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HEALTH

Blessings Amanda: You Can Survive Breast Cancer

After her diagnosis and treatment, she's now an advocate for breast cancer awareness

BY Agnes Amondi

Oct 25, 2022, 11:19 AM

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. In Zimbabwe, as it is in Africa, it is the second most common type of cancer among women after cervical cancer. 

According to studies, the disease is mostly diagnosed among older women, usually in advanced ages (the 50s onwards). Despite these statistics, some women get diagnosed in their 20s and 30s.

Meet Blessings Amanda, a guest relations officer and salesperson at Cresta Churchill Hotel in Zimbabwe. She got her breast cancer diagnosis before her 28th birthday in 2020. In fact, her doctor told her that she was the only patient they’d attended to that was below the age of 35.

Diagnosis

It started with a boil in her armpit that disappeared after a couple of days after which she experienced a huge lump in her left breast. As she explained, the thought that she might have breast cancer crossed her mind but the fear of its confirmation made her delay a visit to the doctor.

Blessings: “In May 2020, I felt a lump in my breast but I never went for a checkup because I was afraid it might be cancer. Three months later, my breasts started secreting blood and purse so I finally went to the hospital and the doctor told me that I should have gone in earlier.  

“She did a breast examination, felt the lump and recommended that I go for further tests. I did an ultrasound scan and it revealed a lump. I then went for a mammogram test which showed that the lump was cancerous. A biopsy followed and it confirmed that I had DCIS (Ductal carcinoma in situ) and I was immediately transferred to a general surgeon.”
 
A DCIS shows the presence of abnormal cells in the milk duct. It is the earliest form of breast cancer and it is referred to as stage 0 cancer meaning it is curable as it hasn’t spread. 

Blessings' fears were confirmed and she described the news as crashing.

“My world crashed. I was 28 years old with one child and the first thing that came to mind was that I was dying and I’d leave my child behind. Luckily, I received a lot of support from the people around me, accepted my diagnosis and worked through this journey.”

Treatment

Blessings started her treatment immediately. First, she had a mastectomy on her left breast then went for chemotherapy.

“I did my radical mastectomy which means that the whole breast was removed. I was in the hospital for five to six days and after two weeks, I went back to work. In March 2021, I started chemotherapy. I did eight sessions within a three-week interval and it was probably the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life.” 

“After my first session, my hair fell. I’d wake up and there is hair on my bed so I cut it and had a bald head. This affected my self-image. I work at a hotel and image is an important part of the job so I had to wear wigs. Other than that, I was very nauseous, I lost weight and my nails turned black.”

Despite the struggles that came with this life-changing diagnosis, she credits her support system for helping her get through.  

“I had a great support network that was there for me. My mother was a nurse and constantly guided me medically. She told me what I needed to do to get better.

“My brother accompanied me whenever I went for my chemotherapy. My friends checked up on me and bought me stuff. My boss and colleagues were supportive too. If I needed help they’d provide that. If I needed rest, I’d get it. I see other people who can’t cope because they lack a good support system so it is a very important aspect for anyone going through cancer treatment.”

Life post-surgery, Chemo

Blessing Amanda
Blessings is now moving on with her life but her mastectomy changed her life.

She said: “It’s something that’s embarrassing because, unlike other women, there is certain clothing I can’t wear. I can’t use an ordinary bra and have to get a mastectomy bra which I import from South Africa because it is not in Zimbabwe. Plus, it is expensive.

“Additionally, I find it difficult to have a partner. I can’t undress in front of anyone because it has damaged my self-esteem so I just keep to myself.”

Blessings' experience has given her a new purpose in life. She is now part of a support group with over 40 other women who’ve received a breast cancer diagnosis and together, they help each other walk the journey. 

She desires to be part of more initiatives like this because she knows the power of a solid support system and how it helps people battling diseases like cancer. It all begins with sharing her story.

“I want to open a support and awareness organisation because talking enables people to understand breast cancer and lets them know that it is possible to survive it. I want to help the next person by encouraging them and letting them know that they can get the support they need.”

Blessings' Parting shot

“There’s a lot of stigma around breast cancer patients. People should change their mindset about cancer because it is possible to survive it. It’s how people get treated by those around them that makes them feel defeated but it is important they know that with the correct medical intervention, they can get help.

“For ladies, it’s not the end of the road. Accept the diagnosis, stay hopeful, keep an open mind, and live your life. It will help in managing future things that come your way.”