Surviving Cancer: Nessa Temlett’s Breast Cancer Journey

Categories: People & Places.

The day after my birthday I went for a facial and underarm wax as I had received this as a birthday gift.During my underarm wax, my beautician moved my right breast to get the wax on and this is when she paused… and then said she had felt some lumps.I felt them and thought they felt quite small so wasn’t too concerned. I then felt my left breast to check it too and that is when I felt a very hard lump above my nipple, it was about the size of a 50 cent coin and very hard. 
I got a lump in my throat straight away, as I knew this didn’t feel good at all. I then had to wait 10 days to have a mammogram and that is when my world went into a spin and I found out there was a problem in the left breast. After seeing a local surgeon and having what is called a “core needle biopsy”, the lab came back and confirmed that the lump was indeed malignant. I then had a Sentinel lymph node biopsy and the results came back to say that the cancer had spread to 2 of the 3 lymph nodes that they removed.I was advised by my breast surgeon to have 6 months of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy. What??? This can’t be happening to me, I don’t drink excessively, I’ve never smoked,I eat well and exercise often. How could this happen? I felt like the rug had just been pulled out from under me and I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope. After much prayer and thought, my husband and I decided to opt for the 6 months of chemotherapy first as we realized that shrinking the tumor to prevent it from spreading further was our first priority. 

Once this had happened, the huge and most daunting decision to have a double mastectomy hung over our heads. We prayed constantly and God continued to guide us every step of the way.Our daughters were only 6 and 4 years old at the time and they took it very hard. All they wanted to know was if mommy was going to die?  That broke my heart the most. I knew my husband would manage if I died but I just couldn’t face thinking that Emma and Kate would have to face this life without their mom. I knew I had to survive and I knew I would do whatever it took to do that.  With God on my side and Jesus having already died on the cross to heal me, I could and would survive.After the 6 months of chemotherapy, I had the double mastectomy on the 6th March 2014.The operation was very painful and I had a few complications due to infections.  It was a very tough time but when I got the news that the cancer was all out and there was no further cancerous cells left in my lymph glands or breast area, I knew I could celebrate my complete healing! I was now cancer free! I am sure most of you know of someone you love that has had to undergo chemotherapy.  

We all know that it makes you very sick, causes your hair to fall out, makes you very tired and most of us are unable to continue doing the things we could do before chemo. What I would like to share with you is how I managed to get through the 6 months of chemotherapy, then the double mastectomy and the final reconstruction that I have recently had on the 3 March 2015. I was walking on the beach one October morning last year and just reflecting on how well I had recovered from my breast cancer. As I was walking along the waters edge, my eye was drawn to all the beautiful sizes and shapes of the shells that had washed up along the shoreline. I stopped to look at them, and I started to notice the tiny shells and just how beautiful their colours were. I soon found myself completely immersed in this and ended up spending ages just collecting all these tiny shells.  I found it so therapeutic. As I got up and started to continue my walk, I felt God giving me an amazing message.  He showed me how my life and my cancer journey is like a camera.  I thought about a camera and all the functions it has and this is what I realized:

  • Camera lens – this allows us to zoom in and focus on something.As I looked for the shells, everything around me was a blur, it was “out of focus” Similarly God showed me how I had to zoom in and focus on getting through my cancer journey.I had to keep my eye on the target so that nothing would distract me from my ultimate goal.
  • Push the shoot button – in the case of the shells, this is when I made the conscious decision to pick up that shell and keep it.  Similarly I had to allow people to help me with lifts for my children to school, cooked meals being delivered to our house 3 times a week, hiring an au pair and employing a full time maid. I had to bury my pride and say yes, I do need help right now and thank you!
  • The camera flash – this is required when needed.  This is a time when we can use the light of Christ’s grace to fill our lives in dark times.
  • The camera battery – this needs to be recharged from time to time.  Just as in my life, this was the time that I needed to rest often, let my chemo do the work and let others help me as I had “down time”.
  • The on/off switch – God showed me during my cancer journey that it was ok to have an “off” day when I didn’t feel particularly well.  I could just switch “off” and allow others to fill in for me while I recharged my battery.
  • Camera case and strap – that is there to provide “support”. The support comes from your local church, your family, your friends and most importantly God.  Without that support, your camera will fall and crash!
  • Flash card – this is your memory.  Even though you are going through a very trying time, you are able to process thoughts and remember details of your journey.  Once you have developed these photos/memory, you can delete them, i.e. put the cancer behind you and move on.
  • Printing the photos – this is the part that is visual.  Here we get to see photos of ourselves along the journey.  It is just like taking a trip somewhere, you take lots of photos, then develop them, put them in a photo album and take the album out from time to time.For me, the photo album was my journal, I wrote all my feelings, emotions, special scripture verses etc in here and when I need to reflect on things, I look back through my journal.
  • Downloading the photos to your computer for safekeeping – this is where I would download my feelings with a counselor who is trained to help you.  The GVI oncology unit provided free counseling to all cancer patients as well as our wonderful Coronation Avenue Methodist church’s Ruach counseling centre.

There are so many lessons we can learn from nature, the sea changes tides, the trees change colour during the seasons, the vines are cut back in autumn and grow new leaves and fruit in the spring. Jesus said, “Abide in me for I am the vine and you are the branches.”  If we learn from this and watch how nature goes through its changes, it helps us as humans to understand that we too have “seasons” in our lives and that change is a good thing for it is through change and adversity that we grow as humans. I would like to close with this wonderful advice that I got from looking at a tree: “Stand tall and proud, go out on a limb, remember your roots, drink plenty of water and be content with your natural beauty.”

If you would like to know more about Helderberg Hospice visit their websitehttp://helderberghospice.org.za/