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Jessica Shames – Cancer Stories of Hope #CANSA90

Jessica Shames

What type of cancer did you have?

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) – breast cancer.

What is your current cancer diagnosis?

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) – breast cancer.

How long have you been living with that cancer?

5 months.

How does living with cancer affect you in general in your day-to-day living?

It is something that is always on my mind which I’ve found can be a distraction a lot of the time. Most of the time I hide the fact that my diagnosis has really affected me and my mental health but occasionally it becomes too overwhelming and I can’t keep myself together as I would like to. I am also a first year at UCT so moving from Johannesburg this year is already a big change and dealing with the cancer has made my experience much more challenging, especially because my family is not with me. I don’t feel like I am the same person I used to be. I have many more days when I feel down and lonely compared to before where I was a lot happier overall. I feel like the cancer has taken a bit of my personality, so I have to work a lot harder to keep my old self.

Is there a family history of cancer? Please elaborate if yes.

There is no family history at all. I did the Invitae genetic test where they found a mutation in my BRCA1 gene but it was ruled inconclusive due to lack of evidence and research.

How have you or your loved ones been affected by you living with cancer?

I have really struggled to accept my diagnosis and have never felt so alone before. I don’t like people to see this side of me, so I act like I’m ok and doing well. This has taught me a lot about who my real friends are even though I wasn’t ready to find out just yet, as moving cities is already a big change. I was hoping not much else would change. My family and friends have been incredibly supportive. They stay strong in front of me even when I’m upset, but I know when I’m not there they are really struggling too.

How has having cancer affected you during this time of COVID-19?

The COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions have been mentally draining for many including myself, but now with the news I have received I don’t know how to deal with everything. Lockdown has taken many things away from us but the cancer has added to that as there are now new restrictions for me, as well as choices that have been made for me, where I don’t have a say in anymore.

What is your message to our government regarding the prevention, management and treatment of cancer?

I don’t think cancer can be prevented, but annual check-ups are very important in order to find it early and treat it. I would also recommend the genetic test for anyone who may worry about their chances of developing cancer, as it will show any mutations, abnormalities or family history.

What is your message to other people living with cancer?

People say a lot of things and they have good intentions but nothing anyone can say will make it better. You have to listen to them and show you appreciate their effort to be supportive and understanding, but no matter what this is your fight and no one elses and you are alone. But the most important thing to remember is that even though you are alone in this, you are strong enough to deal with it, because if you weren’t strong enough it wouldn’t happen to you.

Is pain a daily part of your life and how do you manage it?

I am physically not in pain, but emotionally I am struggling. My ways of dealing with it are not the best, as I want to bottle it up and ignore it for as long as possible, but it does eventually build up too much, to the point where I can’t ignore it anymore. I do hide it from most people though, because I don’t want anyone to see me falling apart. I have always dealt with my emotions on my own, but I wouldn’t recommend this as it is not healthy.

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