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Marlene Pretorius Shares her Journey as a Breast Cancer Survivor

My name is Marlene Pretorius, and I am a breast cancer Survivor – why do I say this with a smile? Well, firstly, I survived this dreaded disease, and secondly, when I received an invitation to do a Breast Cancer Survivor Talk, it was the first time that it hit home. After working for CANSA a couple of years ago, and always inviting Survivors to share their stories it was now my turn to do so. It is unbelievable how your road is planned out even before you Walk the Walk…

After shedding some tears, and making peace with the fact that I am a breast cancer Survivor now, I am ready to share my story in the hope that it will help someone else.

My journey with cancer started 13 years ago, when my mom was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. Mom was frantic, but I have to admit in hindsight, mom did not LISTEN to her body. When she showed me the lump under her breast, it was the size of a golf ball and I remember the fear in her eyes when she looked at me and said “I was too scared to have it checked out…” – That day, I promised myself that if I ever had to be in my mom’s shoes, I owed it to myself to LISTEN TO MY BODY.

Naturally having cancer in the family changed everything, or should I say, changed the way we saw cancer screening and preventative care.

I started going for mammograms and ultrasounds form the age of 28 – just after mom was diagnosed. Year in and year out, I always worryied about the results and was always being blessed with ‘good news’.

Five years ago, I decided to have a breast reduction & lift (we all know what happens to our puppies after children), so I had the operation done. I recovered well, experienced a couple of hick-ups, and felt a sharp stabbing pain under my left breast. I started seeking answers.

At that stage, I was prescribed pain medication, anti-depressant medication and anti-epileptic medication to help with the ‘nerve pain’, but all the medication did was put me on a high and made me feel out of control. When I met with the augmentation surgeon, he told me to go to a pain clinic, and I soon realised that he was not really interested in what I have to say. I lived with the pain for another couple of years – changing bras, seeking help everywhere, but with no joy.

In 2016, I went to see the Breast Clinic in Durban, and Dr Reddy found a ‘hardened mass’ on my left breast. I had a lumpectomy done and it was benign. I felt at ease that we finally found the reason for the discomfort I had been experiencing. I recovered and carried on with my life, but unfortunately the pain returned.

In 2017, we to Mbombela and it was time for my annual cancer screening. I called CANSA Lowveld and was referred to Kiaat Hospital for my yearly check. The radiologist was worried about a mass on the right breast, and immediately arranged for a biopsy. Due to scar tissue from the previous augmentation procedure, the doctor battled to get the needle inserted, and only after a painful hour was able to complete the biopsy. I saw the ‘mass’ on the ultrasound screen thinking “What is that?”

I left Kiaat feeling confused, and not too sure about what I had seen on the screen. Again the results were benign.

Reading my results, I referred to the previous year’s scans and compared notes (something I’ve always done due to mom’s cancer). Realising that the mass grew from a 5mm in diameter to 2cm in diameter within a year, I decided to look for a second opinion. Anything that grows, or shows change needs to be acted on urgently.


The Breast Clinic in Millpark hospital, contacted me with a 18:15 appointment on a Friday afternoon, and off to JHB we went. We discussed the ‘accommodating approach’ the Breast clinic demonstrated (helping us with an appointment so late on a Friday afternoon – must be because we are all the way from Mbombela). But in fact it turns out that Prof Benn’s hours and dedication is like no other doctor you have come across.

After meeting Prof Benn, she suggested another mammogram and ultrasound at Parklands Radiology and a ‘breast MRI’was necessary. It is similar to an MRI set up, but you lie face down, arms above your head, drip inserted, and wait for it… there’s two slots which you deposit your breasts into. The breasts are compressed (like a mammogram machine), but for 45 minutes.

Two days after the MRI, I received a phone call to return to Parklands Radiology for a ‘targeted ultrasound on the left breast’. I was nervous, but also thought that it might be scar tissue that was picked up – so off to JHB we went…

My husband still commented that Parklands Radiology looks like a hairdresser at month end – packed with women – but women looking stressed and fearful of the unknown…

Dr Schoub called my name, and in my purple clinic frock, I made my way to the screening room. Dr Schoub read the report and told me to lie down and relax… how on earth do you do that?

Classical music played softly in the background just elevated my nerves, instead of calming it…

As Dr Schoub placed the probe in the correct position, and we both saw it and I knew…

Compared to the image at Kiaat which was perfectly round, with dark fluid inside, the image this time on the left, was oddly shaped, and fuzzy looking inside. Dr Schoub had her poker face on and was silent while the biopsy was being done. Five specimens were taken, and off we went…

It was a Wednesday and I had to wait for Prof Benn to call me with the results. Thursday, Friday, Saturday… Sunday morning at around 9am, I received a message from Prof Benn saying that she has my file, and is waiting for the results and will contact me during the day. At 1 pm I received a message saying, “I have your results Marlene, I will call you after 8pm”, and I knew… It was the longest day of my life! After 8pm on Sunday the 25th November 2017 her words echoed through my head, “We have found cancer Marlene, but you will be okay.”

I was shocked but had also been preparing myself mentally for the news. I discussed options with my husband, and had numerous communications with Prof Benn (which was so reassuring) and made the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy on the 1st December 2017.

I have since had a second reconstructive surgery, removing the implants I received during the first reconstructive surgery, as the implants flipped and moved out of position. It was a tough decision to make to have the implants removed, but it was a necessary decision in order to heal…

As I am sitting here 7 weeks post reconstruction, I feel blessed…

Blessed because I listened to my body…
Blessed because we found the cancer early – early enough to have the option of a lumpectomy and radiation, and early enough to save my life!
Blessed that I listened to my body, looking for answers, and being vigilant with my annual cancer screening

I could have opted for the lumpectomy and have gone through the chemo and radiation treatment, but I opted to take a drastic step and will have to live with the scars for the rest of my life, but I am happy with my decision.

You always hear doctors or people say that we need to live a healthy life, we need to stay away from sugar and carcinogens, we need to stress less, and it’s hard – super hard! After meeting with my oncologist the first time, I had a feeling of accomplishment (as I did after the mastectomy) thinking that I am done with cancer – I did what I needed to do, but I was quickly brought back to reality…

“You need to lose weight Marlene, and so lower your risk of cancer returning in your colon, ovaries & bone marrow. You need to exercise, you need to live healthily, and will be on oral Tamoxifen for 5-10 years to block the oestrogen levels due to the hormone reactive cancer.”

I sat there speechless, and the reality of this dreaded disease hit me where it hurts most… After crying, resenting the situation and feeling sorry for myself, I made a decision to be healthy and to change my lifestyle, for ME.

Why change your lifestyle if you already have cancer or have gone through treatment? Because I wanted to see my daughter get married one day, I wanted to be a healthy granny one day, I wanted to look after my family. So I embarked on the WildFit Journey, and shed the kg’s, but most importantly, my body is clean, healthy and alkaline.

Cancer is a dreaded disease, and can change your life, but with annual cancer screening, with resources at hand, and living a healthy lifestyle, there is life after cancer. Not the life you used to have, but it can be an even better life – one where you take responsibility for your actions, a life that can influence others, a life to be thankful for. a Life with or without breasts – but who cares?

We are strong confident women, and God made us in his image and strong enough to handle anything that gets thrown our way. Be an example to your kids and family, and live your life, you only have one!

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