Princess Nakedi is a triple negative breast cancer survivor
Princess Nakedi was so excited about 2020 and had been carefully planning her big 50th birthday bash a year in advance. But the universe obviously had other ideas because a month before lockdown, she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.
Princess describes her journey in her own words
In October 2019, I found a small lump in my right breast but wasn't really worried as I thought it was because I had my period. It was slightly bigger the next month, so I decided to get it checked out in the new year. I went to my GP in February 2020 and was sent for a mammogram and a biopsy. When he told me I had triple negative breast cancer, I was actually quite OK. I'd never heard of it and thought it couldn't be too bad because 'negative' is what you hope for when you go for a test. He then referred me to a surgeon with a special interest in breast cancer and told me I'd be in good hands.
Taking the first steps
The first thing the surgeon said to me was "Please don't stress." She assured me that they were going to take care of this and that I was not alone. I felt that I was in a very safe space which helped to take my concerns away. I was also in a pretty good emotional space when I met my oncologist as things seemed to be under control. My approach was to deal with this as quickly as possible and to get it behind me so I could carry on with life. Little did I know what was in store for me!
Coping with chemotherapy (chemo) during COVID-19
Before I started on my chemo regimen, my oncologist warned me about a few things. I wasn't allowed to take any medicine without checking with her first and I had to be very, very careful about my health. She explained that my immune system would take a beating during chemo, so I had to be extremely vigilant about not picking up anything. And then COVID-19 hit our shores, just as I was starting chemo. I was livid. I raged at the universe - what was it doing to me? I was filled with anger. I thought I could deal with my diagnosis, but now there was this deadly pandemic to cope with too.
I became absolutely paranoid. My car was filled with different types of gloves, masks and sanitisers. I surrounded myself with anything and everything that said "antibacterial" and "anti-virus". But the hospital's COVID-19 protocols were strict and reassuring, so I slowly started relaxing during my four and a half months of chemo treatment there. After finishing chemo, I had a lumpectomy and reconstructive surgery followed by radiation six weeks later.
Losing my hair
Two weeks after starting chemo I noticed I was losing my hair. I remember the doctor explaining this was one of the side effects of the treatment, but I didn't realise how badly it was going to affect me. The day I had to shave my head was the worst day of my life. We'd just gone into lockdown. My brother helped me with the shaving and I never stopped sobbing. I'm not a crier by nature and hadn't shed a tear until then. When my mom and dad saw my bald head, we all cried together. For the first time, I'd come face to face with the reality of my cancer and the horrific situation we were in.
Dealing with my gremlins
The only way I found I could cope was to have a very positive mindset. There's no doubt that this plays a big role in recovery. I was determined not to let the diagnosis overwhelm me and I tried to keep things light. I refused to even acknowledge the word cancer - I called it "my gremlins". I made a point of focusing on the future and dreaming about life after treatment. My goals were to get well and to get back to normal so I could celebrate my 50th birthday that I'd been planning a year in advance.
Losing my restaurant
While my gremlins and lockdown meant loss of life as I knew it, COVID-19 meant a loss of livelihood for me too. My restaurant had been my baby for the past 12 years and we took a huge beating during the first and second waves. Selling takeaways was a complete disaster and even though I decided to give it one last try in October last year, we suffered so much loss that I had to close it down permanently in January - another big blow.
Celebrating every milestone
This has been a very emotional journey and I've made a point of celebrating every milestone. The end of chemo was marked with a Captain Marvel cake at the oncology centre, with me wearing a cape after winning the fight! My huge 50th celebration at my restaurant turned into a family get together at home. We all dressed up in my planned Gatsby-inspired theme. When I walked down those stairs and saw everyone who had prayed for me and had done everything possible to keep me alive, I burst into tears. I'd suddenly become a cry baby!
Reaching out to other women
Right now, I'm busy with the "clean-up campaign" - getting rid of scar tissue and trying to process what has happened to me. I also started a wig drive in May this year to source wigs for other women because losing my hair was a whole journey on its own. I've always had very long hair so losing it felt like being dethroned. I battled to find a wig because of lockdown - I couldn't do online shopping and nothing was being shipped into the country. Hats and scarves didn't cut it for me at a time when I needed something to make me feel better about myself. So I decided to use my pain to heal other women in need by collecting and donating wigs to help them to fix their crowns.
You can't do this alone
If I've learnt one thing from this journey, it's that you can't do it alone - this is a team effort. Support from my family and friends and the love they showered on me made an incredible difference. I couldn't have done this without my amazing medical team and Discovery Health who took care of everything throughout my treatment. They sent me emails wishing me a speedy recovery and even approved the very expensive specialised bras I needed when I developed Lymphedema (swelling in my arm) that I would never have been able to afford on my own. I am extremely grateful that they were part of my gremlin-beating team!
For more information about Princess Nakedi's wig drive:
- Instagram - @Princess_breastcancersurvivor
- Call or WhatsApp 0671181845
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