Real Time Heroes to Breast Cancer Survivors – Here are Our Stories

So, in 2021 let’s once again take courage together, for each of our own health and the restoration of breast cancer survivors. Let’s once again purchase fresh mushrooms in pink punnets at Pick n Pay stores from September 20 this year in an extended Power of Pink campaigns that will run until the end of October.

Bessie Tselapedi, Cherry Hart and Stephne Jacobs are breast cancer survivors and volunteer at Reach for Recovery NPO, they share with us their journey.

Photography by Jeremy Glyn for RGC in January 2020. Power of Pink cheque handover
  • Your name

Bessie Tselapedi

  • How long ago did you have your mastectomy?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on the 26th of May 2005. I fell ill in January 2005, and I went to see a GP. It is when is she said to me, she needs to do some referrals to other doctors, and she would like to send me to do to some scans of my breast and my stomach. A couple months later I went for a follow up and it is when found out that I have breast-cancer. For me to survive they had to do the mastectomy and start me on treatment. My chemotherapy journey was long, but I survived.

  • Your personal cancer stories

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on the 26th of May 2005. I fell ill in January 2005, and I went to see a GP. It is when is she said to me, she needs to do some referrals to other doctors, and she would like to send me to do to some scans of my breast and my stomach. A couple months later I went for a follow up and it is when found out that I have breast-cancer. For me to survive they had to do the mastectomy and start me on treatment. My chemotherapy journey was long, but I survived.

  • How long have you been a volunteer with Reach for Recovery?

I did my training in May 2019.  After my training, I did my buddy visit together with Mama Dorothy in Parklane clinic who took me under her wing. We did three buddy visits together, I learned a lot from her, and my first solo buddy visit was 13 November 2019 in Parklane Clinic.

  • What motivated you to join Reach for Recovery? 

I was motivated to join the RFR organisation years ago after 4 women shared their story on Radio Kaya FM – they were Mama Maryanne, Stephne Jacobs, Colleen Smith and Mama Joosey. I was so inspired I made calls to Mama Joosey, Colleen and Stephne, they motivated me to come on board and I told them about my personal journey.

  • What do you do?

An RFR volunteer has lots of different roles, the role that fulfils me the most is the peer support, education and fundraising.

  • How does helping other women with cancer impact your own life and recovery?

Helping other women with breast cancer has made me stronger. I want to be there for those who are suffering and assist them on their road to  recovery and to start sharing their own personal journey.

  • How does the annual October Power of Pink campaign in Pick n Pay stores nationally, both dietary and practically, assist with the work Reach for Recovery does?

The Power of Pink campaign in Pick n Pay stores nationally, are doing great work by selling pink punnet mushrooms. Most people don’t know that mushrooms are good in reducing your chances of breast cancer.

  • What one thing would you say to women dealing with and recovering from breast cancer and the impact of having had a mastectomy?

Having a mastectomy takes time to get used to and it feels like things will never get better on your road to recovery, but it does. Its important to surround yourself with a good support system.

  •  What one piece of advice do you have for all women in terms of breast cancer?

My advice to all women regarding breast cancer is to educate yourself and learn more about yourself as a woman and continue to do self-examination and doctors’ visits. 

Photography by Jeremy Glyn for RGC in January 2020. Power of Pink cheque handover
  • Your name and age

      Cherry Hart, age 68

  • How long ago did you have your mastectomy?

      I was 52 when diagnosed with breast cancer.

  • Your personal cancer stories

My diagnosis was made after I developed mastitis and had to have a mammogram. I had a course of antibiotics followed by a fine needle aspiration. When the Radiologist received my results, he said I must see a surgeon.

I had a lump removed which confirmed my cancer. A week later I had a mastectomy.

  • How long have you been a volunteer with Reach for Recovery?

I joined Reach for Recovery soon after my surgery and have held the position of chairlady, vice chair lady a couple of times and just as an ordinary committee member over the past 16 years.

I am currently vice chair of the Johannesburg branch.

  • What motivated you to join Reach for Recovery? 

While in hospital I was visited by a lovely young woman called Sharon. She told me she was from Reach for Recovery and that she had had a mastectomy at age 30. I was horrified that I could even feel sorry for myself at my age, when this girl had been 30 at diagnosis.

I joined Reach for Recovery as soon as I was able, in order not only to create awareness of the disease, but to help other people come to terms with their disease, and to allow themselves to feel good about their altered self-image.

  • What do you do?

I do state hospital visits to see patients and to fit prostheses to individual patients at Charlotte Maxeke hospital, Chris Hani Baragwaneth and in a big Government hospital near Nigel. I also man the weekly clinics at these various hospitals with other Reach for Recovery volunteers. Fittings also take place at some of the Reach for Recovery offices also be volunteers.

  • How does helping other women with cancer impact your own life and recovery?

The joy on a woman’s face when she looks in the mirror & sees her new image, she feels whole again. Lots of tears of joy are shed by both recipient and fitter, followed by laughter and occasional dancing. It is a joyous moment for all present.

  • How does the annual October Power of Pink campaign in Pick n Pay stores nationally, both dietary and practically, assist with the work Reach for Recovery does?

The Power of Pink campaign is a most amazing altruistic campaign. The money from the sale of mushrooms, grown by mushroom farmers and sold in October by Pick N Pay, in pink punnets to make them stand out to the public, is a very creative piece of marketing.  The addition of the sale of mushroom bags this past year was a stroke of genius. The money raised from this campaign allows us to purchase external silicon breast prostheses to give to people who can’t afford to buy them privately.

  • What one thing would you say to women dealing with and recovering from breast cancer and the impact of having had a mastectomy?

My message to all the people I deal with is take back your life, live each day to the full, eat a healthy diet including mushrooms of course and do moderate exercise for the rest of your life and continue having your medical check-ups.

Photography by Jeremy Glyn for RGC in January 2020. Power of Pink cheque handover
  • Your name and age

      Stephné Jacobs, age 62

  • How long ago did you have your mastectomy?

      My new life, after breast cancer, started 21 years ago. I was 52 when diagnosed with breast cancer.

  • Your personal cancer stories

It never occurred to me to worry about something being wrong with my breasts.  With no family history of breast cancer, nor any other known risk factors and living a health-conscious lifestyle, breast cancer came as quite a surprise just days before my 43rd birthday.

Once the diagnosis was made, the mastectomy and chemotherapy followed. Radiation was the last leg of the journey – or rather that’s what I thought.

I was so overwhelmed and disappointed by the lung metastasis 3 years after the initial diagnosis of breast cancer that it took a while to realise that the nodules were discovered early and could probably be treated successfully – and they were!

 “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you hope and a future,” was the Bible verse that strengthened me (Jeremiah 29:11).

 I had to learn to focus on where I wanted to go, not on what I feared.  

So, the journey of fear, stress, anxiety, hair loss, menopause and hot flashes eventually made way for gratitude and hope and above all for admission to the Pink Ribbon Sisterhood. This is where I feel at home. It is where I learnt to reset my sails to start a new journey of hope. This is where we stand together to make a difference in the lives of those affected by breast cancer.          

  • How long have you been a volunteer with Reach for Recovery?

My volunteering journey started in 2001, and so it has been 19 years of standing up as a courageous example of hope and recovery. It has become a way of life to bring joy and happiness to others on their journey, as well as ensuring that Reach for Recovery is well known for excellent support services.     

  • What motivated you to join Reach for Recovery? 

I did not know about Reach for Recovery before the breast surgery, but after the mastectomy I was visited in hospital by a Reach for Recovery volunteer who invited me to the support group meeting; I did so about one month after surgery, and was welcomed so warmly and met so many shining examples of compassionate survival that I was inspired to embrace the new sisterhood and become part of it to ensure that new patients never feel alone!       

  • What do you do?

I’ve had the wonderful and blessed opportunity to provide emotional and practical support to breast cancer patients in hospital for many years as a peer support volunteer. In recent years I have the privilege to lead the organisation as volunteer National Chairperson.

Every time I represent Reach for Recovery, I feel that I’m fighting back at the disease, empowering others to benefit from the support and educational services Reach for Recovery provides.   I believe that every woman should have access to this essential support service. It is free of charge, and anyone can refer a patient for support.

On the one hand it is my enthusiastic focus to continue to develop Reach for Recovery’s strategy to reach our overall mission of providing emotional and practical support to every breast cancer patient who needs it.  We are continually growing, and we are destined to reach new heights in the breast cancer care continuum.

On the other hand, I am equally passionate to ensure that our dedicated unpaid volunteers are content and that they receive recognition for the priceless skills they bring to Reach for Recovery.   Our volunteers are the lifeblood of the organisation, for without them, we would not exist. 

  • How does helping other women with cancer impact your own life and recovery?

Especially at the start of my volunteering journey, helping others helped me to turn my own sadness into courage.  It’s just a beautiful way of spreading rays of sunshine on a cloudy day and getting some much-needed rays on oneself!

  • How does the annual October Power of Pink campaign in Pick n Pay stores nationally, both dietary and practically, assist with the work Reach for Recovery does?

In 2010, Research findings suggested that women who eat 10 grams of mushrooms every day seem to halve their risk of breast cancer. While this research was certainly a ray of hope, ‘Ubuntu’ – a South African concept, was the magnifying glass that caused that ray of hope to make an active difference. It is through this concept that the leaders from the South African Mushroom Farmers Association came together with diverse resources to form a solution. This solution ensures silicone prostheses service for uninsured women who had survived breast cancer, empowering survivors to regain their self-esteem, dignity and confidence after a mastectomy.

Silicone breasts cost over R3000 in the open market. However, with Ditto, in order to get prostheses, all you would have to do is be a state hospital patient. Since 2011, we have been able to give 6523 silicone prostheses to women in different provinces of SA who could not afford one. We have been fortunate to help so many women. 

  • What one thing would you say to women dealing with and recovering from breast cancer and the impact of having had a mastectomy?

Breast cancer can bring many harsh realities into your life, yet there is support and many ways of learning to find acceptance to live a new normal best life. 

  •  What one piece of advice do you have for all women in terms of breast cancer?

“Stay ahead of your breast health: Check them. Live well. Eat well.” 

  •  How did your breast cancer change your view of life?

I cannot say that it changed me! Yet, I do think that a better version of me has emerged…

The reality is that I had to take a good look at myself and reach deep inside to find the strength to continue.

          I’ve learnt:

  • To not compare myself to others
  • To not focus on what I had lost, but rather enjoy and celebrate what I still have 
  • That my contribution to the community, rather than the loss of a breast defines me
  • To count my blessings, rather than my burdens