This is a motto we should all live by! I am Chiquita Schram, and this is my story!
In 2008, I was sailing along without a care in the world, and then the bomb hit! I was diagnosed with the big C. Scared and afraid of the unknown. Little did I know that this was not the end of the world, it was just the beginning of another journey!
In Jan 2008, I discovered a lump in my right breast. It was quite large, and painful when someone hugged me. I thought nothing of it at first, thought it could just be another cyst – had a few of those previously. But then, it got worse, bigger, more sore. So went to my GP. She got me an appointment straight away with the mammogram centre in Rosebank.
Went through to the centre, saw Dr Seider – awesome doctor, who did the scan and mammogram. Whilst checking out the scan, he said that the left breast seemed okay, but that the right one was definitely something that needed treatment. “Treatment”…..what did this mean – I lay there contemplating what, why, all those thoughts flooding through my brain – and the tears slowly streaming down my cheeks. He then did a biopsy – which was not sore, but, oh boy, good job there’s nothing wrong with my heart – the noise of that little “gun” was loud.
The results were ready three days later, Wed 27 February – one day before my sister’s birthday – I did not want to give her this kind of news on her birthday. My GP called and said, the left breast was fine, just benign cysts – but the right breast was malignant – very large and aggressive!
I sat on the chair in my office and burst into tears. Went through to my colleagues and my boss……crying….they could not believe it, they really did not think it was something serious. After the initial shock wore off, that was it – now the plan of action. I had Stage 3 breast cancer due to the size of the tumour. No feelings of dread, no thoughts of death – nothing but what do I do now – how was my daughter going to take this, in her Matric year….. I was her rock, her mom…..so many thoughts and questions running through my brain.
I then called all my close friends and my dad and sister….. My boss asked me if I did not want to call my ex husband for support….. Honestly…..Hell No……he did not even enter into my brain…..his negativity would not help me in the least!!
After the initial shock was over, I decided that this would be a breeze, just another stumbling block in the road. I would not let anything nor anyone take away my life, my freedom and most importantly, being able to see my daughter fulfill her dreams.
My GP recommended I go see Dr Rogaly – who was fantastic – could not have asked for a better surgeon. Booked an appointment for Friday 29 Feb – took my two best friends with me. He gave us the rundown of what my options were. Chemo, op (depending on how the chemo worked, it would then be a mastectomy or lumpectomy) and then radiation – mastectomy was not an option straight away because of the size of the tumour – it was too large – there would be no skin left to do any reconstruction. We quizzed him on every aspect – what oncologist, what treatments, etc. Left feeling a lot better – knew the facts, where I was going, etc.
He booked an appointment for me with Dr Demetriou at the Donny Gordon Oncology centre for the following week.
I had not wanted to tell my daughter anything, until I knew all the facts, procedures, etc. – did not want to say to her “I don’t know”. So that Friday afternoon (after seeing Dr Rogaly), myself and my two friends (one of whom is my daughters Godmother)….told her what was going on…….she burst into tears….was totally floored…..wanted to know if it could travel to my brain….said no…… Let her ask as many questions as she needed…she did feel a little better once we had finished chatting….but it was very hard on her!!!!
I saw Dr Demetriou once we had the final results from the lab….to say exactly what type of breast cancer, and she then gave us the rundown of how long the treatment, etc. Had to undergo 4 sessions of the “Red Devil” chemo, then 4 sessions of Taxol.
I started chemo in March 2008….my first session was very scary….didn’t know how my body was going to react even after hearing the symptoms, chatting to others who had been through this.
The most difficult part of the treatment was definitely the last four sessions of the chemo – it attacked the nerve endings and joints in my legs, hips, ankles, etc. I usually felt the worst three days after chemo, so I always had the chemo on a Wednesday so I could rest on Saturday. After the last four chemo sessions, by the Saturday I could hardly walk. It felt like I had painful pins and needles all the time – thankfully it only lasted for about two days – by Sunday evening I almost felt human again.
My hair started falling out exactly two weeks after the first session of chemo – so as only I do – I had a bandana / shave party – had all my friends around, and shaved what little hair I have left – totally off!!! Felt quite liberating – I did by some wigs, but they were far too hot. So most days I wore my sunglasses on the top of my head, and out I went. My surgeon even asked if I had considered buying a wig….told him, I had. He was quite taken aback as to how confident I was – I didn’t need my hair to be the woman I am – strong and determined!!
All my family and friends were fantastic; they all volunteered to come with me to chemo, cooked meals for me and so much more. My two main pillars of strength were my best friends; Anne and Michelle. They alternated taking me to chemo and stayed with me all day. They were amazing and still are. My dad was also fantastic; he came up from the Cape to stay with me for 10 days to make sure I was okay. He also started calling me every night and still does. And of course, my daughter, she helped with the housework, washing, ironing, making me tea, giving me love and support and still managed to get through Matric with five distinctions.
Emotionally I am very strong, confident and determined, and I was just the same during this time, always refusing to let this get me down. I am not a victim; I am a survivor. I have always been a very positive happy person and this was not going to change just because I had breast cancer. My doctors all called me their “over-achiever”. The lump was gone after the third session of chemo. I never walked into the hospital or doctors rooms without being happy, smiling and full of life.
After the 6 months of chemotherapy, the “bump” (as I called it) was gone – not a trace – I then had a partial removal in September last year, and then radiation!!
To all those women out there that put off having a mammogram….DON’T!!!! Take it from me, it is scarier not knowing, than knowing. If you ever get that news, take it as another bridge to cross, another bump in the road. Never say die, never give up, always remain positive!!!!
I did, and am living proof it works!