WINDHOEK – Four years ago, Bonita Roux tested positive for BRCA 2, which put her at risk of breast, cervical and ovarian cancers among others.
“The doctor told me that if I wanted to have children it was now or never and so I told my husband and we tried immediately for a child,” reminisced the 34-year old.
Roux broke the news to her husband and they conceived not long, after that giving birth to their son in December 2014. By the time her son was nine months old, she had her breast, uterus, ovaries and cervix removed to decrease her chances of developing those cancers.
According to the National Cancer Institute, BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins. These proteins help repair damaged DNA and therefore, play a role in ensuring the stability of each cell’s genetic material.
When either of these genes is mutated, or altered, such that its protein product is not made or does not function correctly, DNA damage may not be repaired properly. As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.
Specific inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 most notably increase the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers, but they have also been associated with increased risks of several additional types of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
On 11 September 2015, the doctors found that Roux had breast cancer stage 3, which was detected when they were removing her breast, although it was not detected in earlier examinations. “I call it my 9/11,” she joked.
Roux had a mastectomy on both breasts and had her breast reconstructed with the tissue of her own skin after her body rejected the silicone implants, after her breasts were removed.
“The cancer I was diagnosed with is hormonal, that’s why we had to remove my female organs,” she explained.
Roux is in her second year of cancer remission. This means that according to tests, physical examinations and scans all signs of cancer are gone. But, during this period, she has had cancer scares, of lumps in her breasts.
“I have to go for check-ups every six months,” she added. Roux’s journey has not been an easy one, but she also admits that it made her realise just how strong she is.
“It’s very hard because the cancer has had a toll on my marriage,” she stated.
Cancer in the family
Asked on how she felt when she tested positive for BRCA 2, Roux said she expected, it considering the history of breast cancer in her family.
Both her mother and grandmother were diagnosed with breast cancer, Roux explained.
“I was actually fine when I was diagnosed because I kind of expected it. But losing my hair, that was traumatising,” she remarked emotionally. Also, the fact that she now has scars on her body from the surgery is a constant reminder of her battle with cancer.
“That’s very damaging to a woman’s image,” she added. But, there is no place for self-pity in her life, as she has to be strong for her son. “I have my friends and family as support systems,” she replied when asked about the people who stood by her through this journey.
Her best friend, Rhoda Jones and other friends have been there since day one, she notes. Jones also accompanied Roux for the interview, sharing on some of the moments they shared during Roux’s battle with cancer.
“I am the strongest woman alive. I try to live every day as normally as possible,” she added. Her son who was also present during the interview was also there throughout the good and bad times in Roux’s fight against cancer.
“The first four years of a child’s life is important because that’s when they build personality,” she added, sharing that the disease somewhat took a toll on her son’s life.
“When I wasn’t feeling well, he would ask if he should bring me the red bucket,” she reminisced, looking at him with so much admiration.
Even though she was battling cancer, Roux did not neglect her job and daily responsibilities, except for when she had to undergo surgery and on the days that she went for chemotherapy. “I didn’t have the time to feel sorry for myself,” she added.
Asked on what message she has for women battling cancer, Jones (Roux’s friend) said: “Be strong. Have those people that love you. Have your support group and look to the future with hope. Don’t give up. Having hope for the future gives you the strength to fight.”
What is BRCA 1 and BRCA 2
According to the National Cancer Institute, people who have inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 tend to develop breast and ovarian cancers at younger ages than people who do not have these mutations.
A harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation can be inherited from a person’s mother or father. Each child of a parent who carries a mutation in one of these genes has a 50 percent chance (or 1 chance in 2) of inheriting the mutation. The effects of mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 are seen even when a person’s second copy of the gene is normal.
Common cancers in women
Statistics from the Cancer Association of Namibia shows that breast and cervical cancers are the most common types of cancer among women. Data from the Cancer Association registry indicated that in 2014, 558 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, 302 with cervical cancer.
In 2015, 545 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 295 with cervical cancer. In 2016, 532 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 249 with cervical cancer.
The CEO of the Cancer Association of Namibia, Rolf Hansen stressed on the importance of early cancer detection in order to save lives. Hansen said that many women with cancer in Namibia present themselves when it’s late at health facilities.
“If we can detect the cancers earlier, then we can start treatment earlier and we would be able to save more lives. Many women in Namibia present late and this is the reality,” said Hansen.
October is breast cancer awareness month, a worldwide annual campaign involving thousands of organisations, to highlight the importance of breast cancer awareness, education and research.
2018-10-29 10:10:10 7 months ago