Georgina, in September 2017, noticed an unusual lump in her breast after a self-examination. However, it took her close to four months before consulting a physician. During the four-month period, she resorted to massaging the breast with ointment, hoping that the pain will eventually cease. But, the pain got unbearable as the breast grew bigger.
“So I think in January 2018, I decided to see a physician because at that point, I could not even wear a bra because of the pain and you needed to just look at the breast and you will realize that there was something wrong with it. It was getting deformed; the swell was that obvious,” she said.
Georgina, who was aged 30 at the time, in seeking a solution to the problem, visited a neighbourhood clinic where she was examined and underwent an ultrasound scan to identify any abnormalities. To her surprise, the health professionals at the clinic did not find any issue and suspected it to be an infection. She was, therefore, prescribed antibiotic drugs.
“I was asked to come back in three months’ time for review. But within that waiting period, I was advised to observe my breast for any further changes such as discharge, change in skin texture, colour, and others.”
This got her to be concerned, propelling her to find answers to her problem on the internet. “So when I looked it up, I realized breast cancer was a possibility, and that the lump in the breast could be breast cancer,” she said. “I became more concerned and anxious about getting to the bottom of the whole issue and find out what exactly it was.”
In seeking a second opinion, she visited another medical facility. But the result she received was similar to that of the previous hospital she visited.
Georgina, however, was still not satisfied with the result she got from the hospital and continued to seek answers to her problem. This time, she consulted an online medical platform. “I called on them and told them about my situation, and they advised me to see another doctor, which they recommended but at that point, I was just too anxious, so I decided to see a doctor who had my history already,” she said.
Georgina went ahead to see the doctor and was directed to a breast specialist who recommended a complimentary ultrasound scan and mammogram. “So I had it done the next day. The ultrasound picked something, it was highly suspicious of cancer, but the mammogram didn’t pick anything which was normal with younger women like me.”
This, however, meant that she had to do further investigation to ascertain the problem and a biopsy became very necessary at that point. “I did the biopsy and the results came and it wasn’t breast cancer. The doctor said though it wasn’t breast cancer, he needed to take the lump out for further investigation which would tell the whole story,” Georgina said.
“He gave me one week to come back for that decision to be done. The biopsy procedure was very painful for me to the extent that I could not even wear a bra. The procedure, and the way the samples are taken, was very painful and it is very expensive as well,” she added.
Georgina went for a second biopsy, hoping to prove that it wasn’t cancer but the results indicated otherwise. “It was an early-stage breast cancer, which they refer to as DCIS, so it meant that I had a very high chance of survival once I was able to follow the routine. So that gave me a little hope,” she said.
“Realizing it was cancer, I had mixed emotions, I felt a bit of everything the average person will feel. I was scared, I was confused. And the fact that other health facilities and diagnostic centres that I went to earlier failed to tell what it was, made me very angry, because that could have cost my life. But the doctor assured me that everything will be fine. He prescribed my treatment plan for me and indicated that I could have the breast conserved.”
“The surgery was scheduled and I had it done. The results came out and it wasn’t just one cancer but two in one breast. Besides the DCIS, there was this other one called colloid cancer. He later referred me to the oncologists at Korle Bu for further treatment and management,” she added.
At the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, the oncologists advised Georgina to undergo complimentary ultrasound and mammogram, with the ultrasound scan indicating that the issue was a breast duct ectasia. The oncologists, however, recommended chemotherapy, which they were certain will solve the issue.
“It wasn’t easy because, at that moment, I wasn’t prepared psychologically for chemotherapy,” Georgina indicated. “It wasn’t easy for me, I lost my hair and my whole body was stretched to an unbearable limit and my faith was really tested. I also spent a lot of money on various surgeries and procedures. But I persevered through it all, and I knew there was so much to fight for.”
Even after the chemotherapy was completed, the discharge was still persisting. Radiation therapy was later recommended, with the hope that it will finally solve the issue. Georgina, however, requested a CT Scan and cytology of the discharge; the results came and there was still cancer in her breast.
“That was very devastating for me,” she said. “At that moment, they told me that I had to take the whole breast off, and for me, the fear at that moment wasn’t the loss of my breast, but I was exhausted because I had tried to be strong all this while hoping that the worst phase was going to be the chemo. But the way things were looking, it was as if it was going to be an endless journey.”
“It was very difficult for me to accept, and for about one week, I couldn’t break the news to my family. I was only crying; I was not even able to cry for everybody to see that I was crying. So I was acting normal and when no one is looking I will cry my heart out and I prayed to God for inner peace, before I finally broke the news to my family.”
Georgina now had to undergo a unilateral mastectomy and after that was done, the surgeons found out that it was the residue of the previous cancer in the breast. She, however, had to still undergo radiation therapy for sixteen days and was later placed on hormonal therapy, which is a daily pill she has to take for five years to reduce the risk of reoccurrence of cancer in her body. She has been on hormonal therapy for over two years now.
“I started hormonal therapy and It wasn’t easy. Honestly, it is more difficult for me than allowing for my breast to be taken off, because of the side effects that comes with the drug; to the extent that I was suffering forgetfulness at a point. Because the treatment is suppressing the hormone production, you get that menopause kind of symptom and others such as hot flashes, loss of libido, etc. Other side effects are possible depression, mood swings, possible cancer of the womb, blood clot.”
She added: “Once you are done with active treatment, everybody feels you are okay and for me, beyond the physical pain that I felt, the psychological impact was more difficult for me to handle because I couldn’t talk about my issue with immediate people and during my time, there were no survivors around to count on for inspiration. So for me, before I even finished my treatment, and after my surgery, I started volunteering at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital to be that face of survivorship and to inspire those that are behind me, with what I have experienced; having two surgeries, chemo, radiation therapy, and currently undergoing hormonal therapy.”
Georgina went on to reveal how difficult life is for breast cancer survivors.
“Life after treatment is harder. I always say that the true healing comes after you are done with treatment because that is when you are able to accept the new you, you are able to come out of the trauma to face life again, and give yourself hope to live again, and those are the times we battle the medium side effects of the chemo and the other treatments, especially with the surgeries.”
She has, however, dedicated her time and resources to support other breast cancer victims and survivors who are unable to raise sufficient funds for surgery and other treatments.
“The whole cancer journey changed my life. It has helped me to discover my purpose. Now, every day, I’m thinking about what to do to put a smile on somebody’s face. What to do to relieve somebody of tension or pain. For me, it’s not about my life again, because I feel God has given me this life to be able to give hope to somebody. I’ve devoted most of my time to this job, supporting the fight against breast cancer, advocating, giving newly diagnosed victims hope, and raising funds to support victims who don’t have the means.”
“Recently, I realized that there are many of us who can’t afford reconstruction of the breast. So what I’m currently doing to help such people is manufacturing fibre breast prostheses to donate to those who can’t afford the reconstruction. The cost of producing one including the packaging is GHC30.”
Georgina is, therefore, calling for financial support to do more to help breast cancer victims and survivors. “More needs to be done to help victims of cancer,” she said.
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