From cancer sufferer to cancer survivor

Amarantha Leitch, 63, was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in October last year.

In October last year Amarantha Leitch, 63, from Beacon Valley was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer.

Here, in an interview with her daughter, Plainsman reporter Marsha Bothma, she shares her journey with candour and a little bit of humour with readers.

“When I discovered a lump in my right breast in October last year, I wasn’t too worried about it; I thought I bumped myself. A week later it was still there and I became worried,” she said.

After tests were done through her referral to Groote Schuur Hospital, Ms Leitch was diagnosed with hormonal breast cancer.

“I was devastated, cancer was the last thing on my mind. A few other ladies also received their results on the day who asked if I’m okay. I said I am fine. I didn’t have much words for the heartbreaking news,” she said.

She said walking this road wasn’t easy, as she would go to hospital and often feel despondent.

“I had hoped the lump would just disappear, because by now I was experiencing anger, confusion and being upset, and couldn’t understand within myself how this had happened. I questioned God and asked him how this happened?

“I was given two options for the hormonal cancer – doctors suggested I have a lumpectomy, removal of the lump, with chemotherapy sessions or a mastectomy to have the whole breast removed with radiotherapy.

“I started with chemo in December last year and had the lump removed in February this year.”

She had 13 lymph nodes (sweat glands) removed of which one was cancerous. “My deodorant keeps longer as I don’t sweat under my right arm where the removal took place,” she joked.

She said it was okay at first but as days went by, she became extremely weak. “I had taken tablets that I was given, but something in my body just didn’t feel right. It felt like I was dying. I literally felt how my life was slipping away, yet stayed prayerful. I even accepted that I was going to die as I had mentally prepared for it.

“My daughter Marsha admonished me and said ‘mommy you are not going to die.’ I would cry and I would lay before the Lord for my healing.

“My faith kept me going through this ordeal.”

Amarantha Leitch embraced her journey with cancer after experiencing symptoms of cancer, especially hair loss.

They eventually had to stop chemo as it was too strong for her body to handle. Doctors decided not to perform radiotherapy either, but cancer tablets were prescribed for five years.

“I lost my hair, lost weight and hope. My daughter and son-in-law cut their hair in support. I really felt the love of my family.

“I had my first operation, the lumpectomy, done in January this year. My body was healing but the doctors said that the cancer wasn’t gone yet.

Already experiencing a whirlwind of emotions, she had to go back to hospital to have her final resort of treatment – a mastectomy.

“The thought of having one breast made me feel discouraged. I was reminded of how my family and God helped me through the first instance, surely I will live through the next one. The doctors and nurses were so helpful and supportive throughout my journey.

“Marsha’s song, Stronger, sustained me in hospital. I sang the song in the ward and would encourage other patients laying there. I couldn’t allow my spirit to be dropped.”

Her eldest daughter, Shannon Hannibal, 43, said she is very proud of her mother. “The cancer that she went through made her a stronger woman. She is a testimony to us and so many other women. She is teaching me how to be strong in life’s struggles too.”

Her second eldest daughter, Candice-Lee Alexander, 41, said she felt powerless to help her mother and see her health decline so fast. “We are grateful to God for healing our mother. I’ve encouraged her to continue to pray and trust in God, eat healthy and enjoy her life.”

Johanna Henry, 75, better known as “Aunty Jo” is a volunteer and facilitator for the Westridge Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) Cancer Survivors Support Group and helps create awareness around cancer.

Amarantha Leitch spoke at a Women’s Day event on her birthday on Women’s Day, Wednesday August 9 and shared her story with the women at Christ the King Anglican Church in Rocklands. From left are Westridge CANSA volunteer, facilitator and parishioner, Johanna Henry, parishioner Marcia Fortuin, Amarantha Leitch and parishioner Shadwin Loubser..

Aunty Jo met Ms Leitch in June at their cancer programme at Westridge library.

“Because of her bravery, I asked her to share her cancer journey with the ladies at Christ the King Anglican Church in Rocklands on Women’s Day, which also happened to be her birthday. I learnt so much more about her through her testimony. Once a cancer survivor shares their journey, healing takes place too. I salute her,” she said.

A year later after receiving the news of having Stage 2 breast cancer, on Tuesday October 3, Ms Leitch will officially ring the bell as she has completed and healed from cancer, making it through her journey.

The ringing of the bell signifies the end of cancer treatment.

Ms Leitch said she looks forward to her family and friends joining her in this ceremony.