Having ‘ticked off the proverbial list’ surviving breast cancer while building a career and taking care of a family, you’d think Henrietta van Kramberg, Refilwe Sedumedi, Nqobile Mazibuko, Ntokoza Dludla and Soso Thamae would have had their fill of challenging themselves.
You’d be wrong.
Instead of just getting on with their lives after being given the ‘all clear’, they opted – each in their own way – to dispel the myths that exist around breast cancer and raise awareness for the disease.
Earlier this year they came together to do something really special. United in their desire to do something extra-ordinary to celebrate their individual journeys and prove that there is life after being diagnosed with breast cancer, they flew to Nepal to trek to Everest Base Camp as part of the EBC 2016: One Step at a Time expedition, so called because, once diagnosed with cancer, a person lives his or her life one day at a time.
EBC is a term that is used to describe two base camps on opposite sides of Mount Everest. South Base Camp is in Nepal at an altitude of 5,364 metres (17,598 ft) (28°0′26″N 86°51′34″E), and North Base Camp is in Tibet at 5,150 metres (16,900 ft) (28°8′29″N 86°51′5″E). EBC 2016: One Step at a Time went to South Camp.
The trek was organised by Streetschool Development Journeys (www.streetschool.co.za) and the Breast Health Foundation (www.mybreast.org.za), which works in a multi-disciplinary approach from grass roots level to reach out, educate, diagnose and offer definitive care to all suffering from the disease.
Streetschool Development Journeys specialises in personal development with a strong emphasis on individual learning from personal experience. The most exciting part of its offering is the experiential journeys to the Tibetan exile community in Northern India and expeditions to Nepal.
Founder Klasie Wessels, who led the expedition, had nothing but praise for the five ladies, their bravery and resilience. “I’m no stranger to courage and determination; I see it regularly during the courses I run and the trips I lead to India and Nepal. But I have been inspired by that shown by these five fierce and passionate women,” he said.
Two of the five managed to complete the gruelling trek to EBC. The triumphant pair – Henrietta and Refilwe – reached EBC on April 25 while a third, Nqobile, came within sight of EBC before being forced to retire.
While in Nepal, the group met up with the Nepal Breast Cancer Foundation, and shared stories and discussed the unique challenges women in Nepal face when diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing treatment.
Truly remarkable women with remarkable courage:
Ntokoza Dludla, Nqobile Mazibuko and Refilwe Sedumedi having lunch at a tea house.
The group met up with the Nepal Breast Cancer Foundation.
Henrietta van Kramberg and Refilwe Sedumedi (sitting) at EBC.
Henrietta van Kramberg
“My name is Henrietta van Kramberg, and on Thursday October 26, 2010 I was diagnosed with estrogen receptor (ER+) non-invasive breast cancer at the ‘young’ age of 37. Thanks to PinkDrive, lumps were detected early. Part of that service is to refer patients to a specialist if worrisome lumps are detected. One of the nurses, Liz Labuschagne, referred me to a top oncology specialist.
I am the first and only female in my family to be diagnosed with breast cancer – in my case it is not hereditary! After three opinions and three months of consultation, I agreed to a mastectomy of my left breast. When everyone was celebrating New Year’s 2011, I was mentally preparing for an operation.
On 3 January 2011, the competent team at Milpark under the leadership of breast specialist surgeon Carol-Ann Benn performed a sentinel node biopsy. Four weeks later, the mastectomy was done after some metastasis (spread of tumor) was detected.
I underwent a rigorous course of chemotherapy, (16 courses) – nearly six months long. I attribute early detection and a great medical team to my successful prognosis. For the next five years I have to take an oral chemo therapy to prevent the disease from reoccurring …it’s been a tough journey but I have been kicking butt since Day 1 and my message is that if I can do it, anyone can.
Oh, and Everest was just another butt to kick! “
Refilwe Sedumedi (known as “Fifi”)
“I am 38 years old, full of life, vibrant, energetic, outgoing, outspoken and my faith helped me conquer breast cancer and Everest.
I am also a single mother of two, my prince Olebogeng (15) and my princess Pontsho (9). I am from Rustenburg at a place called Dwarsberg (Dinokaneng) near Molatedi in the North West. I stay in Diepsloot Extension 7 North of Johannesburg.
My life was just perfect until 2013 when I discovered a lump in my left breast. I was scared to have it checked as I lost my mom in 2004 to a brain tumour. In August 2013 I decided to go and get it checked. My doctor gave me a referral letter to go to the Helen Joseph Breast Care Clinic, where I met Prof Carol Benn who performed a mammogram and an ultra sound.
I had to wait for my results and that’s when my world came crashing down on me. A whirlwind of biopsies, my results came back in September 2013 showing that I have cancer cells. I was then diagnosed with breast cancer, on the 17th October 2013. I underwent my first operation where they removed the lymph nodes and on November the 11th I underwent major second operation where they had to remove the lump and did a reconstruction on both my breasts.
This was the most difficult hurdle to overcome, but my stubborn faith kept me going. My friends were there for me, my pastors, my church, my kids were all understanding, including my employers who were most patient and supportive with me.
I never felt sorry for myself; I attended the public meetings at Hazeldene Hall opposite Parklane Hospital with the Bosom Buddies, created as a project of the Breast Health Foundation, and provide emotional support to all affected by Breast Cancer. Bosom Buddies also have a Buddies-For-Life magazine that helps people to know more about cancer. That’s where I met Chantal Drummond, the photographer who offered me a photo shoot opportunity for Femme Fatale Boudoir, tapping into my modelling passion, and also allowing me to be an instrument of hope to many hopeless cancer patients.
Though it all came as a complete shock, I constantly asked God to guide me throughout my journey. My prayers conquered everything. In January 2014 I started with chemotherapy, which went on for almost seven months. That was my worst nightmare, just three weeks after my first chemotherapy I lost my hair, fighting the after effects. I lost weight, and my complexion changed.
I did not want people to see my battle with cancer written all over my face, so I decided to dress up for my treatments, I made sure I was looking my best for every appointment paying attention to my every detail – FAITH in the inside, and a SMILE outside. I refused to let chemotherapy dictate what I had to look like for that period. I had to go for radiation every day for seven weeks just two months after chemotherapy.
In August 2014 I went for a mammogram and ultrasound before radiation, and in an amazing turn of events my results came back negative. I am declared CANCER-FREE a super survivor indeed. I did it all this by His mercy…through prayer and my stubborn faith I was cleared of danger. It was not pleasant, but I stuck it up, the needles, the medication, the poking by doctors, the smell of the hospital corridors, everything uncomfortable, and I am embracing this second chance that God gave me. In July 2015 I also went for another mammogram and ultrasound all is still well.
I am in a process of starting my Breast Cancer Foundation to reach out to our black communities as I have realised that we lack knowledge about this killer called CANCER. I am currently using my experience as a motivational speaker reaching out to all facing similar difficulties to never give up, and trust in God’s plans. In 2015, the Department of Health honoured me as a warrior who managed to beat breast cancer and as their Ambassador. We initiated this process with a very successful 5 km Cancer Awareness Fun Walk in Diepsloot. This for me is an extension of the annual Ithemba Crusade of Hope Avon Justine against Breast Cancer Fun Walk which I never miss, as an opportunity to share my survival journey.
In April 2016, I joined a group of breast cancer survivors in walking one step at a time to Everest Base Camp. This is the ultimate showing of defiant triumph over cancer and for the ones fighting this silent killer and those who lost the battle along the way.”
“My story begins in 1987, because I got lumps when I was 15 years old. The doctor said we should take them out and so they were removed. When I was 16, they redeveloped and my mother said you know, we should do this thing (mastectomy).
I think she was afraid because her aunt passed away because of breast cancer. At that time, I was thinking that I’m going to die because most of the people were saying when you are diagnosed with cancer that’s it. You are going to die.
When I was diagnosed, Dr Ben referred me to the Breast Health Foundation and I received overwhelming support that changed my mind. I wanted to live … and I knew I could live.
I believe that by doing the Everest Base Camp trek, I’ll be able to give hope to many and to encourage them that there is life after breast cancer, that they can do the illness.”
“I am a mother of three as well as an entrepreneur responsible for 75 employees. On 18 October 2010, when the doctor said to me “I hope it is not what I think it is” referring to the lump in my right breast, my life changed for the better and worse.
That date holds a very special place in my memory as it is the day that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sitting in the doctor’s room being told that I was ill is possibly the most surreal moment of my life. From that moment on, an onslaught of treatment including chemotherapy began. This was trying, to say the least. In November 2010 I had a mastectomy. Thereafter the chemotherapy began, which started the process of my recovery.
Living with cancer is like climbing a mountain – some days were up and some down. My cancer days were some of the best and worst times of my life, where I experienced both anguish and spiritual awakening.
In many ways I am grateful for the cancer as the experience taught me so many valuable life lessons and changed my outlook on life for the better.
I found that I now value myself and my self-worth a whole lot more after cancer. Before this life-changing experience I was always a person who sought to put others needs ahead of my own; being a people-pleaser became one of my unfortunate character traits. It took having an illness like cancer for me to realise that life is far too short to constantly put others needs and aspirations ahead of your own.
After being told by my oncologist that stress is a major contributor to cancer I decided to take control of my own life by eradicating the things that made me unhappy or unfulfilled and only surround myself with positive people and energy. I make use of various stress-reducers such as exercising at the gym, yoga and meditation (which has now become a part of my way of life). It was extremely important for me to come to the realisation that I cannot stress over aspects of my life which I have no control but rather do something about the aspects that I can control.
Another lesson that I have learnt about myself post cancer is not to be a sponge and absorb all the negative things that people say or think about me. I am no longer so affected by other people’s opinions of me.
I now have a far more positive and holistic outlook on life.
My wish post cancer has always been to stretch myself to the limit by doing what an ordinary person would not do. Being given a second chance in life means being of service others and lastly I have always been inspired by individuals who go against the odds in life. I did just that trekking to EBC in April 2016.
I can only hope that my three children, my extended family and my staff view me as someone they can look up to.”
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, started treatment 2009 and to be honest it was not an easy journey. They seated me down and said we’ve got bad news; I think that is where everything changed because the only thing I saw was my coffin.
I thought I was the only one, or that maybe two or three or four women were going through what I was going through; I didn’t realise there were many more. The Breast Health Foundation, they helped me see that it was not me alone, that there are a lot of women going through what I’m going through.
The Foundation gave me the inspiration and courage to take positive action, and to start realising I would live. I was one of the fortunate ones. I had been correctly diagnosed, and directed to an organisation that was intent on assisting me through every phase of my war against breast cancer from diagnosis to treatment to living with cancer strategies. Other women, especially in rural communities, are not so fortunate.”