by Tanya Petersen
13 October 2016,
“His voice trailed off into the distance and I went numb. I couldn’t hear anything else, except for you have breast cancer,” recalls Lee-Ann Adams of the day her doctor diagnosed her with the disease.
Up until that moment, even though her mom had also been diagnosed with the disease a year earlier, Adams was naïve about breast cancer.
Adams, now 34, was 25 when she was diagnosed.
During the October breast cancer awareness month she had been paging through a magazine and came across an article about self-examination.
“Realising that I was probably too young to be affected, I never paid too much attention and kept paging.”
However, at the back of her mind the thought kept lingering and she decided to return to the article.
“I did a self-examination using the illustration in the magazine and felt what seemed to be a tiny ball – hard, but not painful.”
She brushed it off.
“I told myself I was too young. This affects older women. It is probably nothing.”
But a friend made an appointment for Adams at her gynaecologist who referred her to a specialist.
She remembers sitting in the waiting room at Groote Schuur Hospital with her mother, Carmen Tito, by her side.
“I was told the doctor would be giving me the results of the mammogram I did earlier that morning. Two doctors walked in. The one said, I have brought this doctor with me because you have breast cancer, and we can remove your right breast and the doctor is able to reconstruct it for you at the same time, so we need an answer from you as soon as you can’.
“I cried, not able to say a word. I could hear my mother saying ‘the doctor knows best Lee-Ann’.”
Questions flooded her thoughts.
“How is this possible? I am healthy, I have no kids and I am not even married,” were some of them.
And more importantly: “Who would want me now? Who could love me like this? I am going to die.”
After researching her options she decided to have a lumpectomy. “My chemotherapy was the strongest dosage, and at the time it was nicknamed the red devil…”
She said nothing prepares you for chemo. The radiotherapy was less torturous, she explains. She also had to take hormone therapy for five years.
She refused to shave her hair and instead cut it shorter. However, one day while sitting at her desk she brushed hair away from her face and it fell out.
“I shaved my head later that day. Thereafter the hair on my arms, legs and even nose hairs and most of my eyebrows were completely gone.”
At this point her condition became obvious to everyone – and she hated being pitied. She asked herself important questions about self-image.
“Is it my hair? Is it what I look like? Here I was walking around with hardly any eyebrows, a bald head and piercing eyes after losing about 10kg. I made a decision to wake up each morning and tell myself that I am beautiful and I have a future.”
She remembers changing her ringtone to that of India Arie’s I Am Not My Hair.
Even though she never lost faith, facing each day at times became a battle.
She remembers one of the nurses telling her people who survived were those who “eat well, exercise, laugh often, but mostly believe”.
She admits being diagnosed with cancer had drastically changed her life.
“Annual visits to an oncologist and routine mammograms are now part of my life – something I never imagined when I was younger.” But she adds her faith in God had helped her.
Due to the cancer being hormone sensitive, having kids has been a challenge for her and her husband. But she believes cancer is not a death sentence.
“You can educate yourself on the disease and fight it. Don’t give up on yourself, you deserve to live a full life.”
Her mother died two years ago, but Adams has been in remission for the past nine years.