Cancer survivor, Dr Mariam Seedat – Khan, also a clinical sociologist at Howard College, University of KwaZulu – Natal ‘s School of Social Sciences, said her first thoughts about her breast cancer diagnosis were: “I cannot be sick, my baby is in matric and he needs me, and our aunt Moona is close to death’s door in hospital. Who would take care of her?” Her diagnosis seemed like an opportunity for altruism.
Seedat-Khan said she was determined to be strong. “I did not allow myself to get all teary-eyed and emotional, I come from a long line of strong women and I gathered the courage of the women that came before me and decided that I was going to go forth and conquer.
She said she had approached the situation scientifically. “My gynecologist 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.”
Mariam’s husband, Alan Khan, was called by his wife’s gynecologist on 14 May, requesting him to join her consultation, where she was going to receive the results of a vacuum biopsy that was performed after a suspicious calcification was identified on her mammogram a week earlier. According to Khan, his instinct had told him that something was wrong.
The husband explained that both him and his wife were anxious and at the same time, they were afraid. To their expectation, the diagnosis was confirmed. Khan said, “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 medical aid and Mariam was pre-authorised to be admitted into hospital for a lumpectomy on 15 May 2019 – the very next day,” he says.
Her gynaecologist advised her to either monitor the cancer or remove it. “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,” said Miriam. On Friday, 17 May, the tumor was removed. “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.”
Seedat shares the steps and plan to survival. “My first step was to take things one step at a time. Step two was to be kind to myself. My third step was to reduce my stress levels and take radiation one day at a time. My next steps included doing research and thereafter, educating other women about the importance of regular mammograms. After educating others, I would then share my story, because it was not meant to happen to me. My final step was recovery.”
She said after her fifth of 30 radiation sessions, she has kept her chin up with the love and support of her husband and her boys, Nasser and Ameer. “When I was initially diagnosed, my brother Junaid jumped into his car and drove for 12 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,” said Seedat.
She added that with the aid of her severe illness benefit, the whole process was seamless as it allowed her and her husband to focus on the battle to beat cancer.
Miriam has shared her story on social media to encourage early detection of cancers, which can influence positive treatments outcome.
“Early detection is vital. Even though one can never say they are absolutely cancer free, but I am clear now, however I still have to be tested, as recommended,” she said.
Dr Seedat-Khan said keeping in mind that she was fortunate to have medical cover, other women may not be so fortunate.
“State facilities are available, use them. Have these check ups done regularly. She said cancer organisations also provide free screenings and doctors at clinics do give referrals,” she added.