I was 15, when my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. It was as shocking as it was surreal as I had never seen her suffering from even so much as a fever. I put it to self-taught resilience, and the magic of homeopathy – she was a practitioner.
What made it even more shocking was that it all started with a twisted left ankle, which quickly made her immobile. A few physio sessions later, the orthopaedic surgeon noticed that she had lost voluntary movement in her leg and ordered a few x-rays, including of her chest and pelvic region.
They found shadows in both x-rays. The one in the chest translated to a lump in her breast, which my mother did detect herself as well, and the other, bafflingly, a lack of a bone, as it had been 80 percent obliterated due to cancer, which had spread quite extensively to her spinal cord.
In a time when mammograms were not common, the ankle injury was the only indication of a life-threatening disease. She had a double mastectomy and went through a series of radio- and chemotherapy sessions. She was given six months to live, but hung on for two-and-a-half out of sheer determination – bedridden and a severely diminished quality of life that was out of her control.
This was in 1988, and she was 54. If only we had been able to detect her cancer early – that thought nags my mind to this day.
At that time, breast cancer was not recognised as that big a threat as it is today. Breast examinations were recommended but not the norm, and mammograms, even less. All that changed very quickly with increased awareness and advancements in medicine. I started slotting in regular breast examinations into my shower routine, as well as with a general practitioner as I was told I fell in the “at risk” category. At 40, I added annual mammograms to that list, the frequency of which became biannual when I turned 50.
These are the recommended installments for these checkups – although, it is best to consult your physician before scheduling any kind of imaging tests.