It was March 2021 and 45-year-old Kahmiela August from Monte Vista in the Western Cape was feeling blessed. Her family had moved to the perfect home, she had a new job and her weight-loss journey had yielded fruit – she had lost a whopping 65 kilogrammes.
Kahmiela vividly recalls what appeared to be one of the best times of her life: “I was exercising regularly, which I hadn’t done in years. I was in the best health ever. Could it get any better?
“That was until the day I got stung by a wasp in my car, which was annoying as the car had been locked and unused in the garage while I was working from home during COVID-19. I don’t know how that wasp survived for weeks in a closed car. But this, it turned out, was no ordinary wasp.”
Soon after Kahmiela was stung several bumps appeared on her chest. After a week of waiting for them to disappear she finally found the time to see the doctor for an antihistamine. Much to her shock and horror the doctor felt it necessary to have a closer look at one of the seemingly innocent little bumps. Suddenly the possibility of breast cancer loomed large. If it had not been for the wasp sting, Kahmiela would not have thought of visiting her doctor as the thought of a possible cancer diagnosis had never crossed her mind.
The cancer diagnosis
“First there was the overwhelming agony of waiting, of watching my kids and husband, while desperately trying not to fall apart worrying that I would not be able to raise them. I recall the doctor talking and me hearing nothing except the word cancer and how my husband, my rock, remained strong for me while holding everything together.
“Finally, on 6 April 2021 – the day I turned 46 – a diagnosis of stage II to III breast cancer was confirmed. This meant that the cancer had grown deeply into nearby tissue while spreading into my lymph nodes, but fortunately not to any other parts of my body. Six months of treatment stretched ahead of me – first there was the chemotherapy followed by surgery and finally radiation therapy. Happy birthday to me!
“The world went silent until I walked into the office of my treating oncologist Dr John Sauer at Netcare N1 City Hospital. Aloma at his reception was there and they were all so kind. I walked in feeling overwhelmed, tearful, alone and terrified ¬ – I left feeling they’ve got this. You’re going to be okay. It wasn’t because of their medical words. It was because they reached my soul and consoled me somehow. The compassion from the first moment made this journey bearable.
“My choice from the start was that I would not play ‘Dr Google’. The doctors were medical professionals, and I was not. I still believe that this was the best decision I could have made in surviving my cancer journey mentally.
“The first chemotherapy session was rough and afterwards I ended up in Netcare N1 City hospital for five days with sepsis. COVID-19 was still rife and because of visitor restrictions, I was all alone. I had taken some work along to my chemotherapy session and insisted that my husband brought my laptop to the hospital. However, the panic in the voices of my children, my family, my friends and the fear in my husband’s eyes made me sit up and think.
“It was a lightbulb moment – I could not deal with this and work at full pace. I could not go on as though cancer was just a little inconvenience that I could humour and swat away in irritation. For the sake of my loved ones I needed to totally devote myself to fighting this battle.”
A journey of survival
And so Kahmiela’s journey of survival began. She was determined to not let anyone, including herself, live in fear and was adamant to keep her family life as normal as possible for the sake of her husband and the children.
“It didn’t matter how bad I felt, I got up every morning, smiled, packed lunches, made breakfast. I helped with homework, made supper and sometimes bought it. I tried to sleep when everyone was at school or working and I made sure that I was awake when they were home.”
She says staying in the routine was good for everyone psychologically and that it kept her busy so that her mind only wandered to ‘what if’ in the middle of the night.
Kahmiela started making a list of silver linings and whenever she thought of something new, she laughed. “For example, I could now legally try dagga as I would be using it for ‘medicinal’ purposes. Also, I would lose weight quicker – so, goal weight, here I come. I got to park in the oncology bays at Netcare N1 City Hospital while others had to search for parking. And that is just some of it,” laughs Kahmiela.
Tough days as mental anguish tries to take control
“When finding yourself in a situation like this you instinctively want to argue with the doctors because you’re scared. You want to cry with the humiliation of having so many people handle your ‘treacherous boobs’ – you want to give up when your arms are blue from needles and when the drips simply aren’t working anymore. When you are so nauseous you just want to sleep – when your hair starts falling out. There were so many gut-wrenching moments when reality really set in. But I pulled through by repeating ‘The treatment is working because the lump is slowly shrinking, so it is worth it’ to myself.
“As terrified as I was, I survived with the mantra ‘You are not in control – trust’. I would disengage my soul from my body and let the doctors and staff treat me while I trusted in them, totally at peace with myself. Sometimes in my darkest moments I would silently sing favourite songs in my head or count to 300 so I could get through just five minutes at a time. I would try to smile and thank the staff, because treating and caring for sick people every day cannot be easy for them either. I was so blessed by not only having a competent, but also a deeply compassionate treatment team at Netcare N1 City’s cancer care centre. I will forever be grateful for that compassion, given in moments when I had never felt more alone.
Remission – too good to be true?
“After six months, my doctor finally said the words… ‘We cannot guarantee a minute particle hasn’t spread, but you are in remission.’ My husband was overjoyed. But I was devastated. I wouldn’t tell anyone the good news. It was one of my lowest moments, and I didn’t want to get out of bed. All I heard was ‘minute particle’ which I erroneously interpreted as ‘this nightmare will never be over’.
“My husband on the other hand heard ‘remission”. I didn’t want my silent devastation to take away his joy at us making it through our greatest nightmare. Eventually I reached out to a Facebook CANSA group where I could speak my truth to others going through this journey. They heard me and helped me see. This was another great lesson – ask for help from those who have walked the journey, when you need it.
The patient’s advocate
Marilyn Lameyer, regional radiation therapy manager for Netcare Western Cape, says a cancer diagnosis is a life-changing experience and it is common to feel overwhelmed – even when, as in the case of Kahmiela, the end of the journey is in sight. “Supporting and assisting patients fighting cancer every step of the way through their individual treatment process therefore forms an integral part of the holistic care we provide.
“The comprehensive range of cancer treatments offered under one roof at the dedicated Netcare N1 City Hospital cancer care centre is supported by a multi-disciplinary team comprising a surgeon, oncologist, pathologist, radiologist, patient navigator as well as a social worker who are involved in the diagnosis, clinical assessment, counselling, treatment including breast reconstruction, and patient support.
“Our patient navigators – experienced cancer care nurses who are specially trained in supporting, guiding and assisting each individual patient from diagnosis through treatment to recovery – play a key role in smoothing the transition from one phase of treatment to the next for each patient. They also serve as the point of communication between the patient and the various medical professionals who are involved in their treatment so that the different aspects of a patient’s care are not dealt with in silos but in a holistic and compassionate way.
A perfect day
It is almost a year since the wasp changed the course of Kahmiela’s life and her 47th birthday is fast approaching. Her last batch of tests recently come back clear and she has much to celebrate.
“Clear, Clear! Cancer, you lose – I win! Whoop, whoop! As I’m now the invincible Supergirl I recently tried to ride down a mountain in Franschhoek on a two-wheel scooter together with my family – something I had never done before. Needless to say, it really did not go well, but my family and I laughed hysterically. For us it was simply a perfect day.
“I’m back, working at full pace, I’m exercising again. Sadly, I’m picking up weight again, but we’ll blame this on the festive season, not the extra slice of cake I had for lunch… God bless that little wasp for saving my life,” concludes a jubilant Kahmiela.
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For more information on this media release, contact MNA at the contact details listed below.
Issued by: MNA on behalf of N1 City Hospital
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Meggan Saville, Estene Lotriet-Vorster or Clemmy Forsthofer
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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