Health Women's Health

Kindness of others makes cancer more bearable

Glenda Venn
Written by Health-e News

Glenda Venn’s life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2011, but she found comfort in the company of others also battling the disease.

GlendaVenn_1Venn suspected something was wrong when swelling under her arm wouldn’t go away. She went for a mammogram and an ultrasound, but the 45-year-old business woman couldn’t have expected her doctor’s reaction.

“Oh my God – this isn’t good,” said her specialist. “Have you got family? You’re going to have a terrible six months.”

“I’m usually cool and calm, but…hearing  your diagnosis handled so flippantly and unkindly had me thinking the absolute worst,” she said. “I was left reeling,”

Her appointment with the oncologist didn’t go much better. When Venn visited her oncologist, she was armed with questions about not only chemotherapy but also diets she could follow to help her recovery.

“I was looking for some assurance and knowledge so that I could help myself, and tell …my family that there were things we could do to make it better,” she added.

The oncologist’s answer to all Venn’s anxious questions was: “You will get the pamphlet when you start your treatment.”

Despite initial experiences with insensitive doctors, Venn was eventually introduced to a support network that made her cancer journey more bearable.

Strength in numbers

A friend insisted that Venn see a breast cancer specialist who introduced her to a network of oncologists, dietitians, fellow patients and even hairpiece experts:

“Their kindness pulled me through. The gracious woman at Mike and Liz Hairpieces helped me manage my hair falling out and showed me how to wear wigs with dignity. My dietician, Dr. Christa North helped build a diet that contributed to my body’s resilience to the chemotherapy.

“Dr. Georgia Demetriou, my oncologist, always smiled as she filled in my treatment report and Dr. Russell Seider was as relieved as I was when he gave me the all clear in my last ultrasound,” Venn remembered.

“Medicine and surgery are the cure, but getting better is a human thing”

Some of the most inspirational and kindest people were other breast cancer patients who were in treatment with her, said Venn, remembering her first nerve-wracking day of chemotherapy:

“A woman, whose name I never knew, leaned over and patted my knee,” she said.

“She suggested I rather view the ‘Red Devil’ (a type of chemotherapy) as the ‘Red Angel’ – her words made me change my point of view completely.”

“I watched individuals grapple with this disease in so many different ways, with so many unique and courageous coping mechanisms,” Venn added. “When (other patients) are brave, you can be brave.”

“When they can smile and assure you that feeling scared is okay and it will get better, then you can believe that you will be up to the challenge,” she said. “These people can teach you something, and show you there’s a strength in yourself you may never have thought existed. “

According to Venn, her experience made her realise that while every cancer survivor has his or her own story, human kindness should play a role in everyone’s journey with the disease.

There are a number of breast cancer types, which vary in severity. The type of breast cancer is important in determining the most effective treatment approach. Treatment options for breast cancer depend on the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed.

Surgery and radiotherapy are commonly used to treat women with early stage breast cancer. The kind of chemotherapy Venn underwent is frequently used to treat patients with more advanced forms of the disease, alongside hormonal and targeted therapies.

“This disease taught me in a deep, heartfelt way that human kindness heals,” she said. “The medicine and the surgery are only the cure, but getting better is a human thing.” – Health-e News Service.

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Health-e News

Health-e News is South Africa's dedicated health news service and home to OurHealth citizen journalism. Follow us on Twitter @HealtheNews

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