Fix the patent law!

ABC - Advocates For Breast Cancer: South Africa

The Fix the Patent Laws coalition is releasing a short video and briefing paper which highlights how South Africa’s existing patent laws are a major barrier for thousands of breast cancer patients in getting a key cancer medicine called trastuzumab.

The short video includes powerful testimonies from three South African HER2 breast cancer patients – among them actress and breast cancer advocate, Lillian Dube, who has lent her support to Fix the Patent Laws.

Watch the VIDEO here:

The Fix the Patent Laws coalition is calling on the South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry to wrap up an arduous seven-year-long process to update South Africa’s patent laws and end abusive monopolistic practices that deny patients their right to health.

The Fix the Patent Laws coalition is made up of 18 patient groups representing people living with several diseases. The coalition, initiated by Doctors Without Borders and the…

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Fading Memories on New Year’s Eve

So a funny thing happens when you approach year three of being cancer free. Your memory starts to fade.

Now as Pete may tell you, my memory has been fading for a while now. And even I have to admit that some days the fading is more like sudden, unexpected Eskom induced load shedding as opposed to the slow gradual setting of the sun! But in this particular instance, it is rather the metaphorical aspect I am referring to.

Let me put it another way, as I am all about analogies at the moment!

Imagine your life as a car (you can insert any make and colour of vehicle you like) hurtling down the highway (your time on earth / or any other intergalactic world if you are a Star Wars fan!). You (Ego/Self), the slightly insecure but sensible kid, a tad more reckless since getting your license, but always still aware of possible dangers on the road, and the designated driver of three other family members inside your car.

Suddenly you hit a HUGE (and I’m talking Transkei sized) pot hole and your car veers across the road into oncoming traffic. Fortunately luck is on your side and you somehow narrowly manage to avoid a fatal accident. Shakily you pull your vehicle to a stop on the side of the road. Your Uncle, (Survival mode), the mechanic in the family, climbs out and frantically runs around changing tires, checking the chassis for damage, ensuring the sump is still intact and that all the important car pieces are where they should be. He patches up what he can and finally declares that you are all able to continue with your journey.

Warily you start to climb back in your vehicle, still feeling rather wobbly after that awfully scary experience. Only to discover that your Great Aunt (Fear), has decided to take the wheel. After all she scowls, how could ANYONE trust YOUR driving again? For the next few kilometres all you hear is how badly you have driven your whole life. How irresponsible and reckless you have been since you were a child and how lucky you all are to be alive, along with the not so subtle insinuation that perhaps YOU should not have been so lucky! You and the rest of the family have always been able to shut out most of her tirades with rolling eyes and conspiratorial winks at one another. But today her words actually seem to make a whole lot of sense! You find yourself agreeing with her, questioning your driving skills, your choice of destination, your lifelong bad luck, even your poor choice of vehicle – finally coming to the conclusion that you should never be allowed to sit in the driver’s seat ever again! You settle quietly into the passenger seat, figuratively licking your wounds and happy to relinquish control to this seemingly safe albeit extremely slow driver.

And so as your car starts to slowly clock up the kilometres, your Great Aunt’s continuous rantings do start to fade into the background. And finally after realising she has perhaps lost her audience and after totally exhausting herself with her rantings, she pulls over.

Older brother (Perspective), comes to the rescue (again!) and offers to drive. Now, you have secretly been jealous of your older brother, you know the one I mean, the one who always sees the positives in EVERYTHING. The one who always makes you feel inferior and who you have secretly tried to emulate unsuccessfully your whole life. Although you would never actually admit that to him – mostly because his upbeat personality can also be SO darn annoying! But funnily enough he doesn’t make you feel like a bad driver. He praises you for handling the incident as well as you did and emphasizes that things could have been worse. He reminds everyone just how fortunate they are to be driving around in such an amazing car, how good the road is and that although there will always be potholes, they are actually pretty rare in the sum total of the entire journey.

So while you listen to his calm voice of reason, you find that the memory of that frightening experience starts to fade with the passing kilometres and your confidence starts to grow along with them. You actually begin to consider all the positive things he has reminded you about, and you have to agree with him – things certainly could be worse! You start feeling a lot happier about your journey and even take time to look out your window appreciating the beauty of the scenery surrounding you, all the things you have missed whilst spending all those years in the driver’s seat.

When he finally pulls over citing sciatica issues, you realise that not only are you the only one left to drive (Great Aunt Fear is snoring softly in the back seat and Uncle Survival Mode although a fab mechanic is not a great long haul driver!), you actually WANT to drive. The horror of your experience has now become a positive reminder of what you have overcome and the journey you still have to complete, thanks to Old Brother Perspective. You take hold of the steering wheel tentatively at first, but then realise the only real alternative is to stay stuck on the side of the road indefinitely. So you indicate, carefully maneuvering into the traffic once again, but with Perspective thankfully right next to you and Fear still visible in the review mirror. I find that you change places with these family members every so often, but no-one lets Great Aunt drive for any length of time!

Oh yes, so what was I talking about again before that very long, seemingly insignificant story? Something about something fading?
Oh yes, memory fading 😉

So as I start heading towards year 3, I find that certain memories of the last few years have indeed started to fade. Some of them I am happy to be rid of!

But I caught myself this morning making resolutions for the coming new year mainly consisting of exercise goals and wondering how to successfully go about losing 15kgs! All important health considerations I concur, but REALLY??

So after catching up with some posts on a young blogger I follow who is fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma and after reading words written by Fynn’s mom this morning.  I decided to let good old Big Brother take the wheel as 2015 comes to a close and share quotes from some real people giving great advice on perspective.

Wishing you all a healthy, happy and perspective filled 2016.


“So when you are sitting there, wondering how life could be so bad for you, please realize that it could always be worse. And as long as you are physically able to live, you always have a chance to turn things around. I would give anything for more time”. Mary Buell


“There are families that are enduring their first festive season missing a family member, families that have just had bad news, war and tragedy all around. I have no wish to be negative, but I want us to try and be gentle with others. It is the old story of getting in someone’s shoes etc.
Let’s all be extra mindful of what we have now and of how valuable our normal is. Normal really is invaluable.” Sandra (Fynn’s Mom)

New Year 3

Reflections on a Christmas Eve #2

And so Christmas Eve 2015 is upon us. And while doing some last minute and unexpected grocery shopping this morning (yip, I know – what WAS I thinking, right?!), I took a moment to observe my fellow shoppers going about their various retail pursuits.

I was immediately struck by the seemingly lack of Christmas Spirit happening around me! It appeared that most were either hurrying around totally unfocused, driving their trolleys like deliberate perpetrators of road rage, parking said trolley illegally or blocking up access to shelves; or wandering aimlessly with vacant eyes from one aisle to the next, getting in the way of the fore mentioned “Trolley Road Ragers”.

The one common factor linking both these groups I noted, was that no-one was buying the makings of tomorrows delicious Christmas lunches and / or eleventh hour beautifully wrapped gifts, presumably for their loved ones, with purpose and happy hearts. So what in fact, I found myself asking, was the point?

After collecting what I needed and negotiating my way through disgruntled shoppers at the tills, AND after witnessing a fight over my recently vacated parking spot, I was reminded of a very well-known quote. One I felt compelled to share as Pete and I watch the sun set on yet (gratefully) another Christmas Eve…

Grinch Christmas quote 2


So earlier this week I headed back up the hill to my plastic surgeon’s rooms to have number of stitches removed.

Ok, for fear of sounding a trifle over dramatic – I have to confess that there were in fact only two stitches in need of removal. But considering each one had to be removed from each of my thighs, by my reckoning, that should certainly be worthy of a better sounding story and count as more!

By now you would think that there would be very little that could make my toes curl, medically speaking of course. But somehow alongside my fairly “new” paranoia of needles is still my “old” squeamishness of stitches!

The fact that whole painless stitch removal process was over and done with before my toes could even contemplate curling, had more to do with the mad stitch removal skills of Sister Monica, than the pain killer I glugged down on my way up to the surgery! But “rather safe than look like a ninny”, I always say!

Dr B was very happy with the way things were healing, and with the overall appearance of my right radiated boob. She sent me off with the reassuring words that we could review the final aesthetic results in three months or so.

So what possibly could stitches in my thighs do with breast reconstruction you may ask? Well, even if you didn’t really ask, I will tell you. Cos I am proactive like that. 🙂

Ok so I should have perhaps mentioned earlier that this post comes with a TMI warning…. if you wouldn’t like to know about radiation fibrosis, man-made or rather woman-made nipples, fat harvesting and the like…stop reading NOW!

The whole nipple debate has been on my mind for quite a while. To do or not to do… has really always been the question. For many breast cancer survivors who have undergone breast reconstruction it is not necessary a given that they automatically choose to undergo nipple reconstruction as well. And there are many reasons for this, as I have discovered while talking to a few of them. For some it was the fear of the unknown, and what this permanent reality could and would look like. Some could not stomach the idea of another surgery and some couldn’t actually fathom the need for fake nipples. While some choose other less invasive options out there such as nipple and breast tattoos, some simply choose to remain nipple-less.

Radiated skin does not create the ideal environment for skin flaps to graft on to so Dr B wouldn’t consider starting the process until a year after I finished radiation. So although I have had a whole lot of time to think about it and after weighing up all sorts of pros and cons, I still hadn’t really come to an unequivocal conclusion about the nipple thing – was it necessary or in fact pointless 😉

I certainly had not been relishing the idea of another surgery! But like most things, time certainly helps cloud the memory. So a few months ago, on one particularly brave day, I made the decision to go and at least chat to her about the next possible chapter in my reconstruction process.  I knew I could trust her to give me a realistic view on the best options available to me.

My biggest concern was my radiated boob. With its misshapen, shrink wrapped appearance which I spent my life massaging away from my thyroid, were nipples even a smart option?! On a good boob day my bionic boobs kinda looked a little lopsided but on really bad boob days they looked severely wonky, even in clothes! I had asked myself on countless bad boob occasions while staring into my bathroom mirror – how on earth could I even consider planting permanent, raised bull’s eyes on them?

And this was the exact dilemma I presented to Dr B when I met up with her a few weeks ago in her office. I was pretty sure the radiated boob had become encapsulated (something I had been warned could happen) and my fear was that the only way to rectify this condition was for her to re-open open the scars, clean out the offending thickened tissue and replace the implant. In fact I was braced for her to say just that when she suggested a completely different option.

Fat injections.

Fat injections she explained could help soften the contracted tissue and possibly improve the blood supply acting somewhat like stem cells to help treat the radiation fibrosis. These incredible sounding fat cells would also add volume to parts of the bionic boob, giving it the similar rounded more natural look of my left boob compared to the sheared off cliff face appearance that the radiation had left it with.

The BEST part? The fat cells would come from my own body!

So with plenty of fat available to me I could even chose the part of my body the fat could be harvested from! After all, she smiled, there HAD to be some positives for us breast cancer ladies!

Finally, after initially being rejected by my medical aid, and after Dr B having to submit numerous motivational letters, graphic photos of my wonky boobs and with her even having to argue my case with their review board, we got the go-ahead. So two weeks ago I was booked into her new amazing Day Clinic and under an hour and a half of general anaesthetic , I had approximately 80mls of fat harvested from my thighs and injected into my boob.

So although there is still no talk of nipples for me just yet, already there has been a HUGE improvement to the overall look and feel of my radiated boob! And who knows what the future may bring – maybe a nipple or two?!

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Day Hospital

I even got a gift!  FYI it’s not a cricket bat but can be used to keep a husband under control if he doesn’t bring you coffee and rusk in bed on it!

Fat cells 3



“Private victories precede public victories. You can’t invert that process any more than you can harvest a crop before you can plant it”. Stephen R. Covey
“Before the fruits of prosperity can come, the storms of life need to first bring the required rains of testing, which mixes with the seeds of wisdom to produce a mature harvest.” Lincoln Patz

A Garden’s Tale

Every garden has a story. Memories of who planned and planted it, who tended it or who simply sent their time enjoying it.

Our garden is no different.

Pete and I bought our home 7 years ago, perhaps based a little TOO much on the potential of its beautiful garden. The garden was a little larger than we would have liked, after all who really wants to have to spend every single weekend pulling out weeds and mowing lawns. But there was just something about it. It was a sea of tropical green and located on three levels, which for practical reasons, is never an ideal and something that had specifically put us off other properties before.

We hadn’t even deliberately gone to look at the property. We had merely taken a drive on a Sunday afternoon to meet up with the estate agent, who at the time, was helping us search for a house.

We fell in love with it instantly.

Of course we did.

It was way over our budget!

In fact that’s why we hadn’t even given it a second glance when it was advertised in the property section of our local newspaper the day before. But like I said, there was just something about it…the peace and tranquility of the setting was unexpected considering it was located only a few minutes from our town centre. This may or may not have had a lot to do with the stream tinkling melodically on the other side of the boundary fence. Forget the smell of freshly baked bread, all you estate agents and potential sellers out there, there is simply nothing like the sound of water to win a buyer over!

In fact so much so that we suffered a little buyer’s remorse when after much negotiating (and fortunately a very willing seller!) we finally got the keys and realised just how much work needed to be done to the house itself!

But like most homes, you understand the concept of having a constant work in progress. The garden was simply no exception. With the help of Bethuel, the amazing gardener who had worked for the previous owners, and loads of manure from a certain dairy farm 🙂 , we slowly started to stamp our own (gum boot clad) footprints on it. And on many occasions a “small” job ended up becoming a large project taking up more time (and money!) than anticipated. So over the years, paths have been redone, retaining and boundary walls built (lots of them!) and roses and all sorts of flowers have been added.

But the real change came two years ago when the life we knew came to a crashing halt. Surgeries, radiation and chemo played havoc with our social life. The constant fear of contracting an infection which could delay an already lengthy treatment plan or land me back in hospital, along with the bizarre chemo induced car sickness I experienced, kept us from straying too far from home!

Our garden became an invaluable part of this new, unfamiliar and scary life.

For Pete it was a weekend distraction from a sick wife and an illness he couldn’t control. A routine was established: on a Saturday morning Parkrun was completed, a brief stop at home for a shower and to check if I was okay and then he would head over to the shops to pick up anything I hadn’t been able to get around to doing during the week; along with a stop at the local garden centre.

Which meant that boot loads of plants made their way into our garden over quite a few months!

While I would be indoors recovering and staying out of the sun, he would spend most of the weekend planting. But always with his cell phone close at hand he assured me, so that I could call him if there was an emergency. Like “Pete, I need help getting out of bed, or mostly like “Pete, really feel like MacDonald’s chips”! 😉

I certainly earned my nickname “Director of Gardening”.

When I was feeling better I would take him a cold beverage (still often in my pj’s) and spent some time putting in my two cents worth. Phrases often starting with: “you know I’ve been thinking…..” or “don’t you think it would look nice if….”or “wouldn’t it look better over here”. Sometimes it was appreciated, and other times….well, not so much 🙂

For me it became my refuge, a place to walk barefoot, think and heal. Countless hours were spent sitting on the grass with Frank and Noodle and an occasional butterfly, drinking tea, steeling myself for the next onslaught of treatment or waiting for phone calls on blood and scan results. And I hate to admit it, but there were also many hours spent thinking some pretty scary and troubling thoughts.

Our garden became the place we could escape to, a place where tough decisions were hashed out while digging in the soil or lying on the grass listening to water flow and birds sing.

So when we opened our garden this year to the public as part of the annual Maritzburg’s Open Gardens, we did so not because we thought our garden was award winning or anything. We – and I use that term loosely 😉 certainly were not pretending to be garden gurus! Gosh, we often couldn’t even remember the names of the things we planted; and our sage garden advice to anyone who asked about our planting strategy was “if it doesn’t live, try something else”!

It wasn’t about having perfectly manicured lawns and hedges or show stopping blooms. It was about what it represented to us, creating something that was beautiful to us, out of a not so beautiful situation. And it was about sharing a journey, whether anyone who visited actually understood that or not.

And the big fat cherry on top? We raised some awesome cash for Reach for Recovery PMB!

So to all of you who supported our first open gardens, whether it was by donating your time, your cash, your amazing cooking and baking skills or shopping for amazing yummy goodies, helping us set up and take down, lending us your children as slaves (you know who you are!), or traveling from near and far to spend a few hours saying really nice things about our garden, and to those who did all of the above, THANK YOU.

Just, thank you…

“A garden always has a point.” Elizabeth Hoyt

“A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfil good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.” Liberty Hyde Baily

“Remember that children, marriages, and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.” H, Jackson Brown Jr

“Won’t you come into the garden? I would like my roses to see you.” Richard Brinsley Sheridan

“In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.” ~Abram L. Urban

“You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.” ~Author Unknown

“With fronds like you, who needs anemones.” ~Gardening Saying

“Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.” Alfred Austen


The Reach for Recovery rose in our garden.

Garden 3Garden 4Gardens2R4R 1R4R11R4R6R4R12R4R9Garden 5Garden 6R4R16


So as I mentioned in my previous blog, this month is a month of anniversaries or perhaps more accurately, cancerversaries. Two years since my diagnosis, two years since my surgery and more significantly – two years of being cancer free.

And since we’re making note of significant dates… this week concluded my 3 month check-ups with the Dent Doctor!

Which heralds a new chapter in life post breast cancer… **cue the scary music**

Well, actually there is no real significant or physically difference to the previous chapter **cue the scary music**

For most people, this is viewed as a VERY good thing, and let’s face it, there really is no logical reason to look at it in any other way –
• I only have to stress about having bloods taken every six months
• I only have to go to the Cancer Centre every six months
• I only have to see the Dent Doctor every six months for my examinations
• It means that I have been cancer free for TWO YEARS
• It means well, I have been CANCER FREE FOR TWO YEARS!


But in fear of sounding like a serious Debbie Downer, there is also the other side of the coin –
• My bloods are only being monitored twice a year
• I only get to see the Dent Doctor for a full examination twice a year
• A LOT of scary things can happen in my body without me or anyone else knowing, in that time

So, I thought if this was going to be my last examination before being set out to fend for myself for the next six months, I was going to make the most of it!

I mentioned some lower back pain that I had been experiencing, not particularly unusual for me, I have always had a weak lower back, hence my years and years of pilates! But cancer has a way of making you doubt everything you have ever known about your body.

I also mentioned that I had made a chiropractor appointment for the next day as I had been experiencing some (more than normal) tightness between my shoulder blades, which turned into a bit of a spasm in my chest when I lifted my arm to get a mug out of the cupboard that morning.

I expected him to laugh and say that I was clearly pushing for another excuse for a massage! But he listened carefully to my lungs and breathing and did a thorough check up of my lymph nodes and abdomen. He concluded that everything looked in order and agreed with me that it was probably muscular. And while I was getting dressed, planning my next massage, he picked up his phone and booked an ECG.

HUH hang on a minute?

What happened to the massage prescription?

He said he honestly did NOT think it wasn’t anything to be worried about, but because the pain was in the vicinity of some very important organs such as my heart and lungs, he felt it would be best to be safe and rule out pulmonary embolisms and the like.




So there I lay at the Cancer Centre while the sister hooked me up with some sticky patches to some very scary looking electrical thingies!

Long story short: I am very happy to report that all was well with my heart and lungs! AND the chiropractor sorted out the spasm the very next day!

But to be honest, the whole experience kinda rattled me a little…..six months sure feels like a VERY long time!

Six months 1

Cancerversary 2Cancerversary1

Cancerversary 3