Jul 5, 2021 | Health

The Front Line

Breast cancer survivor Beryl Aries speaks to us about her medical journey, how she overcame her health challenges through sheer determination and resilience, and life after remission.

From left: Lizelle Mfeka (Beryl’s daughter), also a cancer survivor; Beryl Aries
Cancer is not a death sentence and can be beaten. Stay positive, stay focused, adopt a healthy mindset, and never give up.
When did you discover you had breast cancer?
I was diagnosed with cancer of the left breast in February 2005, at the age of 45. I am 61 years old.
At what stage were you diagnosed?

The oncologist discovered a 2cm tumour in my left breast via mammogram and ultrasound. I was told that it was in early stage 2, but because of my age, it was best to have it removed.

How did you feel when you first received the news?
I was shocked: along with mixed emotions, my mind was in turmoil, with many questions playing out.
Do you have a family history of breast cancer?
Although the news came as a shock, it was also somehow expected. My eldest sister died of breast cancer in 1981. But over the years, we have experienced various kinds of cancers within my immediate family – amongst my dad and siblings
Tell us more about your treatment process – were there any side effects? If any, how did you overcome them?
On the day of my cancer diagnosis, I ran a marathon of various tests: blood tests, X-rays, and CT scans of every possible organ in my body. The very next day, I met with a panel of doctors to discuss the way forward. Everything felt like a rollercoaster ride at that moment. A week later, I underwent surgery to remove the lump (lumpectomy), and that was followed by six months of hectic chemotherapy. After that, I had another six weeks of intense radiotherapy, and finally, seven years of oral treatment tablets (Tamoxifen) for cancer. During this time, I lost my sister and best friend to an unexpected brain haemorrhage. I was shattered and weak. My body and immune system took a severe knock. The chemotherapy made me extremely ill, to a point that I was unable to eat anything, and I had lost 10kg. I kept thinking that I must remain positive and fight this deadly illness. I needed to change my mindset, so I started doing research on healthy eating and strengthening my immune system. I became accustomed to a nutritious diet and popping vitamin tablets to boost my immunity. Gradually I started gaining weight and retrieving my energy. It was a very challenging journey, which I conquered by God’s grace.
Did you have a support network?

My family, friends, colleagues, and pastoral family were my biggest support structure. I joined the CANSA organisation as a volunteer, to stay inspired, but also to offer support in terms of hope, motivation, and encouragement to other victims of cancer.

Were there any programmes or services offered to you that would help the treatment process?

Whilst I was in hospital recovering from surgery, a volunteer from Reach for Recovery Foundation (reach4recovery.org.za) visited me. She explained to me in detail the after-effects of cancer and the trauma that sometimes comes with it.
I was grateful for the insight, but started doing research on my own on how to cope and deal with everything, while still being able to move forward.

What is the state of your health now?
Owing to chronic illnesses in my family, I have always been very conscious of my wellness and health. From a young age, I have always been very active and enjoyed different types of sport and exercise programmes. After my illness, I started up my healthy lifestyle again by participating in sport events and regular exercise. I can honestly say that I feel and look very healthy after my ordeal.
What is the state of your health now?
Owing to chronic illnesses in my family, I have always been very conscious of my wellness and health. From a young age, I have always been very active and enjoyed different types of sport and exercise programmes. After my illness, I started up my healthy lifestyle again by participating in sport events and regular exercise. I can honestly say that I feel and look very healthy after my ordeal.
Do you have any advice for other women and men going through the same experience?
Cancer is not a death sentence and can be beaten. Stay positive, stay focused, adopt a healthy mindset, and never give up. And encourage other people to go for regular tests and check-ups. www.cansa.org.za