• “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 
Behind the Cape Grace Hotel, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town
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Belles Stories » Karen Shean

Karen Shean

I have given a lot of thought to this my cancer journey. It took me a long time before I could even say that word as related to me, I still rather say my illness, or when I was sick.

October 2004: There I was a 46 years old nurse, minding my own business doing my thing, the best way I knew how, stressed out, no time for exercise or my family, working every night and over weekends.

The last 23 months since I was diagnosed have been a roller coaster, a blur of biopsies, operations, blood tests and Doctor’s visits. Powerlessness, loss of control – that’s what it is – trying to keep going, keep it all together and to find the funny side in things.

My first thought on diagnosis was thank goodness my children are older; my daughter was preparing to write her matriculation and my son his second year chemical engineering exams, how’s that for good timing!

I had chemotherapy; I lost my hair, on occasion my food (down the toilet) and sometimes my sense of humour. I dropped my white cell count and landed up back in hospital with pneumonia. My chemo dose was reduced. (I still can’t see one of those chemo room cheese + tomato lunchtime sandwiches without feeling sick).

It was only after I had finished my radiation that I found out I was HER2 positive and would need Herceptin for a year. One of the hardest things was waiting for authorisation to get this drug – wondering what it would take to get it – would we have to sell our house? Luckily my medical aid paid for it.

I had a second prophylactic mastectomy and am undergoing breast reconstruction. The re-construction was a difficult decision, was I ready for more surgery, pain and discomfort but am really glad I decided on it and am like an excited adolescent schoolgirl going through puberty!!

What now? How do I think of the cancer? How do I address it, I have breast cancer or maybe I’ve had had breast cancer – that sounds better, but maybe it will come back. When can one speak about it in past tense – is it after 2 years, 5years, 20 years or will it linger as a constant reminder every time I have an ache or a pain and wonder if its back?

Things happen for a reason, something like this makes one re examine their lives. Live life to the full, live for the moment and all that. Then came the positive things like the dragon boating where I met people who were in the same boat as me (literally and figuratively).