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Breast Cancer for Her 60th – Petra Nortje’s Story of Hope

Petra and son Gerhard

Petra and son Gerhard

At the end of 1999 my husband was involved in a car accident. During February 2000 he had to have an operation to alleviate excessive back pain and it was discovered that he had Multiple Myeloma.

After many chemotherapy treatments, radiation, a bone marrow transplant and blood transfusions, he passed away in May 2011.

I will never forget how CANSA staff supported me on the night my husband passed away.

My Diagnosis

After experiencing cancer as a Caregiver and Volunteer for eleven years, I always thought that if I should get cancer I wouldn’t choose to have treatment. I thought that I would rather throw myself in front of a truck – famous last words!

Shortly before my husband passed away, I remember becoming aware of a lump in my breast. Although he urged me to have it seen to and although I always told others to do regular self-examinations & immediately bring any irregularities to their doctor’s attention, I just hoped it would go away by itself.

I decided to wait for my annual gyne appointment in August. I convinced myself that my gyne would not detect anything serious. Ironically, my gyne told me he was not concerned and that a mammogram was not urgent.

The lump, however, started growing and could even be felt through my clothes. In October 2011 I went for a mammogram which led to a biopsy and was told that I needed surgery immediately. Surgery was scheduled for November 2011, just before my 60th birthday.

I had always wanted an adventurous 60th, but never thought an operation was on the cards! On the 21st November, my birthday, I still had the drain in and chemotherapy started in December. I thought I was not going to see 2012.


I decided to have my left breast removed and being optimistic that the cancer had not spread too far, I was not that worried about the upcoming surgery. Losing one breast was not so bad – I had three beautiful children, no husband and the milk jugs had done their job!

Unfortunately it was then discovered that the cancer had spread to the glands and I received the full Monty – chemotherapy, radiation, Herceptin, Stradexa – I lost my hair and my face was so swollen I reminded myself of a frog. But life is precious, especially when you have children to consider, so I continued to fight for my survival.

I remember being taken to theatre by the porter and asking his name. He told me it was Gabriel and then I knew God was reassuring me that He would always be with me and that I needn’t be afraid. That was my anchor and still is, but didn’t make the experience less trying.

It was just six months after my husband passed away and caused a lot of stress for my children. My daughter wrote her finals whilst I was in hospital and fortunately still passed Cum Laude.

Be Aware &  Fight Back!

At present I am doing well. I still need go for six monthly check-ups and am taking Stradexa tablets for a five year period, but I am a proud South African and am motivated to spread a message of HOPE to all who wish to listen… – it is so important for cancer Survivors to share their journey with each other and to remind each other that there is always hope, because cancer affects one psychologically, as well as physically.

It is true that you have your ups and downs, but in the end with God on your side, the medical profession’s expertise, support from family & friends and a positive outlook, no matter how difficult your situation, you can and MUST fight this disease. Don’t let it get the better of you FIGHT BACK!

Life is wonderful – live every day to the full – God has given us life – appreciate it and remember to show thanks to those who care for you and be available to those who need you to share your journey with them.

Always remember YOU know your body best. It has been with you since you were conceived! If something does not feel right or has changed, investigate it. Visit your doctor and if necessary go for a second and even a third opinion.

Petra & CANSA

Petra was introduced to CANSA by a very good friend of hers, Sanet, a CANSA employee, 23 years ago. Today, Petra Nortje is a leader CANSA Volunteer, assists with marketing, event planning, patient support and fundraising.

Queries CANSA

If you have recently been diagnosed with Breast Cancer, please contact your local CANSA Care Centre for support & find online resources here…

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