October is dedicated to breast cancer awareness, and Cosmocreole talks to Hebetty Alcindor, whose life changed drastically after being diagnosed with the disease last year.
“To wake up one day and realise that you are about to lose your breast and possibly all your hair-that thought makes you feel less of a woman” Hebetty Alcindor
Before Breast Cancer
It all started one night when Hebetty (Betty) Alcindor was getting ready for bed, she felt a bit itchy under her left breast, and when she had a closer look, it looked like a scratch. So she mentioned it to her daughter, who told her to apply some Sudocrem on the affected area. “I did that for two days, then I felt that it was getting bigger, and it was then that I realised it could be a lump. So I asked my husband, Alain, to feel it, and he said he did not like the look of it.”
As Betty and her husband were travelling to Mauritius for a short working and holiday trip in a few days, she decided to have a check-up when she got there. Within a matter of days of discovering the lump, Betty started to feel discomfort.
“I felt pain when I wore my bra, especially the underwire one, and upon arrival in Mauritius on 22nd April 2019, I decided to have the test the same day. I was anxious as I had to wait two days for the result. “
Unfortunately for Betty, the result was not what she wanted to hear. Instead, she was told that she had breast cancer, and it was very aggressive and that she needed to be treated immediately.
Can you describe what went through your head upon hearing the diagnosis? My husband wasn’t with me when I got the result. It was a terrifying moment, but I stayed calm. I was ready for whatever outcome I was going to deal with.
What was your treatment options? The cancer was aggressive, and I was told that a mastectomy and chemotherapy were the best options to get rid of it completely. After consulting some friends and family in the medical field, I realised that these were my best options.
Describe what you went through emotionally after the bad news. Seeing my family and friends sad and struggling with my diagnosis hit me. My 17-year-old son struggled with his studies, as well as with his favourite sport, sailing. I felt sad that he did not make the team to the Indian Ocean Island Games because it was his dream. He kept telling me he didn’t want to go, although we forced him to join the other sailors at a training camp in Portugal. However, the sailors and team leader were not aware that I was not well; he kept quiet about it, and by the time they knew, it was too late. They could have given him support. My 22-year-old son also got affected badly, and he decided to put his studies on hold. My daughter had to abandon her plans and work with me through my recovery. My younger sister, who lives 15km away from me, was at my place every day to cook for me and help with the housework. I could see she was tired, as she had her own family to take care of.
What form of treatments did you have? I did eight chemotherapy sessions and six months of Capecitabine treatment, which is oral chemotherapy.
How did you cope with the treatments? Honestly, without my family and friends, I could have never coped with the treatment. They played a significant role for me to overcome the pain and suffering I was going through. For example, I couldn’t keep most food down after the first five days of chemo, and some of my friends would buy special food for me. Some would pray for me or do my housework. In addition, I have friends who are cancer survivors, and they visited me. They all gave me the strength to go on and cope with it all.
What kind of side effects did you experience from the treatment? I did eight chemotherapy sessions in 2 different stages (4 months each), and for six months, I was on the Capecitabine tablet an oral chemo as well. The first four sessions, honestly, I cannot describe that. It caused all sorts of malaise, my taste bud was affected, I was weak, I lost my appetite, I felt cold most of the time, and I had mouth sores. My face, tongue, hands, under my feet, all turned black. I lost my eyelashes and all my body hair.
The second session was not too bad, I had a lot of joint pain for the first five days after the chemotherapy, and I had to take painkillers, and I could hardly walk; most of the time, I had to lie down. After that, however, I was able to eat much better.
What challenges did you face as a breast cancer patient and also as a survivor? We, as women, we consider ourself complete when we have our natural beauty, our hair, breast and all those feminine features, and to wake up one day and know that you have to live without those things—this was a big challenge, and the journey was not easy. It took me a while to adapt to all the changes I was going through. I did not even look at myself in the mirror, as I could not face the fact that I had lost 15 kilos, I was bald, very pale, and had one breast.
Despite all this, I accepted my illness. Most of my clothes did not fit me, and this made me depressed. So I chose not to go out. Instead, I stayed at home except to attend the Oncology unit for my treatment. I did not feel isolated there as all the patients were in the same boat, and we could talk about our illness and comforted each other.
How did your friends and family cope with all these changes? I remember after my first chemotherapy session, one of my friends asked me to have lunch with her. I was reluctant to go. She convinced me that I should go out, my family also convinced me, and I accepted. My worries were how do I dress up? My hair? My younger sister bought me a wig; my daughter did my make-up. However, the whole time during lunch, I was convinced that everybody knew I was wearing a wig, despite the wig being very similar to my natural hair. Huh! I was not comfortable at all. I wore the wig for a second time to go to the bank; again, I felt very uncomfortable. From that day, I took a decision not to wear the wig again. Out with the wig and in with a cap.
What motivated you to face those challenges head-on? The love of my entire family—my husband and my three children, sisters, mother, and brother who is in Canada, and would call every week to get an update on my health. I just felt that they needed me more than I needed them. They were my strength.
What advice would you give a breast cancer patient who has just been diagnosed?
- Never get discouraged by the news
- Accept the bad news even if it is hard to hear—acceptance is key to the recovery process
- Be positive
- Change their diet completely
- Have faith that they will be healed
- Seek help and advice—do not deal with it on your own
What advice would you give to family and friends of breast cancer patients? First, help them to accept the illness and visit the Cancer Concern Association for more information. And never let the cancer patient deal with everything alone.
Did you join any support groups? How important is it for cancer patients and survivors to join a support group? Officially I didn’t. But I visited the Cancer Concern Association office each time I went for my Energy Healing therapy which was next door to their office and chatted with the lady working there. She is a cancer survivor, so that we would talk about our health. I also received support and advice from Ms Gina Laporte, who is on the Cancer Concern Association. She is very dedicated and helpful to cancer patients in Seychelles.
How has having breast cancer impacted your daily life? At first, I had to be dependent on everybody as I could not drive, cook or do my housework. My arms were stiff and numb, so I had to exercises often. I still cannot be in a big crowd as my white blood cell count is low; I cannot be in the sun. Before I had cancer, I used to go at sea every Saturday to assist with the Sailing competition, which I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, now I have to keep away from this activity, and I feel sad about this each time I see my colleague boarding the boat. I only do the administrative duties as I am also the Secretary of the Association. I get tired quickly and have to limit the amount of work I do. I can work for up to 4 hours a day, and then I have to rest.
What advice would you give to the public regarding breast health awareness? First, do regular Mammogram tests as advised by the Health officials. Second, always examine your breasts, and if you notice any changes, you should seek medical help.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) is an annual international health campaign organised by major breast cancer charities worldwide every October to increase awareness of the disease and raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure. The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer. In addition, breast cancer awareness month intend to educate people about the importance of early screening, test and more.