You have breast cancer. Those four words forever change the life of the woman who hears them. For Marie Vorster, it initially sounded like a death sentence… after all, she had lost both parents to cancer. But faith, hope and love carried her through her cancer journey.

“They say breast cancer does not hurt, but it was not true for me. In October 2019, ironically in Breast Cancer Month, I suddenly had a pain in my one breast. One night while it was hurting, I touched my breast and felt the lump. The thoughts that go through your head…”

Marie (65) immediately made an appointment with her doctor, had an examination and went for a mammogram.

“When I was told I had cancer, I thought I wouldn’t make it. My mother died of breast cancer, and cancer claimed my father as well. I faithfully went for mammograms every year and nothing was picked up.”

When she visited the oncologist, Marie had a choice: a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, or a mastectomy.

“I did not hesitate, I decided on the mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. I did not want to take a chance.”

She was operated on in December 2019. “Those two months before the operation was difficult and I wouldn’t have gotten through this ordeal if it was not for my faith and my husband. After I was diagnosed, I realised I could not go through this alone. I prayed and asked God to help me. He gave me strength. And my husband… he walked every step with me, cheered me up when I was down, encouraged me.”

It has now been ten months since her mastectomy and Marie is ‘clean’. “I go for blood tests and examinations every three months. “I am positive, I feel good. I still have a bit of pain from the surgery, it is a big operation after all, but I believe, and that is my saving grace.”

Her advice for women is to go for breast examinations and mammograms regularly. “And live healthy. You cannot expect a healthy body if you don’t have a healthy lifestyle!”

Early detection of the condition can lead to effective treatment and a positive prognosis. About 90% of patients survive for many years after diagnosis when breast cancer is detected at the early stages.

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9 breast cancer facts South Africans need to know

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, and you’re never too young or too ‘low-risk’ to pay attention to the facts.

Here are 10 facts about the disease that could save your life.

1 Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among South African women, with one in 31 women diagnosed in her lifetime. This statistic spans all race groups.

2 The second-most common cancer among South African women is cervical cancer. It’s also one of the deadliest, but it is easily preventable – here’s how.

3 The older you are, the greater risk you face when it comes to developing breast cancer. However, the disease can and does strike women under 40.

4 You should examine your breasts every month, and go for regular mammograms from the age of 40. Here’s how to do a breast self-examination.

5 When detected early, breast cancer has up to 90% chance of successful treatment.

6 One of the greatest risk factors for breast cancer is obesity, especially after menopause. Other risk factors include being a smoker, not being physically active, consuming alcohol, and age, among others.

7 Women who have breastfed, especially for longer than a year, may face a lower breast cancer risk than women who haven’t ever breastfed, studies have found.

8 A high-fat diet and one that is very dense in animal protein (especially red meat) can increase your risk of breast cancer. Fill your diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and healthy proteins like fish and seafood, white-meat poultry, eggs and legumes.

9 Studies suggest that women who suffer from stress are twice as likely to develop breast cancer than those who don’t experience stress.


Avoid environmental carcinogens

Cancer is predominantly caused by environmental factors, rather than inherent biological factors. Importantly, it is possible to reduce exposure to many of these risk factors.

What Are Environmental Factors that Cause Cancer?
These include:
• infectious agents such as Human Papilloma Virus, Hepatitis B Virus and Hepatitis C Virus
• lifestyle-related risk factors such as tobacco use, diet, alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity and sun exposure
•exposure to environmental carcinogens and pollutants, such as benzene and formaldehyde.

What is a Carcinogen?
A cancer causing agent or factor is officially known as a carcinogen. Carcinogens attack the DNA of the cell, causing mutations. This can cause cells to divide or multiply out of control. These cancer cells multiply and grow into a lump or tumour that can spread to other parts of the body.
Your risk of getting cancer increases the more you are exposed to a carcinogen.
It is important to be aware of the different carcinogens and avoid or limit exposure to them in order to reduce your risk of getting cancer.
The most common occupational carcinogens in South Africa include asphalt fumes, benzene, hexavalent chromium, formaldehyde, coke oven emissions, asbestos, cadmium ore, naphthalene, uranium ore, tetrachloroethylene, to name but a few.