My name is Janice Benecke and I am 61 years old.
In 1994 I was diagnosed with germ cell cancer. There was a golf ball size growth on my cocex bone growing up my spine and I also had lung cancer.
I started having back pain and went to doctors, bone specialists, chiropractor and then my specialist physician in Empangeni. After all these tests were completed, I told him that I feel like a hypocrite as no one can find anything wrong with me. He told me, my dear I know that there is something wrong with you as your blood count is 3 times higher than normal. I was then sent to St Augustine’s hospital for a scan. The surgeon told me that there was something wrong with me and to accept the worst.
Well, you can imagine how I left there. To me the worst is, you are going to die, not you have cancer. Anyway, I was admitted to hospital and the next day was the operation. I was also told that I might lose half of my lung. They cut me from under my right breast all the way round to my spine. They scraped cancer off my lungs, the bottom of my spine, to do this they had to remove one of my ribs. I was in intensive care for three days then was moved to the general ward. Then just when I am about to be released from hospital my lungs start to collapse. Another 3 days in hospital. I was happy to be released but was told that I had to start chemo the next week. Dr Maxwell was my oncologist, a very nice lady. Now, we lived in Empangeni and I had to have treatment in Durban. Long trips when you are sick and we did not have the freeway then. The roads were terrible and I felt every bump.
I was on the Red Chemo commonly called “The Little Red Devil” for obvious reasons. I got very sick, had black rings around my eyes and lost a lot of weight. Within two weeks my hair was falling out all over the place. When I woke up in the morning, if I managed to get any sleep at all, there was hair all over, so we decided to shave my head. I was then called “Cone Head”. Which I did not mind as it was my children’s way to deal with this whole episode. You get extremely constipated, nauseous, bones ache, cannot stand the smell of oil, but the worst was these big black ulcers in my mouth, about the size of a R2.00 coin.
Now I could manage everything but these ulcers were so sore and when I put ointment on, the water splattered out of my eye onto the mirror. There were only two times that I cried the first one was when my lungs started to collapse and I had to have this little operation on my bed. Can you imagine?
I just had my x-ray done and the nurse was running faster to the doctor than I was being pushed by the nurse. By the time I got back to my bed there was my surgeon all dressed in green. We have to operate now, please lie down on your bed. I could have died, I am terrified of needles, and here they were inserting this big needle into me. I went stone white, they thought that I was going to faint, but I didn’t. This op did not agree with me either, as I came out in red itchy spots all over. Second time I cried was when I had to have the ointment on my black ulcers. Believe me, they were sore and I felt a bit sorry for myself. That is the only two times I allowed myself to feel sorry for the trial that I was going through. I just trusted God to help me.
I got so sick and weak that I could not keep anything down and had to have my antibiotics cut into 4 as they were so strong, then I had to have a blood transfusion. My Arm swelled up. A very hard time this was for me and my family who stuck by me all the way. Family really helps. I had a gem of a husband who did everything for me, sisters that locked up their homes to come and help and a good support group of friends. When I went for my last check up, my husband cried, he was so happy that I was cleared from cancer. I must put this in, every time I had to have a scan, my sisters would come with, to ensure that I drank all that horrible white liquid you have to drink. We did have some laughs with that. But it was awful.
14 years later,
I was having a shower on Tuesday the 14th of July 2009 when I found an odd lump on my left breast.
The first thing I could think of was to call my daughter, Karen and ask her what she thought of this odd lump. She confirmed that it was definitely a lump and told my husband, Charles. They both said that I must have it checked out immediately. I wasn’t too sure and thought that maybe I was just imagining things. The next day my sister, Carol investigated this for herself and also said that I must see the doctor immediately. So I phoned my gynecologist and she could only see me on Friday the 17th of July 2009. If you haven’t already seen we are a very close family and will drop anything for each other.
Both my sisters, Carol and Laura, trailed along to the Gynie with me. When the Gynie checked it out, she said you are going for an emergency mammogram. So off we went and they saw me within 15 minutes. I still wasn’t too concerned. They started off the mammogram and then needed to take 2 extra pictures, and then I went for an Ultra Sound where the Doctor saw me. He showed the difference between a cyst and a tumor. A cyst is round in shape and a tumor looks like an octopus. He told me that I must go and see a surgeon immediately. I walked out and thank God for family.
I had two sisters waiting patiently for me. I gave them the bad news, shame you should have seen their faces. My sisters agreed that I must go straight to the gynie to give in the reports. In the meantime my husband had gone to a close family friend’s funeral and he knew nothing at this stage. My sister Carol managed to get hold of my Husband, Charles before he went into the church and gave him the dreaded news. Obviously he was worried.
I did not want to go back to the gynie as I wanted to go to the funeral but my sisters convinced me to go back. My doctor got hold of the surgeon on his cell phone and I was booked in to see him immediately.
He explained the stages of this operation to me while my sisters were left in the waiting room. The last stage being a mastectomy.
Although you would think by this time I would be shaking in my boots, well surprisingly I wasn’t, to everyone’s astonishment. You see, I am a Christian and put all my faith in God.
So back to hospital I went. I had this operation and the next morning while I was lying down in my bed and just waking up, I could feel someone holding my hand and when I turned my head to see who it was, there was no one there. I believe that God was with me holding my hand.
They removed 18 lymph nodes and I have a 15cm cut under my arm to my nipple. They managed to save my breast. After about 4 days in hospital I went home and had to go back to the oncologist. This was fine by me as they had taken all the cancer out, so I thought nothing. But…. Dr Diana Pillay had different ideas. I had to go back on the same little red devil chemo again. My poor husband could have fainted. All this all over again and he was not in good health either.
So, I start my first chemo. I was on Farmoruicin, five F U, and Endoxan. And both my sisters come with me for support. In fact, for 3 days one sister would stay in the morning and the other sister would be there in the afternoon so that I had someone with me at all times and I have a wonderful daughter who would come home from a hard days work to bath, dry, cream me, put me to bed and generally look after me. I got spoilt. When I went for my third chemo, as they put the needle into the port, I collapsed and stopped breathing. I could hear in the distant background “Mrs Benecke are you ok”. It took a while to respond with the help of oxygen. They admitted me to hospital as I was so week I could hardly move. I had them very worried for a while there. In fact my heart had stopped – I had flat lined and was actually dead for a few seconds. But by God’s grace He had other plans for me.
While I am going through all of this my husband really gets ill. I take him to the doctor and they keep telling me that he must accept that he has arthritis and stop being a baby. I had to put my foot down and tell him “Look I have been with this man for 34 years and I know him, there is something very wrong with him and you will find out what is wrong with him”
Only after that did the doctor take us seriously. We went to a specialist physician, Dr Boda Singh. He knew exactly what was wrong after speaking to Charles for 5 minutes. So Charles had to go to hospital to confirm his suspicion. He was right. Charles had “Multiple Myeloma” which is bone marrow cancer. They showed me how his ribs were eaten away and every time he moved the pain just went all over his body. I really felt sorry for him. To see him in such a way was not nice at all. I was still having chemo and then had to go for radiation every day for 6 weeks and had to look after my sick husband. Without God, I do not know where I would have got the strength from. I was having an operation in the morning and then going home to dry, dress and look after my sick hubby.
After all the chemo and radiation I was cleared, once again, from breast cancer. But I am Oestrogen Positive and had to live on Arimidex for 5 years. Now, to look after my husband. He was on such strong medication, in so much pain and was so brave throughout his trial but sadly, he only lasted 7 months after he was diagnosed. In fact on 27 October 2010 (born 07 October 1952) he went to be with our Lord. Very sad, I really miss my partner that I have been with from the age of 16.
These trials that I have been through have been tough; I have left so much out. All the pain, the emotions, especially with needles. You would think that I would be used to them by now, but I am not. They cannot even find my veins anymore and they have to use a baby needle on me but there was some fun too. What I hated most was the no hair story. To this day I will not put a hat on my head if I can help it – I really do not like hats.
I urge you all to have yourselves checked, be aware, do not think that this cannot happen to you because it can. It did to me and I would not want anyone to go through what I have been through. So take some advice from a survivor who has been through it all, Be Aware. There is a motto that I live by which is “Only Believe – All Things Are Possible” just look at me I am a walking miracle.
I have just been for my annual check up and can happily say that I AM ALL CLEAR.
I could so easily have gone into a corner and gone into depression but I decided to dedicate my life to charity and to helping others – so I started handing out ribbons in a shopping mall and today I am the KZN Administrator for my beloved PINKDRIVE. Which has now become my life.
I thank God for everything that he has done for me and thank you all for reading my story in the hopes that this will assist others in early detection and perhaps save a life.
Take care and be safe…..