Breast cancer survivor Liesl Basson’s triumphant journey is a must-read for those seeking hope and understanding on the path to recovery.
Liesl Basson, breast cancer survivor.

I have no breast cancer in my family, so my diagnosis – ironically during Breast Cancer Awareness Month – came as a complete shock. I’d been for regular mammograms from the age of 40 and there were no alarm bells.

One evening as I lifted my arms to take off my top, my husband saw a strange-looking bit of skin underneath my right breast that had a dumpling-like texture. Later visiting my house doctor for other concerns, I asked her to look at skin under my breast. She was slightly concerned and sent me for a mammogram. From there, everything went haywire.

From discovering the skin, to my breast cancer diagnosis to having my operation was a matter of weeks. I had three malignant tumours in my right breast, which instead of protruding outwards to create lumps, went inwards, which why I didn’t feel anything during my routine self-examinations.

You can imagine the absolute devastation upon being diagnosed shortly after my 44th birthday. All I knew about cancer at the time was that people die. My main thought was that I didn’t want to die. It was overwhelming, I couldn’t think of leaving my husband and our three young boys.

I remembered that I’d heard a cancer survivor speak at a tea held in our small Tulbagh community, and so I phoned her. Her words will stay with me for the rest of my life: “When I got my diagnosis 17 years ago, my children were still small and look at me now, I’m an ouma,” she said. “There was hope for me, there’s hope for you.” I immediately decided to tackle this thing in the most positive way possible.

The importance of multidisciplinary care
By the grace of God, I managed to get a spot with one of the top surgeons at Mediclinic Panorama, Dr Etienne Myburgh. Dr Myburgh has a full team of medical experts who work together including an oncologist and a plastic surgeon.

Once they got my results, the whole team sat together and discussed my case. They all took so much care in deciding which treatment route to take. I was in the absolute best hands. I never felt the need for a second opinion, they knew what they were doing, and they did it well.

Within two weeks of being diagnosed, I had a double mastectomy based on the team’s recommendations, as well as an immediate reconstruction. In determining the need for chemotherapy, Dr Myburgh suggested I do a MammaPrint test that assesses the risk of a tumour metastasizing to other parts of the body. The results suggested that in my case, chemo would not be necessary. Rather, I went for 16 radiation sessions.

In the last year, my ovaries were also removed to limit oestrogen production as my breast cancer was oestrogen driven. From the beginning I was also on hormone extraction medication, which my oncologist and I agreed to stop this year because my immediate risk of relapsing is so low. This was one of the best things to happen to me since this journey began as the side effects, including joint pain and weight gain, were horrible.

Liesl wearing the Journey Bag that houses drainage pipes, enabling easy movement.

Finding strength
My initial eight-week recovery was a challenge, yet our small Tulbagh community was one big family. My friends and community members I didn’t even know well jumped in and created a meal schedule. My mother came to live with us temporarily to help with the children. We live in Paarl now but living in a small town when I faced my diagnosis and operation made such a difference. I was the first of my age group in Tulbagh to get cancer, so it was traumatic for everyone.

I’m a very practical person so I also found strength in founding an NPO with my oncologist where we make what I call the Journey Bag. This is a soft, bright material bag where you can put the cumbersome drainage pipes you’re connected to after a mastectomy and still easily move around. It was something good I could do in the face of this horrible situation. Showing a little love like that brings a lot of hope. There is always hope in every step of this journey, even if it’s in the smallest things that people do for you and the love that they show.

Mediclinic’s multi-disciplinary approach to cancer

Start typing and press Enter to search