A triple breast cancer survivor who gave birth to a baby girl wants to instill hope in fellow women who are fighting the disease. She is a firm believer that the dreaded ‘c-word’ will never be able to strip a woman of the abilities to have a child or breastfeed them.
Mawisa Chauke, from Limpopo, was diagnosed with stage three triple-negative breast cancer in 2019. At the time, she thought it would be impossible for her to have another child. But now, Chauke wants women who are currently undergoing breast cancer treatment to draw inspiration from her journey.
Her message of hope coincides with World Cancer Day this Friday – an international day marked to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation confirmed that triple-negative breast cancer occurs in about 10-20% of diagnosed breast cancer. It is more likely to affect young people, African Americans, Hispanics, and those with BRCA1 gene mutation.
‘I kept my faith’
“When I was diagnosed at the tender age of 30 in 2019, I kept my faith that one day I will still have more children. However, I used to have doubts about the injection I received to prevent my ovaries from being affected by chemotherapy. Chemo can affect your ovaries,” said Chauke.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer treatment can be highly effective, especially when the disease is identified early. Treatment of breast cancer often consists of a combination of surgical removal, radiation therapy, and medication to treat microscopic cancer that has spread from the breast tumor through the blood.
Chauke, who is a social worker by profession, underwent 16 sessions of chemotherapy. She also underwent five weeks of radiation and four surgeries to overcome breast cancer. In February 2020, Health-e News reported how Chauke had established a YouTube channel with hopes of destigmatising the diagnosis and treatment process of breast cancer through educational videos.
She is currently breastfeeding her daughter using only her right breast but remains grateful.
“My daughter is the sweetest baby ever and has brought so much joy to my life. Motherhood is going well with the support of my family. I am using only my right breast to breastfeed. My surgeon said I won’t be able to use the affected breast since it’s unable to produce milk. They removed a lot of tissue while I was undergoing treatment,” Chauke explained.
Although she held on to hope that she would be able to breastfeed she soon realised she would only be possible with one breast.
“While pregnant, I noticed that the other breast was not showing any signs of producing milk. After giving birth, I convinced myself that maybe milk will also come out from the left breast but that never happened. But I am at peace knowing that I can breastfeed my daughter, whom I often refer to as a ‘miracle’ baby,” said Chauke.
According to UNICEF, breastfeeding is vital to a child’s lifelong health and reduces costs for health facilities, families, and governments. Breastfeeding within the first hour of birth protects newborn babies from infections and saves lives.
CANSA’s Head of Health, Professor Michael Herbst, said it’s possible for women to become pregnant and breastfeed after undergoing cancer treatment.
“Many women are able to get pregnant after being treated for breast cancer. However, some treatments can make it harder to get pregnant. The best time to talk to your doctor about pregnancy and fertility is before beginning breast cancer treatment. Many women can breastfeed. If still taking any medicine, it’s very important to talk to your physician before trying to breastfeed. Some drugs can enter the breast milk and might affect the baby,” said Herbst.
He added that a breast cancer survivor can lead a normal life like everyone else post-cancer treatment.
“Remission starts when having no signs of cancer after finishing treatment. Survivorship means living with, through, and beyond cancer. Cancer survivorship begins at diagnosis and continues during treatment and through the rest of a person’s life. Breast cancer survivorship means to have no signs of cancer after finishing treatment – there is no reason that life cannot be “normal” during breast cancer survivorship,” said Herbst.
Ask questions when needed
Chauke has encouraged breast cancer patients to not shy away from asking questions if they need clarity or information.
“It is always good to ask relevant people for information that can help you. When I was set to undergo cancer treatment, I didn’t know that there is an injection that can freeze my ovaries. But I asked my oncologist and he advised me on what can be done to ensure that I will be able to have more children,” said Chauke. – Health-e News