Denise Williams, a local breast cancer survivor, offers us her time and has answered some questions about her heroic struggle and ultimate survival. Her positive outlook may be just what we need to help us either support a loved one through their journey or to face this disease with grace.
Satin Candy: Where do you live and where do you come from?
Denise Williams: I live in La Lucia, born in South Africa.
SC: Who do you live with?
DW: I live alone and did at the time and right through my journey with cancer.
SC: Are you working now? What do you do?
DW: I own my own company. I am a legal advisor and administrator of Wills, Deceased Estates and Testamentary Trusts. I have offices in Durban, Cape Town and London.
SC: How long did you fight till you were in remission?
DW: I was diagnosed on the 10th August 2016 and was treated right throughout 2017 until October 2017 when I had a PET scan which was clear. From October 2017 to October 2018 which now again showed clear. My first year of remission.
SC: What kept you fighting?
DW: The birth of my first grandchild two days prior to my diagnosis, (I am determined to see her turn 21), my positive attitude, a great support system and financial security in the form of dread disease cover and loss of income protection, I have many mouths to feed in the form of staff and people who depend on me financially.
SC: Did you ever think that you would lose this battle?
DW: NO! I tackled it head on. I was not going to let it triumph over me.
SC: What did others close to you do for you that made a difference?
DW: Family, friends and staff were with me all the way. A friend of 30 years came to stay with me every weekend after my chemo treatment over a period of three months. My “cancer sisters” at the oncology centre became family, we walked the path together.
SC: How did you overcome your fears of treatments? Of side effects? Of the possibility of death?
DW: I did not fear the treatments. I knew I had to do it, and as they say ”Just Do It”. I was very very positive right throughout and never ever thought of death. This WAS NOT GOING TO GET THE BETTER OF ME. I also went the cannabis route, together with the chemo, surgery and radiation. Of the 12 of us all having the same treatment, I was the only one doing the cannabis with my treatments and I was the only one who had zero side effects (apart from the loss of my hair). Not a single other side effect, not even nausea. I went back to work after every chemo session. I consulted a nutritionist, did the DNA testing to establish the route of my cancer, and changed my diet, exercised accordingly. I had the most fantastic feeling of well-being with a very positive attitude.
SC: So you would recommend Cannabis oil during Chemo or do you think it is not for everyone?
DW: I do feel it should be explored and do feel that it is for everyone. I swear by it. I will take it for the rest of my life. I have such a sense of well-being. And it helps many ailments; Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer, etc. I am on chronic medication for 5 years and one of its side effects is arthritic symptoms. I have none and I believe it’s because of the oil. But one should discuss it with your oncologist because it does show up in blood tests. My oncologist approved of my use. She was the most amazing person and I just knew that I was in the safest hands from the minute I met with her. It is important to feel comfortable and trust the practitioners you are going to walk this path with.
SC: Did you join a support group? If so, how did it help?
DW: No, I did the supporting of other patients around me, I counselled them on the enormous benefits of a positive attitude, they would tease me and say I was having sugar water and they were having chemo. I am a much stronger person today for the journey.
SC: Do you do motivational/support speaking about your journey?
DW: Yes, I was a guest speaker at the Breakfast for Boobies function at the ICC with some 460 guests this month with Janice Beneke and others, organised by FMI (an insurance company) for Pink Drive. I am FMI’s breast cancer ambassador. I had dread disease and loss of income insurance with them. I even have insurance cover on my staff’s salaries should I die.
SC: Now that you are a survivor, what would you do differently when going through your diagnoses and treatments?
DW: Nothing, I feel I went the whole hog at the time, I would do the same again.
SC: Now that you are a survivor, how are you living your life differently and why?
DW: I thank God every day for giving me a new day. I thank HIM for my many blessings, I appreciate everything, even the smallest of things. I am living my life to the full… I have just returned from a 12 day cruise of the Mediterranean.
SC: What three things would you tell a person who just yesterday learned of their cancer diagnosis?
DW: You have choices! Don’t go with the first programme suggested. I went for 4 opinions and went with the last. The first three were immediate Mastectomy, and the last one was anti mastectomy as she felt it may not be necessary. First do chemo to shrink the tumour then surgery to remove the tumour. It was far less evasive and we saved the breast that way. I have my own breasts and only needed a lumpectomy to remove the dead tumour after the chemo. Have DNA testing to establish the two route of your cancer, then consult with a nutritionist to be guided as to what foods you need to avoid which could be promoting your cancer. My cancer was oestrogen based and I was eating meat from animals that are grain fed with hormones, thus increasing the oestrogen in my body. I was 60 at the time of diagnosis and my oestrogen level readings were 80% instead of 20% for my age, also, don’t ignore signs of something being “amiss”. Get it checked as soon as possible, early detection is key to surviving. I had stage 1 cancer and started treatment immediately, a colleague of mine also diagnosed at the same time having stage 1. She delayed her treatment, to go away to Mozambique on holiday and think about it. By the time she returned and had all the other tests, she had progressed to stage 4. We both had a fast growing cancer.
SC: What positives have you been able to take from your incredibly heroic journey?
DW: A positive mind is so powerful together with financial peace of mind, Possibly 80% of the recovery process. We need to ask ourselves, “Would I be able to sustain my current lifestyle if I were diagnosed with a chronic illness or disability?” Financial stress is something terrible to have to deal with at the same time, one also needs a good support system around you. You are not the only one affected by your cancer, all those near and dear to you are too. You need to stay strong for them too. Never say, “Why me?” Say rather “Why not me?”
From left to right: First chemo treatment with her own hair only three weeks after diagnosis; Denise started losing her hair after three weeks of treatments; 2017 with her wig after chemo but during radiation sessions; on a cruise in September 2018 with all her own hair and clear for a year