When Mandy Murdock discovered a pea-sized lump in her breast in August 2011, she had no idea what the next six months would hold. She was just 44 and there was no history of breast cancer in her family. “I went for a mammogram to get it checked out, but I kept telling myself that only 10 percent of lumps are dangerous, it’s probably fine,” relates Mandy.
The mammogram was inconclusive, so she had to go for an ultrasound, followed by a fine needle biopsy, which finally confirmed traces of cancer. “My first reaction wasn’t really panic, but rather ‘Okay, what do we do now?’ My husband and I went to see a whole range of specialists, including an oncologist, a breast specialist and a reconstructive surgeon. They suggested that I opt for DNA profiling, as this would allow them to detect exactly what kind of cancer I had.”
DNA profiling for breast cancer
DNA profiling is currently not covered by the majority of medical aids in South Africa and is a very expensive process as a sample of the cancerous lump is sent all the way to a laboratory in Holland. “After considering the costs – and also the risks for my health – we decided to go ahead with the DNA profiling. The lab in Holland did 56 different tests on my sample and the results came back confirming that it was a high-risk, aggressive form of cancer. That was a major wake-up call for me: I couldn’t believe that such a tiny lump could be so dangerous,” says Mandy.
Mandy started immediately with chemotherapy, which entailed four intense sessions every three weeks, followed by eight maintenance sessions, each spaced a week apart. “The chemotherapy was really difficult, but the fact that I had gone for the DNA profiling meant that they could use very specific chemotherapy doses, especially for my type of cancer, and they also gave me very good anti-nausea medication. So although I felt pretty awful for the first week after each session, I think it could have been far worse,” she says.
Her other saving grace came in the form of her parents-in-law who made food, drove her children to school and helped wherever they could. “I don’t know what I would have done without them,” says Mandy.
Once the chemotherapy was over, Mandy had 25 sessions of radiation and surgery to cut out what remained of the lump. Tests on the lymph nodes under her armpit revealed the good news that the cancer hadn’t spread further.
“I still go for tests every six months, including a mammogram, ultrasound, X-rays and blood profiling, but I’ve been cancer-free for over two years now,” she says. “My faith, family and friends were crucial in carrying me through this journey. I’m so thankful for them all.”
Tips to help you cope with breast cancer
Mandy offers advice for women dealing with cancer and chemotherapy:
- Get enough rest. “You have to literally lie in bed and sleep, or just lie there with your eyes closed. My eyes used to get sore just from focusing, so I couldn’t even read or watch TV.”
- Ask for help. “Accept that you can’t run around and be superwoman when you’re recovering from chemo. The best thing you can do for your children is to ask others to help look after them.”
- Do what you can to feel and look good. “One of the hardest parts of the experience for me was losing my hair. I had long blonde hair and even though I knew it was going to fall out, I was still horrified when it came out in a huge wad in the shower. But you learn to adapt – I made more of an effort with make-up and earrings and I wore lots of hats and beanies.”
- Wear comfortable clothes. “I didn’t want to wear pajamas all the time, but after a few days I realised that the strappy tops I was wearing were really making me uncomfortable. Find something that is comfortable, but that you also feel good wearing.”
- Eat when and what you can. “I couldn’t face big meals, so I rather ate lots of small snacks and drank lots of water.”
Get your breasts examined at Clicks Clinics
Breast examinations are offered at all Clicks Clinics. Call 0860 254 257 to make an appointment at your closest clinic. A Clicks Clinic Sister will gladly examine any breast lumps you’re concerned about and give you the advice and support that you need.