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Candice Fehrsen’s Story

My Lump In The Road #MyStory

When Mrs South Africa CEO, Joani Johnson made the decision to support The Cancer Association of South Africa as our official charity, I remember writing a press release, something along the lines of having chosen CANSA as cancer did not discriminate, even as I wrote the words, I never dreamed that cancer wouldn’t discriminate against me.

I am a health insurers dream. I am healthy and having chosen to opt out of motherhood I had never been admitted to hospital, for anything. I am not quite adventurous enough to ever suffered a sporting injury and I have great genes, no significant family history of anything noteworthy, my grandmother, who I loved, did die of cancer at the age of 77, but her ‘negligence’ in obtaining such a disease was regarded a product of old age and nothing to do with the integrity of our superior gene pool. Candice Fehrsen

So the morning I felt a strange hard-ish lump in my left breast, my thoughts were, why am I feeling my breast anyway? I wasn’t officially examining my breast when I felt the lump, my hand just ‘found’ its way there, it felt a little odd, but I wasn’t particularly worried.

After not a little encouragement from my husband I made an appointment to see my GP. I arrived, rather embarrassed, for the consultation, walking into the Dr’s surgery, I blurted out ‘my husband made me come’, after all, nobody likes a time waster and I was sure my being there was an over-reaction and it was important that she know I am not a paranoid neurotic.

My GP was wonderful, she took me very seriously, examined my lump and declared it ‘a little bit harder than I would like’, and insisted I make an appointment for a mammogram.

While the mammogram was uncomfortable, it wasn’t as horrendous as some say, I was still feeling rather blasé. I am not sure the mammogram revealed anything, and I was back on the bed for a scan. The Dr asked if I had ever had any surgery on my breasts. I giggled a ‘no’, tempted to reply that ‘Yes, I was a AAA but am now a full A cup’.

I was asked where the lump was. I showed them and it was found on the scan. It was oval in shape and dark in colour. Next I knew they were taking a biopsy – not nice, not nice at all. I looked away – unfortunately looking away meant looking into the monitor where I could see the needle entering my body, while I do not consider myself a hypochondriac – I am rather squeamish so I closed my eyes. I remember opening them to see the assistant peering at my sample and thinking to myself – can she see if it is cancer? To my dismay another sample had to be taken, this time from the assumed healthy tissue.

I won’t lie I left the appointment rather rattled, my bravado dwindled by the biopsy. I was uncomfortable and I was much more upset than I felt a rational human being should be, from now on I would be much nicer to anyone having biopsies, they hurt.

My GP phoned after the appointment, she kindly told me she was now ‘worried’ and promised to chase the lab down for my results on the Monday morning. It seemed impossible that her fears were founded and so I decided to ignore them for the weekend.

I was not quite as brave as I hoped I would be – a colleague was unfortunate enough to call at that moment and I shared my panicked fears, we reassured each other that this was all a precaution and that I was over-reacting. I apologised for being such a drama queen and conceded that if it was anyone else behaving so irrationally I would be rolling my eyes. I did make it clear that in future I would be very nice to anyone having a biopsy – they weren’t nice.

So the weekend went, Monday came and a phone call – this time from the Dr’s receptionist asking me to come in as soon as possible. I reassured my husband that he needn’t come – I think we both had this irrational idea that by not going together we could force the news to be good.

It wasn’t good news, breast cancer was confirmed, my GP phoned Tim, my husband to ask him to come to the surgery, where she explained the diagnosis and walked us through the possible road ahead. She had made an appointment for the surgeon the next morning! I would in all likelihood keep my breast and my hair – but there would be an operation, radiation and possibly chemotherapy.

I remember coming home and telling Tim that I wasn’t going to phone my parents until after I had seen the surgeon. Funny how at the age of 43, everything still feels so much more real once you tell mom and dad. Tim, ever the sensible one, insisted that they would need to know and that it would make no difference to them when they found out. I remember us sitting on the couch together holding hands while I called. Dad answered the phone, I asked him to put mom on the phone as I had news they needed to hear together.

Unfortunately I did not elegantly deliver my news. I broke down and tearfully told them ‘I have cancer’. I then went on to apologise like a naughty child.
Telling mom and dad was my most emotional moment, but it gave me such relief. They knew. I had their love support and prayers and I felt better, probably better than they felt. With my permission it was agreed that we wouldn’t keep my condition quiet, and that while I didn’t want it on Facebook or announced from the pulpit, I did not expect it to be kept a secret. Within the hour my brothers had called, my mom’s best friend was on the WhatsApp pledging her love, support and prayers. Tim phoned his parents to tell them, and as we told people the burden lifted.

Tim and I started to refer to my cancer as our lump in the road. The next morning we saw the surgeon, and a date was set for two weeks’ time. The prognosis was good, very early detection and teeny, tiny lump.

I set up a coffee date and invited my close friends and told them my news all at once. They have without exception been the most fabulous support to me, they have provided food and gifts, love, support and prayer.

My surgery was successful and the lump was entirely removed, there were some funny (depending on your perspective) ‘coming out of anaesthetic’ moments – apparently I was howling like a banshee in pain – while Tim is still traumatised by this, I have no recollection. I also don’t recall ‘ordering’ and devouring salmon sashimi and strawberries and cream for lunch – this was apparently not wasted on me as afterwards I was allowed pain killers, which apparently I needed.
I decided early on that I would be a good girl and do as the doctors suggested, they are after all. Unfortunately further tests results showed a grade 3 tumour, HER2+ and after a special test in California of all places a very high possibility of a distant recurrence and so on my oncologists advise I started chemotherapy last week. At the time of writing, I still have my hair (the books and dr’s say it will fall out in the next couple of days)

Even from where I am now in the process, I am so grateful! Early detection and teeny tiny lump means that I have an excellent prognosis and I have a very high probability of best case scenario, as in all likelihood I won’t have a recurrence and any danger of that will halted forever as a result of my treatment.

So my message?

1.    If you feel any sort of lump whatsoever in your breast – GO TO THE DOCTOR. I feel so blessed to have caught my cancer early. My experience has been edifying. I have beaten cancer! I caught it early and dealt with it. Teeny tiny lumps result in victory!
2.    Tell your friends and the people you love. I promise you will feel better than they do. A burden is lifted when you share your story, your friends will want to support you – so let them! I found that by sharing I focussed on myself for that moment and then I was able to cast my thoughts away to other things.
3.    Only go to Doctors you trust. Make the decision before you go to trust your doctor and to do as they suggest.
4.    Stay off the internet, especially while the diagnosis is still fresh and you don’t have much information and haven’t yet understood it in your mind. First develop a knowledge of your situation from the doctors. I only went onto the internet for the first time once chemotherapy had been prescribed. I came from a place of knowledge, having understood my diagnosis and why it was being recommended.
5.    If you have friends who you love and trust who have been through it and who are willing to talk, talk to them. I was so prepared for my first chemo session thanks to two very special friends who talked me through it. I am so grateful to them for answering my silly questions.
6.    Life goes on. Allow yourself to carry on as normally as you can and focus on the positive.

To my husband Tim, my mom and dad, brothers, family and friends, your love and support over this time has been more than I could ever have expected of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. ~Candice Fehrsen

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