Tackling The Stigma Of Breast Cancer This Women’s Month

While October is traditionally Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the importance of discussing this very common disease in Women’s Month cannot be overlooked – after all, Breast Cancer is the most commonly diagnosed, yet highly curable disease among South African women. So, while celebrating the stories of our remarkable South African women this Women’s Month, let’s also celebrate the resilient women who have fought the disease with the help of the all-female NPO, Reach for Recovery.

Mita Groenewald, 50, of Kuils River is one such survivor. The mother of four was diagnosed with lobular carcinoma, the second most common type of breast cancer, in December 2018. In early July she was admitted to Tygerberg Hospital where she underwent a single mastectomy.

Mita was introduced to Reach for Recovery for the first time while attending one of her appointments prior to the surgery – she had never heard of them before going to Tygerberg Hospital. “These all-female volunteers, all of whom have previously battled breast cancer themselves, would come into the waiting rooms and introduce themselves. They’d give us advice and share their stories so that none of us felt alone,” says Groenewald.

Prior to her surgery, Mita admits she was very emotional. “I was fortunately surrounded by my supportive family who helped me believe that this could be beaten,” says Groenewald. “A volunteer came to the ward on the day of my surgery and prayed with me. Another came after the surgery bringing magazines – she prayed with me again,” she adds.

As one of South Africa’s oldest breast cancer support organizations, Reach for Recovery has provided over 5000 women, with silicone breast prostheses. This is under the auspices of The Ditto Project, a prosthesis provision and fundraising initiative that was launched as a Reach for Recovery initiative in 2011.

Mita was one such recipient who purchased her own prosthesis for a mere R80. “I was surprised by how comfortable I was at the fitting for the prosthesis. It’s so comfortable and everyone thinks it’s my real breast – you cannot tell them apart,” she says. She adds that while she feels more comfortable having her prosthesis, it does not define her and if women would prefer not to wear them, that is also their right as “no breast cancer survivor should feel the need to justify themselves to anyone.”

One month following her surgery, Mita is as positive as ever. But she is careful to explain that her inner strength on her breast cancer journey did not come easily. “I was very depressed when I was first diagnosed and I asked God ‘why me?’,” says Groenewald, who admits that she originally did not want to undergo the mastectomy. “With the help of my faith and my incredible family, I was able to find peace of mind and a renewed sense of positivity,” she adds. Mita mentions that she also found solace in a friend who is currently suffering from colon cancer and that they would often lean on each other for support.

Mita recently celebrated her 50th birthday and took the opportunity to thank her family -her mom, who helped her 9-year-old daughter with school when she was unable to be there; her sisters who never missed a hospital appointment; and her partner and four children. “I’ll never forget the day I decided to explain my diagnosis to my 9-year-old daughter. I told her that I would have a surgery and would have only one breast. She replied by telling me that I’m the best mom she’ll ever have and that she would always love me,” adds Groenewald.

When asked what advice she would give to someone who has just discovered they have breast cancer, Mita’s first response is to be positive and understand that “it’s not the end of the world, it can be treated.” Mita shares that, after her diagnosis, she built up the courage to say to her cancer “you are not a permanent part of me – you are just a word. I will beat you!”

Mita believes that initiatives such as Reach for Recovery’s Ditto Project are important in South Africa because there is still a lack of understanding of breast cancer. “People seem to only pay attention to the disease when someone close to them gets diagnosed. Organizations such as this are helpful to the community so that panic doesn’t strike when that happens because people are empowered with more information and have more understanding.”

This Women’s Month, let’s celebrate brave women like Mita and the all-female volunteers behind Reach for Recovery.