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Life After Breast Cancer

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Stephné Jacobs (62) started a new life after her breast cancer diagnosis 21 years ago. She recalls how she was caught off guard by the diagnosis and how a Pink Ribbon Sisterhood saved her life and motivated her to help others.

How long ago did you have breast cancer?

My new life, after breast cancer, started 21 years ago.

Share your personal cancer story.

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 the organisation?

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!

RFR volunteers fulfill different roles, like Peer Support, Education, Fundraising, Administration, etc. What role do you fulfill as a volunteer?

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 breast 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!

In your opinion, 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?

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

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