Breast Cancer Survivor
This is my story
My name is Dominique Swart. I’m 40 and a mom of 4 beautiful children, Georgia (14), Ana Sofia (10), Thomas (4) and Matthias (1). I’m married to Graham and we leave in Sea Point.
In Feb 2020 whilst breastfeeding my youngest, I noticed a lump in my right breast . I asked my mom and GP about it and they said not to worry, it was more than likely a blocked milk duct. I had so much breastmilk and continued to feed and I hoped it would diminish in size, but the lump stayed exactly there and it seemed to be growing.
By June 2020 it was still there and I started to worry, so during lockdown in St Francis Bay, I drove to Jeffrey’s Bay to a Gynae to have it checked. She also suggested it was most likely benign but sent me for an ultrasound to be safe. A day later they called and suggested I see a breast surgeon in PE the next day for a biopsy. So I drove over an hour to PE to have the biopsy done. The surgeon didn’t look optimistic about the lump and deep inside I knew it wasn’t good news.
Two days later I got the call that changed my life forever. At the age of 39 I was diagnosed with IDC Triple Negative Stage 2 Breast Cancer. I had to drive to PE again the next day to have a CT scan to see if it had spread to other parts of my body.
I was shattered and cried all day and night. The next day we drove to PE, had the scan and luckily it was confined to the breast only. I had a single mastectomy booked for the Monday with immediate reconstruction (all without consulting an oncologist).
My husband called our GP in Cape Town and he suggested I zoom call the oncologist he referred us to, Irene Boeddinghaus, for advice and a second opinion. She convinced me to return home to Cape Town and start neoadjuvant chemotherapy prior to surgery so we had a lump to use as something to measure the effectiveness of chemo against.
It made sense to me. I met with her on a zoom call the Saturday, returned to Cape Town on the Wednesday, had a port placed on Friday and started 16 rounds of chemo on the Monday at Vincent Pallotti oncology unit.
Chemo is nothing like it is portrayed on tv. I had the 4 dreaded AC (red devil) which was not so bad. My hair fell out by the second round (my brother shaved it off for me after) and I had minimal nausea. Just exhaustion and constipation. I got to sit in a lazy boy chair and was served tea and toasted sandwiches throughout.
The 12 weekly Taxol that followed, started out very easy, but as time progressed, it got harder. My white blood cells tanked so I had to take Neupogen injections to stimulate white blood cell formation. I had bad headaches on Taxol and generalised body aches which were treated with Stilpayne. I got really tired. The twelve weekly sessions flew by.
I got through all 16 rounds and was very proud of myself. My hair started to grow back on Taxol but I lost my eyebrows! Luckily I had them microbladed prior to chemo.
Chemo is not the best, but it’s manageable. You can totally do it if you have to. I had to, I have 4 kids to live for.
I leaned heavily into my faith
I would never have got through this process without my God with me. My relationship with Him is so much stronger and so real. I thank Him everyday for His guidance and for giving me strength, endurance and patience on this journey.
Throughout chemo I continued to trail run and hike and do yoga. I think during the entire process there were 5 days I wasn’t able to exercise. I listened to my body, but the exercise helped me bounce back between sessions very quickly.
On 11 Dec 2020 I had a nipple and skin sparing double mastectomy. Best decision of my life. I chose a mastectomy over lumpectomy as my breasts were incredibly dense and fibrous which would've made it very difficult to detect any future lumps that might have arisen.
I had a 97.2 percent response to chemo. My lump shrunk from 2.1 cm to 0.5 mm (there were only a few microscopic cells that remained) . There was no lymph node involvement, by the grace of God.
It was as close to a complete response as one can get and I’ve been told my prognosis is the same as those who achieve complete response. As insurance I will begin 25 rounds of radiation in January 2021 and 4-6 cycles of Xeloda (chemo pill taken orally) .
Triple negative breast cancer affects 10-15% of women diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s sneaky, aggressive, higher in grade and likes to travel (metastasize) . We caught it just in time .
I urge all you ladies (and men) to examine your breasts tissue every two weeks. Breast tissue reacts to hormones and our hormones fluctuate all the time.
Breast Cancer can affect anyone. I had no risk factors: I don’t drink or smoke, I have no genetic mutations like BRACA 1 or 2 etc. I’ve exercised my entire life - I was in the best shape of my life when diagnosed, training for a 111km ultra trail run. I eat mainly plant based and I breastfed all my children. There is no breast cancer in my close family.
Cancer does not discriminate. Please be vigilant. Get your scans, examine yourself.
Early detection saves lives!