I am Jenna Skews — 5 years ago I was an average girl: a daughter, sister, girlfriend and friend. And like any ordinary 17-year-old, I didn’t expect to be diagnosed with cancer. I found a lump in my breast during a routine self-examination. Later, I found out I had malignant Phyllodes, a tumour which was a sarcoma, meaning I needed a mastectomy. Just as I was growing into my body as a woman, I had to accept losing my breasts.
Here are 7 lessons I learned from having breast cancer.
1. Being young doesn’t mean you’re invincible
When I was told I had a malignant tumour in my left breast I was completely in shock. As the doctor told me my tumour was cancerous, thoughts were rushing through my head. “malignant, that means cancer? But I’m too young for breast cancer. Mastectomy. What is that? You need to do what? But I am 17?”
I realised that just because I was young, it didn’t make me untouchable. I truly believe in early detection, and everyone (young and old, men and women) should be educated about breast cancer.
2. Be grateful for every opportunity and day given to you
Unfortunately, I had to undergo treatment during my matric year, and going through my surgeries showed me that life is precious and should not be taken for granted. One day, I was sitting in a maths class and one of my classmates complained and said, “Ag, I wish I didn’t have to sit in this maths class”, without thinking I snapped back with “Well, it is better than being in the hospital”. I was completely horrified by her answer of: “I would rather be in the hospital than have to sit in this class”.
I had spent that morning in a hospital for a doctor’s check-up appointment and came to school for the last half of the day so I didn’t miss an entire day of schoolwork. I was happy to be in a maths class, it was a sunny day, the teacher was nice and I could talk to my friends. It was much better than having doctors and nurses prodding and poking my breasts.
This situation showed me just how much I had matured and developed a new perspective on life. My fellow student was a harmless teenager who didn’t like maths. On the other hand, I was thankful to be alive, at school and surrounded by friends.
3. Focus on your goals and not your current circumstances
There is always a great opportunity that lies ahead and that is the motivation to help you conquer any challenge. During my recovery, I knew I would change, but I resolved not to fade. I would still be Jenna, the same young woman I was. All I had to do was to look forward to my survival and my days of being in good health. The process was indescribably difficult, but being able to hope for a future, to focus on my goal of being healthy and matriculating helped me pull through the challenges I faced.
4. Appreciate your health
Illness can affect anybody at any time, and it seems everyone has to go through a major health struggle at some point. Whether it’s diabetes, mental health issues, cancer, or all 3; being healthy is such a gift and we have to fight for it and be grateful for it every day.
5. Celebrate life, every day given to you is a blessing
Over the years I have learned more and more from my breast cancer journey. It definitely has changed my perspective on life. I try my hardest not to get caught up in the day-to-day routine and stresses of life but rather to celebrate every new day.
6. The support of your loved ones is the most precious thing you have
I had such a strong support system during my journey; my family gave me strength when I lost the will to push through. I learned that family support is critical during challenging times. My family were my warriors and they helped me win my war.
I can never thank my mom enough. She was my leading soldier, my biggest support and my best friend. Family and friends gave me a reason to keep pushing and when I was down, they pushed me even harder for my own sake. Accept all the support and love that your nearest and dearest offer you — you will need it!
7. Early detection saves lives
Cancer is often thought of as a death sentence but because mine was diagnosed in time, I survived. Cancer treatment is really difficult and strenuous on one’s body but I always think I got the best of a bad situation. I am grateful I found a lump during a routine self-examination, and so I had a chance to survive. Because I acted on my symptoms, I am still alive today.
As a survivor, breast cancer awareness is very important to me and I feel women of all ages need to educate themselves because it could happen to anybody. I also think women should celebrate themselves, for their beautiful nature, their internal strength and courage to take on the battles they may be faced with. That’s why I took the opportunity to partner with Twinsaver in their #CelebrateWomen campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer but most importantly, to celebrate being a woman and support other women by raising funds through their special edition pack. For every pack sold in August, Twinsaver donated R2 to CANSA.
Read more: 7 health-related reasons to get naked