Having breast cancer doesn't make you less of a woman

Gladys Boateng, a mother of three, lost one of her breast to cancer; today, she is proud to say she took that step of faith in order to save her life. To her, having breast cancer, or losing one breast to cancer doesn’t make her less of a woman. Thirteen years ago, Gladys walked into the hospital complaining of waist pains; pains she says she had to live with for some time. It started as a pain in her breast, but she didn’t take it too serious since at the time (1999) she knew nothing about breast cancer. “I didn’t know about breast cancer and I hadn’t checked my breast to know. I went to the hospital and the doctor examined me, he touched my breast and said, this part is very hard can you see a surgeon,” she narrated her story to hostess Rashida Nasamu on e.tv Ghana’s flagship programme, Awake. “After the surgeon had examined she did a biopsy and the result showed it was cancerous and so they had to remove the whole breast. That was thirteen years ago. It was a bit late but I did it.” At its early stages, it is very difficult to tell if one has breast cancer or not. Therefore, it is advised to have regular self examinations at least after every menstrual period, a clinical examination and if one is above 40 years, a mammogram is recommended. Gladys' breast cancer had reached an advanced stage, stage 3. According to cancercenter.com, the survival rate at this stage ranges from 40 per cent to 70 per cent. So, what could have caused Gladys to wait that long before seeking medical attention? “Once a while, I would hear a sharp pain in the breast but it wasn’t something I even touched to see. I went to the hospital because of a waist pain and I did a test and the doctor couldn’t find anything so he opted to examine the whole body and when he touched the part of the breast it was a bit hard. It wasn’t a lump; it was like a mosquito bite.” “I thought it was normal but they told me it was stage three and triple negative. This means people don’t survive in this case but I’m here.” In Ghana, the stigmatisation associated with the disease and the thought of living without a breast or both breasts is hampering the efforts of health officials in detecting the cancer at an early stage and treating them. However, after losing one breast and even after losing her marriage, Gladys says her social life has not been dented in anyway “because I don’t even have time to think about myself. I’m thinking about other people going to do the screening and creating awareness” “Sometimes people think when you have breast cancer it makes you less a woman but it doesn’t make me less a woman though I’m separated from my husband.” Now the founder of Reach for Recovery, a non-governmental organisation whose mission is to bring hope for survival to all who have been touched by breast cancer, Gladys looks back with a smile that her story has served as a source of strength, support and encouragement to other women. Gladys' last words: “Although I have lost one breast, yearly I go to the hospital for the doctors to check if there is anything coming up in the other breast. I want to encourage every woman to go and examine the breast and if it happens you have cancer, don’t see it as a life sentence.”