"I went into warrior mode within minutes of hearing my diagnosis"

 

Dr Mariam Seedat said her first thoughts about her breast cancer diagnosis were: “I cannot be sick, my baby is in matric and he needs me, and that our aunt Moona is close to death’s door in hospital, who would take care of her?” Her diagnosis, it seems, was an opportunity for altruism.

She was also determined to be strong. “I did not allow myself to get all teary eyed and emotional, I come from a long line of strong woman and I gathered the courage of the women that came before me and decided that I was going to go forth and conquer,” she says.

As an academic and a clinical sociologist, Mariam says she approached the situation scientifically. “My gynaecologist explained ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS*), but it was like listening to a story about someone else. This was not meant to happen to me. I had followed all the rules, regular check-ups, monthly examinations, exercise and diet. What had gone wrong? I tried to remember if there was a family history – none came to mind. I went into warrior mode within minutes of hearing my diagnosis with my husband and best friend at my side.”

*The American Cancer Society defines DCIS as “a non-invasive or pre-invasive breast cancer. This means the cells that line the ducts have changed to cancer cells, but that they have not spread through the walls of the ducts into the nearby breast tissue”.

Mariam’s husband, Alan, said it was a Tuesday morning, May 14 2019, when he  received a call from her  gynaecologist to join the consultation. “That was the day that Mariam would receive the results of a vacuum biopsy that was performed after a suspicious calcification was identified on her mammogram a week earlier. My instinct had told me that something was wrong. Mariam and I were both anxious and to be honest, I was also very afraid. Then the doctor confirmed the diagnosis. Nothing can prepare you for the news.”

“It took me a few seconds to let the breast cancer diagnosis sink in and then I quietly said a prayer, looked at Mariam, held her hand and I knew that we would beat this disease. She was so strong from the outset and within three hours, we had consulted a surgeon,  chatted to our Discovery Health Medical Scheme and Mariam was pre-authorised to be admitted into hospital for a lumpectomy on 15 May 2019 – the very next day,” he says.

My plan from the outset was to kick this cancer”

On her gynaecologist’s advice to either monitor the cancer or remove it, she said: “Of course, we were going to slice it out and I wanted it out of my body immediately”. “The surgeon, Dr Archie Rajput, was very busy but I was not willing to wait to see him. Fortunately for me, he had an opening and he was able to see us the same afternoon,” Mariam says.

A setback of sorts, but nothing she could not handle

“My tumour was removed at 13:30. On Friday, 17 May 2019, I received a call to say that 0.2cm of the tumour had presented as invasive cancer and they wanted me back in theatre on Monday for a sentinel node biopsy. I was game and prepared myself for the next surgery. My plan was to do some research on the oncologists available in Durban. I narrowed down my list to three. I finally made my decision and settled on my superstar oncologist Dr Riaz Mall. My plan from the outset was to kick cancer.”

She says she decided to:

  1. Take it one step at a time.
  2. Be kind to herself.
  3. Reduce stress.
  4. Take radiation one day at a time.
  5. Research.
  6. Educate other women about the importance of regular mammograms.
  7. Share her story, “because it was not meant to happen to me”.
  8. Make a full recovery.

After her fifth of 30 radiation sessions, Mariam says she has kept her chin up “with the love and support of my husband and my boys, Nasser and Ameer. When I was initially diagnosed, my brother Junaid, jumped into his car and drove for twelve hours from his farm in Limpopo, to be with his nephews, so that I could go into surgery knowing that all would be well.”

“Our housekeeper, Toby, has been one of my greatest supporters, forcing me to drink smoothies loaded with super foods. The unbelievable support and prayers that I have received from so many people has been a tremendous source of strength and encouragement for me and I want to thank my family and friends for being in my corner. I decided to go public with my story because I want to ensure that all women make the time for their regular mammograms and invest in their health and well-being. Early detection is so important,” Mariam says.

Mariam’s Discovery Life Severe Illness Benefit kicks in

At the same time, Mariam’s Severe Illness Benefit on her Discovery Life policy kicked in. Her financial adviser, Leon Buchner, says Mariam has the benefit, ensures that the long term impact of her illness is accounted for her in her payout.

She says: ”Leon arrived at our home, full of support, love and kindness. He did all of the running around. All I had to do was sign here, here, here and maybe here. 24-hours later the claim was paid. I have to say I have a similar claim with another insurer and it’s been almost five weeks and I have not received any results.”

Alan says although the family would have preferred Mariam to be cancer-free than have a policy kick in, the process was seamless. “Just under five years ago we made a decision to consult with Leon Buchner. Leon is not just our family broker, he is family. His genuine care for Mariam, the boys and I has been fantastic, and he consistently looks out for our best interests. Dealing with Discovery has been seamless and having Leon handle the finer details has allowed Mariam and I to focus on the battle to beat cancer.”


Buchner adds: “Mr Khan is a well-known radio personality not only in Durban, but in South Africa. Dr Seedat is a well-known and highly regarded sociologist not just in South Africa, but in the world at large. I came to know the family when I was referred to him by Discovery.”

“It was clear that they needed in depth and clear advice, having had very old generation life policy structures. Upon conducting a financial needs analysis and conducting a comparison with the Discovery Life policy structures, the Khan family were very happy to accept the Discovery proposal with all the significantly enhanced benefits. One of which, was the LifeTime Severe Illness Benefit.”

Alan adds, “Whilst I know that it’s not always easy to look on the bright side of life, I have watched in awe as Mariam has remained so positive, courageous and strong through the surgeries and now through the radiation therapy sessions. Despite fighting this battle, Mariam keeps smiling and we are exceptionally grateful for the outstanding medical care and the unbelievable encouragement from friends and family.”

The couple decided to share  Mariam’s story on social media, to encourage early detection of cancers, which can influence positive treatments outcome.  “I was initially surprised that Mariam wanted to share her breast cancer diagnosis. But from that first discussion in the car, driving from Westville Hospital to consult with the Specialist Surgeon at Parklands Hospital, she told me that we must go public, we must share her story and that we must influence and inspire other women to have their regular mammograms. All of the doctors told us that early detection is vital, and Mariam was meticulous with her annual mammograms. We are #TeamMariam so #NoOneFightsAlone.”

 

Discovery Life Limited. Registration number 1966/003901/06, is a registered long-term insurer, and an authorised financial services and registered credit provider, NCR Registration number NCRCP3555. Product rules, terms and conditions apply. This article is meant only as information and should not be taken as financial advice. For tailored financial advice, please contact your financial adviser.

 

Discovery's LifeTime Severe Illness Benefit

provides you with a minimum payout of 100% of your insured amount for all qualifying cancers, strokes and heart attacks, and will pay up to 215% of the insured amount based on the long-term impact of the illness and your family composition at point of claim.

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