“It started out as a terrible pain under my arm. I always used to think it might be an allergic reaction to my underarm roll causing the pain. At first, even my GP thought it might be a gland causing the discomfort. Never once did the thought cross my mind that it might be cancer. I have been to talks about breast cancer and involved with the awareness there of, but I never thought it would ever happen to me, and then it did. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer on the 11th of August 2015. It seems women who are diagnosed lately, are getting younger and younger. I received my diagnosis at the age of 35 years.
I asked for my husband to be called, in order to share the news of the diagnosis with him. My husband is a very detailed man, and for this strength I am most thankful, as in the beginning I was in a state of complete numbness during the first period of my journey with breast cancer. My ability to absorb, was simply synonym with minimalism.”
Felicity gazes intently across the room, “when you receive news like this, you can’t think; I hit a complete blank. My son is 10 years old. During birth his left brain was injured; he lives with Cerebral Palsy. I asked myself, ‘why did I deserve to deal with another big obstacle such as this, which in essence is so traumatizing and causes so much suffering?’” It was clear that Felicity’s self-imposed question also knew the ripple effect it would have on her loved ones. “My diagnosis caused a deep struggle within; I tried to keep it secret for quite some time, but at work the news of my diagnosis spread like a wild fire. That September was a tough month for me, I had to undergo so many tests. Still the question remained: ‘what did I do wrong to deserve this?’ I wanted to work through the trauma by myself; I distanced myself from family and I eliminated friends. I didn’t want anyone close to me. If someone mentioned breast cancer around me, I wanted to ask them immediately, ‘who told you that I had it?’ I was angry and ready to attack. I resented everyone around me.” Her heart echoes a storm: “You get women with no honour and no heart or kind word for others, and yet nothing close to this was their fate.”
“I started with Chemotherapy on the 23rd of September 2015. Heartbroken, I kept reliving the terrible trauma from my son’s birth and now this. I was stressed out and nervous; who would look after my son? I remember coming home and just falling into bed. I was so low; it felt like the life was drained out of me. They couldn’t find my veins post treatment, so they had to build in a port for Chemotherapy. I lost most of my appetite; the only thing my body could hold for a long period was a tomato and cheese sandwich. Three days before my next Chemotherapy session I would start feeling better, only to repeat the process again.
My poker face seemed impenetrable for months, until the morning of my mastectomy on 12 January 2016, when I saw all the pipes draining from my chest. I think this was my most heart wrenching moment, discovering the loss of an asset that was part of my best. After my right breast was removed, I had to rest for six weeks, followed by another twelve weeks of Chemotherapy. My hair started falling out. I didn’t want to wash my hair because it came out root and all during the slightest touch; I wanted to keep my hair for as long as I could. Her face drenched in tears as I eventually shared the news of my diagnosis with my hairdresser and asked her to shave my head. My response to her tears? I don’t have the energy to cry anymore.”
It seems that this action was the turning point for Felicity. She sits up straight and shares with intense excitement; “I have a wig for every single outfit in my closet!” An uncontrollable fit of laughter leaves her body. “I took myself on a road trip to Cape Town and bought the most extravagant wigs. The beauty of this was that no one ever knew it wasn’t my own hair. I used to have very long hair and it’s quite strange looking back, how I decided to cut my hair short six months before I was diagnosed. I think this prepared me for that “bold” moment.”
Felicity admits; “I had terrible side effects; uncontrollable itching, numbness in my toes and mouth sores. It was difficult to keep my pulse on one emotion as it seemed I had four seasons in one day.” She exudes with sincere appreciation, “The St. Stephen’s Oncology Centre prepared me on the journey that awaited me, they really walked a path with me. The upside is that I had so much to be thankful for; my husband handled all the finances, and the company I worked for granted me all the leave I needed with every month’s salary in full. I was almost away from work for a year; I am forever grateful. Every time I went for Chemotherapy a different colleague came with me to see what I went through; the needles, the whole ordeal. Everything.”
“Every time I opened my eyes, someone else was standing at my bedside. Looking back, I know all the support I received was beyond invaluable.”
“After all my chemotherapy sessions were finished, my doctor said I had to go for radiation. I was fish-positive, which means that the breast cancer had a chance of relapsing again. After what I had been through with receiving chemo, the procedure of radiation was more than do-able for me. The only downside was that I wasn’t allowed to wash the area that was radiated on for twenty-five days. I had a total of 25 radiation sessions.”
It was only a year after Felicity was diagnosed, that she started making peace with the fact that she had breast cancer. Breaking free from the denial that held her captive for a year, she insists that her freedom came as soon as she started accepting what she was going through. “I started coping and my true self started ‘defrosting’ from the intense shock that took hold of my whole being.” Felicity doesn’t have time for pity parties, “I can’t stand it when other people feel sorry for me and thus the exact reason why I kept many loved ones at a distance, as this would have been an inevitable reaction from them. That December I had chemotherapy on the 5th, a week later I packed my car and drove my two kids to spend time with my family. I just said to myself, ‘you are no longer going to pity yourself’. I realized I might have less time than I initially thought - why would I make that time with my family and loved ones even less? No more! My kids’ behavior was completely the opposite of how I thought they would deal with and handle my diagnosis. They knew ‘mammie’ was sick. They accepted that when my bedroom door was closed, the one child could help the other maturely.”
“Emotionally, I discovered myself through the process; I realized how much I am capable of overcoming.”
“Sometimes you don’t want to listen to what others have to say, because you think you know best as you are the one going through it. I realized that sometimes you are too broken to think or make healthy decisions for yourself. I never thought I would need anyone’s help with anything because I am the therapist; I had to strip myself from my pride and take all the help and good advice I could get.”
“My friends started a group in my honour called, “The Conquerors”. Through my struggle a great initiative started; we participate in the CANSA relay for life, joined a soup kitchen, and we do fundraising. We also started producing shirts and tracksuits. The ladies at work go for their annual Mammograms now. Even when I pushed her away, my dear friend Leah is always there. My life has become a mirror image of what I have gone through, and how I can give back to the valley and the community.”
“What people should understand and take to heart is that sometimes only their presence is needed. Something as small as holding someone’s hand is enough.”
It’s remarkable to hear how Felicity decided to fight back during her battle with Breast Cancer and Chemotherapy. “I used to make myself beautiful every week. Before every chemotherapy session, I dressed up in my best outfits, put on my make-up and the whole ‘happy works’!” Every week we took the most delicious cakes to the Chemotherapy room. The care, love and support we show to each other in that room, is what carries you through!”
Her advice: “Make peace with the diagnosis in your heart. If you don’t make peace with it, you will slowly but surely deteriorate. The moment you accept it, you won’t find yourself moping or topping about it hour after hour. Acceptance changes your way of life and the way you think about your life and the time you have left. There were many times where I thought to myself, ‘these are way too many pills to swallow.’ To me, if felt like the end of the world at first, but it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why I started dressing up every time I went for Chemotherapy. I put on my most beautiful earrings and posted a selfie on Facebook and simultaneously checked into the St. Stephens Oncology Centre.
“I realized that I have the power to inspire others. By getting up, dressing up and showing up to what was a part of my fate, I empowered myself and others fight.”
Felicity looks at herself and it is evident that she is smiling inside. “I realize that I am more beautiful than I used to be. I see how much I have grown. I used to be moody and impatient. The journey of overcoming breast cancer has taught me in the last year that I had to stop making noise about the small things. I have come to learn that material things will remain behind when you are gone. I’ve learned that family and friends are important.”
When asked which boxes Felicity still wants to tick in her life? Her wanderlust answers, “Mauritius is on top of my list!” With a twinkle in her eye, Felicity says, “no one’s journey is the same.” This remarkable lady has come a long way and she admits that her favourite colour has changed; “Yes, everything is pink! People know and refer to me now as The Pink Lady “.
Flower Crown and lunch décor by: Grand Room Design
Make up by: Leandre van Rooyen
Photographs by Daniel Saaiman
Interview and article copy by Val de Vie Events Event & Project Coordinator: Marinique Viljoen
Execution and coordination: Val de Vie Events
Strategy: Vlinder Media
St. Stephen Oncology Centre
Join us as we celebrate miracles and create awareness for breast cancer at Cintron Pink Polo on 5 November at Val de Vie Estate: Buy tickets now