Cancer diagnosis no death sentence

This is how Indera Maharaj from Durban was informed of her breast cancer diagnosis and impending mastectomy back in 2000. ‘€œI was devastated and thought that death was imminent,’€ Maharaj, now 68, admits, but says that she has learnt otherwise after joining support groups.

This retired educator, mother of four, and grandmother of six, has since recovered from her breast cancer and has become a volunteer with the support organisation Reach for Recovery (RFR). ‘€œI realised that prayer, helping other breast cancer patients, and leading a healthy lifestyle was the way to go,’€ says Maharaj. ‘€œI find great pleasure in helping others cope using my own experience, especially giving advice on prosthesis, prosthetic bras etc. and how to make do with what you have.’€

‘€œBecoming a RFR volunteer after my treatment also helped me heal from this very traumatic experience.’€

Diagnosis and treatment

In December 2000, Maharaj was diagnosed with breast cancer in her left breast. She had to undergo a full mastectomy in the breast, followed by 25 bouts of radiotherapy. Once the cancer was cleared in May 2001, she had to take Tamoxofin, a cancer-preventing drug, for another five years.

Beating cancer is not easy and Maharaj admits to being exhausted after every radiotherapy session. ‘€œAfter each radiation session I was not allowed to take a shower, and had to have a face towel bath. And I wasn’€™t allowed to hold my grandchild either.

‘€œAs for the tablet [Tamoxofin], it left a bad taste in my mouth and always made me crave something sour, like meebos or sour figs,’€ she says. The treatment also blurred her vision and made her gain weight.

Her persistence paid off, and in May 2001 she was declared cancer-free, and has stayed that way ever since.

‘€œI have learnt that cancer can be beaten if it is detected in the early stages. It is not a death sentence as I had believed when I was first diagnosed,’€ says Maharaj.

Since joining a cancer support group, she says she has learnt a lot about cancer, but there are some things she wishes she knew before her diagnosis. ‘€œI wish I knew that I had to perform monthly breast self-examination, eat correctly, exercise regularly and lower my stress levels.

‘€œAfter diagnosis I wish I knew what to expect, about getting a second opinion, treatment after surgery, etc. I wish I knew no stigma was attached to breast cancer. Most important of all: I wish I knew about Reach for Recovery!’€


Maharaj has come a long way from being that scared woman who learned of her breast cancer diagnosis 12 years ago. Not only has she beaten her own cancer, she is also helping other women suffering the same fate.

In 2006 she represented South Africa for the 3rd Asia-Pacific Reach for Recovery World   Breast Cancer Conference where she also gave a presentation, and has also shared her story on a radio talk show. Today she also gives talks to create breast cancer awareness and to raise funds for Reach for Recovery. ‘€œWe also visit patients in all the local hospitals and do home visits to support breast cancer patients,’€ says Maharaj.

Her message to other women with breast cancer is: ‘€œYou are not alone! People all over the world have breast cancer. It is not a death sentence – cancer can be beaten if detected early. There is no stigma attached to breast cancer. And do regularw breast self-examinations.’€


  • Wilma Stassen

    Wilma Stassen is a reporter at Health-e News Service. She focuses on non-communicable diseases. Follow her on Twitter @Lawim

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