Breast cancer is one of the common and most prevalent forms of cancers among women. Between 2010 and 2014 the Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN) recorded a total of 1 579 breast cancer. The tragic fact is that not everyone survives breast cancer and in most cases breast cancer is diagnosed very late which hinders the options of treatment available. Mauriza Fredericks was diagnosed with breast cancer in stage three. The first time Mauriza gave breast cancer some serious thought was when she visited a local store with her three daughters who were aged 7, 5 and 3 at the time.
What was supposed to be a quick scout for paint on a Saturday morning in December 2011 left an indelible mark on their lives. As they walked out of the store her daughters insisted that they had to go to the toilet and so they ran off to the toilet.
“As we entered the small ladies room, I noticed that the toilets were occupied so we stood there in the little aisle, looking around and there was a poster of a lady without breasts against the wall. I was worried about how my kids would take the information and the shock. I prayed that they didn’t pick it up but they did. They asked me what happened to the lady in the poster. They understood a little bit of cancer because my dad died of prostate cancer.
I told them a little bit about the disease and that women could also get sick like that and they mostly get it in their breasts. So I asked them, if you have to choose between keeping the sick parts of your body, that will cause you to die, and losing some body parts in order to live longer, what would you do? And they responded “stay alive”,” she narrates.
A few months down the line Mauriza was diagnosed with breast cancer. In January 2012 she felt a discomfort of a knob that was in her breast but didn’t make much of it. However, in the back of her mind she realised that she needed to see a doctor for a checkup but couldn’t make time. “I was studying at the time doing my Honours degree in Journalism and Media studies and I was also working full time. So I had a very busy life,” she said.
At the time Mauriza’s personal General Practitioner (GP) was on leave. This forced her to consult any available GP. She eventually secured an appointment with a doctor who sent her for an ultra sound without performing a clinical breast examination on her, though well informed on her family history.
“I had to wait another week before I could secure an appointment for the scan and once again had so much work on my desk to complete, that I almost missed my sonar appointment. The radiologists spent a lot of time scanning my breasts without saying a word.
Eventually the scanning was completed. When I got the report I rushed back to the GP and she implied that there was nothing to worry about. Although there were visible lumps, she said they were not abnormal but they will have to monitor it and asked me return after a year.
“I felt relieved and thought I could now go on with my life and finish my Bachelors Honours Thesis which was due on 17 October. After four months of going away from the GP the discomfort returned and the little weight felt heavier over time, so much that I could not sleep on my side anymore. This was another warning sign, and I realised that we need to take responsibility for our own conditions and not rely on doctors just because they are experts,” she advised.
Not even my degree could save me at the time. My career experience didn’t mean anything apart from the way of expressing myself through writing. At the time I had just bought a car and I couldn’t drive it for months,” she shared.
On 1st October 2012 Mauriza decided to get her mammogram done so she left the office for a quick stop at a free mammogram clinic not knowing it was going to be her last day at office. During the free screening clinic, she warned the radiologist about her breasts sensitive, painful and a bit inflamed breasts. The mammogram procedure left the radiologist in shock when blood gushed from her nipple.
“That’s when the breakthrough came for me, when shock really hit me and I realised I was in trouble. That moment I got into my car and drove all the way to my family Doctor –a decision I should have taken long ago. She immediately did a clinical breast examination and sent me for breast ductography.
My doctor asked for a lumpectomy biopsy to see what was happening. I trusted and respected her judgement but requested her to postpone the surgery with one week so I could finalise the second last chapter of my thesis,” explained a courageous Mauriza.
The biopsy was completed successfully and the pathology report was released confirming that she had breast cancer. “Even though I thought it might happen I still couldn’t deal with the reality of the news,” she expressed.
That’s when her treatment journey started from 01 October 2012 to August 2013. She first went through a six months chemotherapy which worked well for her. Unfortunately her breasts had to be removed and it was that very same time when she recalled the ordeal she had in the bathroom with her girls. It took 14 hours for her mastectomy to be completed in Cape Town. After that she went into ICU for about a week before she started radiation after six weeks of recovering.
“My kids had to stay in Namibia, I had to relocate to South Africa, and my sister who lived in Cape Town resigned from her work to look after my children. It’s more than just medication your whole life is thrown out of rhythm. I had to say goodbye to the things that I held on so dearly and I couldn’t build my identity.
“Breast cancer is preventable, any cancer is preventable but it starts with valuing our lives by having a balanced life in terms of our work and our priorities.
I had medical aid, insurance of a high standard, excess to quality doctors, I had a vehicle to take me to a doctor but I was just too busy being a mom, being a student and being an employee. We need to realise that busyness is a killer and we need to make enough time for ourselves,” she concludes.