic I called my husband who brushed it off by saying that I must just have hurt myself when I fell on the trolley handle. He had calmed me on the surface because I so wanted to believe him but, somewhere deep inside, instinct was telling me otherwise.
Consequently, I went straight to my doctor the next day. My thoughts on the way drove me to the point of insanity. I was praying that my Greatest Fear would not be realized, I was praying for all to be good – in fact, I was begging.
I was slightly appeased by her saying, on examining me, that this lump could simply be trauma to my breast from the fall on to the trolley. Just to be certain, she sent me for a Mammogram and an Ultrasound.
To this point, I was uneasy but hopeful. One look at the expression on the Radiologist’s face at the Ultrasound told me a story I did not want to acknowledge.
My husband, Rob, had completed 2 months of a 3 months’ course in the Northern Cape. Further tests were about to be done and I reassured him that I was strong and fine and would be able to cope. Truth be told, I was terrified but was determined not to let the investigation period of tests interfere with the remaining month of his Course. Reassured, he left again to complete the course.
Results in hand from the Mammogram and the Ultrasound, I returned to my GP who read the report and told me very gently that it did not look good. She said that before we got ahead of ourselves I needed to have a Biopsy. My mind and emotions were in turmoil - a cocktail of despair and disbelief but still I held out Hope. Perhaps because of this, I rushed to sort it out in an attempt to get the result and reassurance I so desperately needed that the Biopsy would prove the Mammogram and Ultrasound wrong.
Rushing in headlong, we found a specialist, in walked “Mr Lunatic” to do a Biopsy. What a waking Nightmare this was. There I sat – all my energy focused in hope when in came my supposed “Saviour”. Without much ado and absolutely NO sensitivity he pronounced that he hoped I had policies in place because now that I am having a biopsy that door is closed. He advised that I would possibly need Radium treatment and then flaps taken from my back for Reconstruction. I was expecting to be told that a Biopsy would be done and then, based on the results, the way forward would be advised. In my shock and trauma, drowning in the deep end into which he had unceremoniously dumped me, I held on to one positive lifeline he had thrown me when he stated, with a ridiculously Happy Smile: “Breast Cancer is Curable!” Another was when he advised that he, personally, was reluctant to do the Biopsy.
I left his rooms in the Hospital, found myself on the pavement in a daze, feeling entirely alone, isolated and removed from all others bustling about their daily lives. Inexplicably I felt alienated from my family and was overcome with deep regret. The tears streamed soundlessly.
Once home, I called my sister Suzie and from that moment, she walked my Painful Path with me, providing comic relief and taking control when required. At the same time, I had had word from my Husband that he would have to reside – in terms of his Career – in Pretoria for the year 2017. I was not going to stand in his way.
Biopsy Day went smoothly at Lake Smit but with an express warning: “Sharon, there is no hurry. Do not panic and take your time about which doctors you choose if the results are not what we are hoping for.”
Suzie, my Sister, and I went back to “Mr Lunatic” for the results of my Biopsy. In reception, with another patient waiting, the Receptionist looked up and insensitively announced “Mrs Bradshaw you will need to see an Oncologist so I am making an appointment for you”.
Traumatized, shocked and somewhat embarrassed I looked at Suzie and said quietly: “Well I guess I have Cancer, should we leave”? I then burst into tears which, in turn, made Suzie cry. Once composed, my sister got her fight on and what unfolded was quite comical - she was like a tiger fighting for her cub. The enormous lesson I learned here is that family is irreplaceable and so precious. By the time I saw “Mr Lunatic” I had already switched off - my mind made up that HE was NOT going to be my Doctor.
The next step was to see an Oncologist and here I was blessed to have found an Earth Angel: Dr Riaz Mall. A more dedicated, caring, empathic, encouraging Doctor I could not have dreamt of finding. He unhurriedly explained everything in detail. Left over from previous experience, I was still feeling anxious, but this beautiful soul made me trust again and I knew instinctively he would be at my side - no matter what. The most significant advice he gave me, and this has been something that has helped me get through, particularly in the darkest hours, was: “Sharon, look me in the eye and tell me that you are 80% positive and nothing less!” I have felt 100% positive in his hands.
I then met my surgeon, Dr Rajput who was yet another Blessing: having a beautiful, caring soul and highly skilled surgeon hands. After having discussed with him at length, all the pros and cons, I chose to have a full mastectomy which turned out to be the best decision I could have made.
The operation was to be at Parklands, Rob was back home and, without saying a word to each other, he made me feel safe by pulling me into his loving arms. He is my “Rock” who is always positive and without whom my life would have little meaning. I remember shaking violently with silent tears pouring down my cheeks in the darkness of our room. I spoke to my Mom in my mind, she had died when I was only 15, and I so needed her then. Losing my Dad 6 years after my Mom was now coming back to me and my sense of loss was intensely heightened.
The morning of the operation the most amazing calmness came over me I got to the hospital and there sitting in the reception were my two sisters. We all went to the ward together. True to their caring, loving, nurturing souls they accompanied me and Rob all the way down to the theatre (how they got that right I have no idea). Dr Rajput together with this gorgeous looking anaesthetist came to fetch me (all my Doctors were so handsome) and the short way to the threatre I kept laughing with my left arm raised high singing LEFT do not forget LEFT with Dr Rajput saying “There are two of us here to remind each other”. I was making sure the correct breast was removed. Then it was over, and Dr Rajput came to tell me that the Cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes.
My next stop was back to my Earth Angel of LIGHT, Riaz Mall, who explained that I had Estrogen positive Stage 2, Grade 3 cancer - Grade 3 being aggressive. I would need chemotherapy. He told me I would lose my hair, how strange I was relieved to lose my breast but losing my hair upset me deeply. I wanted to hide what I was going through for some unknown reason and realised my baldness would tell a different story. I had four Red Devils and was lucky not to have suffered from nausea at all. I just got very tired after the third and fourth ones. I have to add, I became horrendously aggressive and brutally honest in my interactions with others - fortunately I could don various wigs to disguise myself. Thereafter I underwent 12 weeks of Taxol with no side effects other than tingly feet on my last treatment but not enough to make me discard my stilettos. I would have treatment, jump into my car and rush back to work like a crazy person. This part of my experience leaves me with such vivid memories of what a rush I was in I seemed to rush through life without giving myself a moment to just be.
I would like to say here that, although these treatments were harrowing and traumatic, I was humbled, each time I went by those also undergoing treatment. I met so many Wonderful, Brave people and discovered that a Sense of Humour and concern for others made my treatments more bearable.
Subsequently I had reconstruction by an artist, Paul McGarr, whose wicked Sense of Humour really helped. Reconstruction was not easy but Paul made it a bearable and at times a hilarious experience.
I have finally understood, by looking back on this experience, that I would not change it for the world – something which Sharon van Straaten, my special Earth Angel and who is an Amazing Woman, helped me realise through her continued support and counselling. The whole experience is surreal to me, it feels like a dream and it made me realise there is a far greater power than anything here on earth and his name is GOD. HE brought the lump to my attention, HE carried me, HE walked beside me, HE held my hand and HE has taken the memories of pain away. I have found the secret to my life and my personal spiritual growth has no bounds. I have been fortunate to see and experience much of the physical world and, when my time comes to go home, I get to take all the sights of the most beautiful waterfalls, cultures and landscapes of the world with me. LOVE and MEMORIES are the only reality that matter.
There is a song called “ I’m Going to Love you through it” which describes my journey with such honesty. I have gone forward now living my life with gratitude and love and by loving others through it the way I was loved through it. I stop to watch the birds and breathe in the ocean air. More importantly I no longer rush.
I would like to end by showing my deepest appreciation, profound love and respect for:
SHARON VAN STRAATEN – my special earth angel with a beautiful heart. Sha you were right if I had the choice I would not change a thing. I love you and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued support and counselling you are so very special
SUSAN LATTER – Your walk with me was as painful for you as it was for me and so funny at times – I love you my Suzie and am so blessed to have you as my sister
DR RAJPUT - for your beautiful caring soul and skilled surgeon hands
RIAZ MALL – My bright light in the darkness that at times encompassed me. Thank you Riaz you shall always reside in my heart and be my LIGHT Angel. I was and still am beyond blessed to have you in my life.
PAUL MCGARR – our journey together is nearing the end – thank you Paul – thank you for that wonderful wicked sense of humour that continues to get me through
MY HUSBAND ROB – I absolutely adore you, without you my life has no meaning. I love you more every minute of every day. Thank you my darling for always being positive and for being my rock
Most importantly, THANK YOU GOD, my life belongs to you