Breast Cancer Surgery: Wilma’s brave choices

The year was winding down and the festive season was around the corner. I had one last doctor’s appointment before I could fully relax into a well-deserved December holiday with my children – but then disaster struck. The doctor noticed a lump and sent me to the radiologist for a mammogram. The images revealed a 3cm lump. I was unprepared for the shock that followed. Throughout my life, I could always count on my robust health. As a retired physio, I was able to look back on my life and see long hours of hard work without ever becoming ill or in need of an operation – until that day early in December when I learned that I had breast cancer. For the first time in my life, I had to make decisions about my own health that could be the difference between life and death.

Feeling helpless in the face of breast cancer

In a short time frame between the screen detection, the biopsy and my decision to opt for a double mastectomy without reconstruction, I was confronted with an array of opinions. It left me feeling helpless and out of control. I felt that too many people were making decisions about my health and my body.

A few days before Christmas, I found myself at a difficult stage of the process. I was seriously considering to call it all off and start fresh in the new year. I emailed Dr Dedekind and explained to her that I was feeling lost. The way she responded to my email remains one of the pivotal moments during this time. Dr Dedekind rescheduled her holiday plans and made herself available to meet me in person and answer all my questions. I arrived at her practice with three pages of handwritten questions and she patiently worked through each one. This was the first time I felt in control of my journey towards breast cancer surgery.

I felt protected in the way Dr Britta Dedekind cared for me every step of the way. Her holistic approach to breast cancer surgery helped me to make brave decisions with peace of mind. – Mrs Louw

Why I chose a mastectomy without reconstructive surgery

Had I been younger, my decision would probably have been different, but after doing my research, weighing up all my options and taking stock of my life, I chose a double mastectomy without reconstructive surgery. My main focus was on my future wellbeing. The cosmetic appearance was a low priority for me because all I wanted was the best possible post-surgery recovery with the least amount of intervention and treatment. My family and Dr Dedekind supported my decision and since the operation, I have grown to love my new body.

Wilma’s advice for women diagnosed with breast cancer

Prior to my mastectomy operation, I phoned up an old friend who had walked the same road as the one I was about to take. Later during the day, after we had several pots of tea together, she sent me the following advice:

  • You must stand up for the right to make properly informed decisions.

  • You need time to consult your team, to get them speaking together and to give the expert oncologists the opportunity to advise you about the overall treatment plan... not just the next surgical step.  

  • Always insist on copies of all your pathology, X-ray and scan results (you have a constitutional right of access to your own medical records) and get the oncologist to explain anything you don’t understand.

  • Don’t let anyone fob you off with “don’t worry about that”. Your worries and concerns must be addressed and you must give yourself time to do so.

  • You are ultimately responsible for your own holistic health decisions since you are the one who has to live with them.

  • The doctors are usually receptive when you are more assertive and prompt them to consider a more holistic perspective.

Wilma’s diagnosis and treatment

  • Date of diagnosis: 6/12/18

  • Date of operation: 8/1/19

  • Diagnosis: Screen-detected breast cancer

  • Procedure: Mastectomy plus a sentinel lymph node biopsy performed on the right side.

Britta Dedekind