05 Jun Surviving breast cancer at the age of 37
Anneke Landman was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 37. As with any cancer diagnosis, it came as a shock. It always does. One minute you’re just getting that tiny lump checked out, the next you’re facing a deluge of medical terminology, treatment plans, chemotherapy side effects and life-changing decision making. For Anneke, it was a defining moment that changed the course of her life.
“My diagnosis is a bit of a story,” she says. “I noticed a tiny lump three years ago and didn’t take much notice of it. I went for a sonar and mammogram and they told me to check it again in six months. By then, it had grown significantly, and the doctor sent me for a sonar-guided needle biopsy. The results came back negative, they diagnosed it as fat necrosis which is often due to injury or trauma.”
Anneke was given a choice – leave it or remove it and she chose the former. Then, about four months later the lump was starting to get in the way. It was still growing. She decided to have it cut out, unaware that anything was wrong.
“I went back to have my stitches taken out and the doctor took me to one side, he told me I had a very aggressive form of oestrogen positive breast cancer. I started laughing,” remembers Anneke. “I know it was the wrong reaction, but until that moment I had always believed my body was bulletproof. I was active and sporty and fit. I remember driving home and having to stop the car because I was crying. You think it will never happen to you and when it does, it’s a shock to the system.”
The first couple of months were overwhelming. Luckily for Anneke she had some medical background so she understood what the doctors were saying, but there was a flood of terminology, tests and appointments. On top of these, every step required that a decision is made about the next step, the next test.
“I created a little cancer file where I put all my test results, paperwork, appointments – anything to do with my cancer went in there,” she says. “I took it to every appointment so I could keep everything together. It helped me as I faced some big decisions about my life. I decided to have my eggs frozen, so that meant I had to wait a few months before I could start treatment. With oestrogen positive and HER2 positive breast cancer I had to also ensure I was on the right medical aid. The treatments are incredibly expensive.”
Anneke had a very negative view of chemotherapy, one not helped by the fact that she was scheduled to start the infamous Red Devil. This particular treatment gets its name from its bright red colour and extreme toxicity. She thought she would be sitting in a dark room with needles attached to her and vomiting into a bucket. The reality was vastly different.
“Cancercare was incredibly inviting,” says Anneke. “I was at Cancercare Panorama, with really wonderful chemo nurses and the experience was completely different. I felt supported and positive.”
Dr Rika Pienaar, clinical and radiation oncologist at Cancercare says although the diagnoses of breast cancer are devastating for women of all ages, younger women struggle even more. “They have more challenges such as young children and full-time work obligations. They stress about the impact of this disease on their fertility, their sexual behaviour and financial burdens. Therefore, young breast cancer patients need so much more extra and exceptional support.”
Anneke is now one year free of cancer. She has used her experience to completely transform her life and the way she lives as she believes that lifestyle changes are essential when it comes to taking care of yourself and your body.
“What you put into your system makes a big difference,” she says. “I stopped drinking alcohol, stayed away from bad foods and listened to what my body wanted. I also cut down on stress. It’s a massive cause of inflammation and I really believe that it’s important to take a step back, look at your life and add the things that bring you joy. Simplify your life.”
Anneke has taken this commitment to changing her life and achieved remarkable results. She studied with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York, completed her yoga training and now runs her own business, supporting cancer patients on both the nutritional and emotional level. Anneke also has a diploma in Phytotherapy from the College of Phytotherapy in East Sussex. Every part of her life is focused on taking what she learned during her cancer journey and using it to transform her future.
“Cancer is a devastating diagnosis, but it can also be a chance for you to change and reflect on your life,” Anneke concludes. “Look at the things that bring you joy and invest your time in them. Pay attention to what you put into your system, make the right lifestyle changes and approach your treatment and future with positivity. Most importantly, listen to your body and cut down on stress.”