• “When you push off from the dock … we’re all in the same boat. 
    This isn’t about cancer anymore. It’s about exercise and health and the rest of your life. 
    When we push off we’re paddling away from breast cancer.” 

    - Dr. Don McKenzie, Founder, Abreast In A Boat 
  • “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain!” 

    - Vivian Greene 
  • “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” 

    - T.H. Thompson & John Watson 
  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. 
    The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’ 

    - Nelson Mandela 
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Belles Stories » June Hampshire

June Hampshire

Picture this…..Cape Town, May 2007 – my perfect world……I shared my life with an adoring (and adored) husband of 20 years and two beautiful cats, one of which had just won the coveted Sacred Cat of Burma Pet of the Year competition. OK I had a stressful job with a difficult boss but I thought I had a handle on life – little did I know the handle was about to break.

A week or two before my 50th birthday at the end of June 2007 I plunged into serious menopause…..hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, brain fog – the whole shebang. On the day of my annual mammogram I was having a hot flush on average every 40 minutes, and as I’d seen my granny battle with hot flushes well into her 80s, I decided this was not for me. My gyne recommended I go on to HRT for a year or so to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms. Yes there were risks, but I decided that for me the pros of HRT far outweighed the cons and hey, I’d overcome malignant melanoma 14 years previously (the price I paid for a mis-spent youth in Spanish sunshine) – how unlucky would someone be to have a dread disease strike twice? Instant relief – the hot flushes and night sweats were a thing of the past and I could get on with my life once more in comfort.

A couple of weeks later my usually very healthy husband came down with what seemed to be a bronchial infection which just wouldn’t go away – x-rays and a biopsy showed pleural mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer affecting the lining of the sacs of the chest. It was less than 5 months from his diagnosis to his death mid-January 2008. As strong and positive as I had been during Gerry’s illness, his death left me devastated and bereft, and grief made me seemingly unable to cope with even the simplest of tasks. I realized I needed more help than family and friends could give, and so went into therapy for a while to work through my helplessness.

Fast forward to September 2009 – I was getting my life back together again……I’d started pilates classes and was back with my personal trainer at 5.30am three times per week. Work was better too, my boss was happy to have “June” back at her desk again, instead of this person who looked like June but was in tears most of the time. I realized I was way overdue for my annual mammogram, so made a booking for Thursday 10 September……mammograms had never been particularly uncomfortable or scary for me so I sat in the little cubicle at Constantiaberg Clinic after my mammogram completely unfazed. I began to be concerned when the radiographer asked me to wait while she went off to speak to the radiologist on duty, and then came back to tell me I needed an ultrasound. Drs Tuft and Solomons both performed an ultrasound of my right breast and gently broke the news that there was a small non-palpable tumour in my right breast very close to the chest wall, they were 95% sure of malignancy, and I should see my gyne as soon as possible. As luck would have it my gyne fitted me in immediately between patients and sent me straight up to the surgeon who would ultimately perform my mastectomy. He upped the ante by saying he was 99% sure of malignancy, but did a fine needle aspiration to be sure. As I was sitting on the bed in the surgeon’s office I tried to cover my terror with humour – I said I’d had to wait until I was 52 years old to have my boob felt by three different men in one day!!! The next afternoon I contacted the surgeon while he was watching his daughter playing a hockey match….amidst the shouts of spectators watching the game, the diagnosis was confirmed – I had breast cancer.

The next week was a blur of medical appointments – chest x-rays, blood tests, liver ultra-sound, bone scan, and everywhere I went I seemed to see the same lady. I was sitting in the surgeon’s waiting room and who should come out of his office but that same lady! That lady turned out to be Caroline Bugler, now one of my fellow Belles.

The lumpectomy and gland clearance I had at the end of September 2009 was converted to a mastectomy a week later. The surgery went without a hitch and I had no pain at all – what devastated me was news I’d need six sessions of chemotherapy. The malignant melanoma I’d experienced all those years ago had required only surgical excision and a skin graft – chemo had always been my very worst nightmare. One of my main concerns was that the depression I’d experienced after Gerry’s death would return, and it was then I decided I would live up to the promise I’d made to Gerry before he died – that I’d live the best life I could, and in that moment coined the phrase, “flat of chest but not of spirit”.

The chemo was all I’d been told it would be and more – but one positive emotion it brought with it was appreciation of the kindness and love of family and friends. I had a caring band of angels around me, each able to be there for me in different ways, some taking my mom shopping, others driving me to and from treatments, the clear-headed ones being with me at doctors’ appointments, and one or two just being there to hold my hand when I could only see the future an hour at a time.

Since my diagnosis I’ve tried to be less of a perfectionist (my view of life was always “good enough is not good enough”) and realizing I can’t be all things to all people.

And so to the present…..I met some of the Belles at a soroptimist tea in May 2010, a few weeks before they left for the World Championships in Canada. They seemed such a friendly bunch and I said I would go down “sometime” to see them on the water. “No”, they said, “we’ll see you on Monday” (they were practicing three times per week at that stage) and the rest, as they say, is history!!

Belles come in all shapes, sizes, temperaments and ages, but without exception they have made me feel welcome, cared for and part of their sisterhood. I even recently became part of the exclusive Green Slime Brigade!!!