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Interview: Beulah Jankelowitz Breast Cancer Survivor

The management of breast cancer has improved significantly in recent years. Cancer is being found in earlier, more treatable stages and there are more treatment options for women to choose from. Nowadays the topic of breast cancer is discussed more openly.

Beulah Jankelowitz has actively supported CANSA and she was also the National Coordinator the breast cancer support group Reach For Recovery. She previously chaired the Johannesburg and West Rand Groups.

We asked Beulah to share some of her experiences as a breast cancer survivor.

Q1. Beulah when were you diagnosed with breast cancer?

I was diagnosed late afternoon on Thursday 27th August 1987-a date I’ll never forget!

Q2. Describe what you went through emotionally?

Utter disbelief, fear and questioning. I had done all the right things, had 3 children before my 30th birthday, breast fed them all, never smoked or drank or used the contraceptive pill. Why me?

Q3. What form of treatment/s did you have?

Initially a segmental mastectomy followed by 6 weeks of daily radiation. 17 months later a recurrence in the same breast which necessitated a total mastectomy and an immediate reconstruction.

Q4. How did you cope with the treatment/s?

Well, except for having to travel a long distance there and back for a short treatment.

Q5. Did you experience any side effects from the treatment?

I felt very tired and had continual crops of mouth ulcers.

Q6. What challenges did you face as a breast cancer patient and also as a survivor?

I felt alone as I knew no one who had experienced this. There was no internet then. I didn’t have anyone to talk to.

Q7. How did you cope?

I come from a strong medical background and looked up as much as possible in the books I found.

I had the most supportive and understanding husband who has been there for me every step of the way.

I also joined the support group Reach for Recovery. I have been fully involved for nearly 20 years and it has been my salvation. I have spoken to close on 1,000 patients pre and post operatively.

Q8. What motivated you?

Camraderie and support. Being with other people who’d been through the same experience has always been vitally important to me. When I go to meetings and mix with my special friends it is like “going home”.

Q9. What advice would you give a breast cancer patient who has just been diagnosed?

It is not a death sentence and knowledge gives you power.

Q10. What advice would you give to family and friends of breast cancer patients?

Be as supportive as possible and give TLC.

Q11. How important is communication within the family?

Very important especially at the time of diagnosis, surgery, treatment and thereafter.

Q12. How important is it for cancer patients and survivors to join a support group?

In my opinion vitally important as you are with people who understand and who have been there.

Q13. What does the breast cancer support group Reach For Recovery offer breast cancer patients and survivors?

It offers hope and someone to listen and advise as well as supplying basic comforts such as temporary prosthesis, pillow, bag for drain, exercises and literature.

Q14. How can Reach For Recovery be contacted?

Q15. How has having breast cancer impacted on you life over the years?

It has made me grow as a person and enriched my life. I’ve met wonderful people, helped many and been fortunate enough to travel to many international conferences. I now appreciate so much that I previously took for granted. I SEE the blue of the sky and the green of the grass.

Q16. What advice would you give to the public regarding breast health awareness?

The earlier diagnosed the better are the chances of survival. Self examination is very important and only takes a few minutes once a month. Men are not immune and they too can get breast cancer although only 1% of men get breast cancer.

Q17. Any other comments you’d like to make?

Breast Cancer is a scary diagnosis. It does not discriminate between race, religion, colour or creed. It is not a death sentence. It is a life sentence in that one needs to be vigilant and go for all necessary medical check ups.

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