Breast Cancer Survivor
My Breast Cancer Journey - Indescribable fear to a remarkable recovery
As a former elite/springbok athlete you can just imagine the shock and fear when hearing the word's, you have breast cancer. Cancer strikes fear into the very depths of your soul. The question I had to ask myself. Why me?
I was born and raised in Johannesburg, I am married to Chris Fuller a Dentist and an avid runner himself, I have two gorgeous sons and I come from a sporting family with good sporting genes. My father was a former Springbok race walker and my mom was a provincial netball player. I went on to receive my Springbok colours for track, cross-country and road running.
I represented South Africa at six world half marathon championships, I won many South African titles on the track and the road and qualified for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic games but unfortunately was not selected due to politics.
Life was good and pretty normal until I found that swelling in my upper left breast. Deep down I somehow knew it was cancer but did not really want to believe it. Me fit healthy, I have always lead a healthy lifestyle and yet I still got breast cancer.
"Cancer does not discriminate"
I was privileged to have world class medical treatment and from my initial diagnosis which was confirmed by having a mammogram and core needle biopsy,
Just over two weeks later I had a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I had a remarkable recovery from breast cancer due to fitness and what my running has taught me. Discipline, commitment and to be able to push through pain and endure as well as the power of positivity. I was walking and training on my elliptical bike two weeks post-surgery and running again five weeks later.
I had incredible support from my friends and family, my incredible surgeons and oncologist as well as the Breast Health Foundation. At a breast cancer awareness event during Pink October 2017 just two months after my mastectomy I heard my incredible and inspiring surgeon Prof Carol-Ann Benn give a very inspiring talk. The seed was planted.
I thought that by sharing my story I could educate, motivate and inspire other breast cancer patients and survivors. I went on to do a public speaking course and then discovered Patient Navigation which is the individualized assistance given to patients and their families to help them overcome and navigate the many barriers
faced on the very daunting cancer journey.
I have completed certifications in Breast Cancer advocacy and patient navigation from the Breast Health Foundation SA, The George Washington University, Washington USA as well as my Breast cancer exercise recovery specialist certification from the Cancer Exercise Training Institute USA.
I am also very privileged to do practical navigation training at the Helen Joseph Hospital Breast Care Centre being mentored and guided by Prof Benn and the Breast Health foundation. I have been accepted to write the Academy of Nurse and Patient Oncology Navigation generalist exam in the USA later this year.
I have just launched my Breast Cancer Navigation, coaching and speaking business through the Machi Filotimo Cancer Project. It is my passion to be able to educate, inspire and motivate other breast cancer patients and survivors.
I just love the symbolism of the lotus flower. I think it connects so well with a cancer journey. The Lotus flower is regarded as a symbol of purity, enlightenment, self regeneration and rebirth. It's characteristics are a perfect analogy for the human condition, even when its roots are in the dirtiest waters the Lotus produces the most beautiful flower.
Looking back, I feel everything happens for a reason.
Cancer certainly changed my life for the better and I hope to change other patients and survivors' lives for the better.
The Other Side
So, from a patient with cancer, I moved to the other side of the story—I became an oncology patient navigator and advocate, a cancer exercise specialist, as well as a motivational speaker.
What an incredible experience it has been. I have gained so much knowledge, and have had my eyes opened.
It gives me a deep sense of purpose to be able to assist, guide, educate, motivate, and counsel patients with cancer from diagnosis through treatment and into survivorship, to make this journey a little less daunting for patients and their families.
A big advantage of being a survivor myself is that it gives me a unique perspective and the ability to identify and understand what my patients are going through. Most important, it helps me to realize how each cancer journey is so unique, and should never be compared.
A Tough but Inspired Path
I have to admit that I sometimes find it emotionally and psychologically tough. I have always believed that knowledge is power, but in the greater scheme of things, I am, and will always be, a patient with cancer myself, and sometimes, knowing so much can be scary.
No matter how positive you are, there is always that fear of a recurrence, and “scanxiety” is very real. I even sometimes have guilt, because I only needed surgery, was privileged to have an immediate reconstruction, never needed chemotherapy or radiation, and have been healthy compared with what so many of my fellow patients go through.
The words of my very wise surgeon often ring in my ear—“You have to be empathetic but also realistic, as long as you know you have made a difference. There is so much heartache and sadness out there.”
To my surgeons and my oncologist, who inspired me and set me on this path, to all the other incredible individuals and organizations who have inspired, mentored, supported, and helped me gain confidence and knowledge and have given me these amazing opportunities—I will always be grateful.
This includes my doctors, the Breast Health Foundation, Bosom Buddies, Woman of Stature, George Washington University, the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators (AONN+), the Cancer Exercise Training Institute, Machi Filotimo Cancer Project, CANSA Association of South Africa, and Rosebank Oncoplastic Cosmetic Surgery Institute.