Finding strength through breast cancer

[Image] Mandy Winter, single mother of two and breast cancer survivor.

[Image] To date, PinkDrive has educated 39 226 women, provided 30 467 clinical breast examinations and done 4 203 free mammograms.
(Images: Mandy Winter)

Mandy Winter
+27 11 699 1881

Cadine Pillay

The PinkDrive is an ongoing initiative dedicated to breast cancer, which powers mobile mammography and education units for women across South Africa, while promoting awareness. Through its mobile services, single mother of two, Mandy Winter, discovered she had breast cancer three years ago in October – the designated month for breast cancer awareness.

Winter (43) was diagnosed with breast cancer after an assessment in the PinkDrive mammography truck at the end of October 2009. After several consultation visits, she was then given a choice by her surgeon to have either a lumpectomy and chemotherapy or a mastectomy.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. According to the South African National Cancer Registry, one in 29 South African women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. The statistics on breast cancer in South Africa are a growing concern, but this can be addressed through more education and access to facilities.

Taking immediate action

Winter said she had a very good diagnosis of stage one breast cancer and was told that she was lucky the cancer was detected early, as the lump was small.

“Working with the disease and with a bit of inside information, I chose to have a double mastectomy as I did not want to take the chance of it coming back in my other breast,” Winter says.

Winter decided to have immediate reconstruction, which involved having tissue expanders implanted at the same time as the mastectomy. “I was told by my oncologist that I did not really need the chemo but they were doing it as a precautionary measure.”

Winter finished her chemotherapy in March 2010 and her results were clear. Thereafter she was put on the oestrogen blocker Tamoxifen, as the cancer was oestrogen receptive.

Reliving the nightmare

Sadly, because of incorrect chemotherapy, says Winter, the cancer was back in less than a year. “My diagnosis was two to three years to live if I redid the chemo.”

This was in April 2011.  The thought of going through chemotherapy for a second time was devastating to Winter and the oncologist she was assigned to was callous and unsympathetic, she says.

Winter went for a second opinion and the prognosis was much the same, but delivered with compassion and a positive outlook. “The second oncologist never gave me a death sentence, as was the case with the first oncologist, and was willing to try everything,” she says.

Winter did not limit her resources to modern medication and treatments, but she also tried a different approach, that of a lifestyle change.

“I decided to try everything that was available to me which included living a life of fun and laughter, and faith in God, which is the only thing that can get you through such devastating circumstances,” she firmly states.

Realising your strength

“You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have,” says Winter, describing her journey with breast cancer.

“Cancer has taught me to appreciate all the things in life that we so often take for granted. Being positive and smiling and laughing through one’s circumstances is the only way – the mind is the most powerful tool we have.

“Dealing with cancer for me was 95% mental and 5% physical,” she says.

Winter went on to have six sessions of chemotherapy, finishing them at the end of October 2011 – just in time for that year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and exactly two years after first being diagnosed through PinkDrive.

“I have just had my PET [positron emission tomography] scan and I am cancer free,” she says proudly.

Like many cancer survivors, Winter has now dedicated her life to the cause that saved her life, and works with PinkDrive as the manager for its Shop 4 Cancer cause. Many of the items in the shop are handmade by Winter herself, who previously ran her own successful jewellery and craft shop.

The Shop 4 Cancer raises funds for the PinkDrive mobile breast check units through sales of its items.

A moving cause

There is a colossal need for early detection, which is why PinkDrive keeps its trucks on the road constantly. To date, PinkDrive has educated 39 226 women, provided 30 467 clinical breast examinations and done 4 203 free mammograms.

The PinkDrive mobile unit offers affordable mammography services to women in the corporate sector, and also provides free scanning and breast cancer education to women in disadvantaged communities via the local clinics or hospitals without oncology facilities.

The PinkDrive trucks currently have two mobile breast units, an education unit working in some 80 community health centres in Gauteng, and a mammography unit, which operates at three community health centres in the Cape Town area, under the Tygerberg Hospital jurisdiction. PinkDrive also collaborates with other cancer NGOs to increase the overall reach for cancer education and awareness.

The PinkDrive corporate wellness days provide employers with the resources to address risks proactively by developing a healthcare and corporate wellness strategy for their staff, that includes educational and personalised breast health screenings.