When I think of fighting, I always think of the Rocky movies & the big fight. Cue “The Eye Of The Tiger” soundtrack. I can see the fight build up so vividly. Jogging in a track suit up & down stairs before dawn. Punches thrown. Muscles burning. Sweat dripping. And then the final scenes of all Rocky movies with the same ending.
Fight of my Life - Surviving Breast Cancer
The champ gets knocked down (I can hear the distant screams of “Adrienne”) and just when you think he has nothing left, he has a flashback, gets inspired & forces himself to his feet. Stallone knocks out his opponent, blood everywhere, opponent falls to the floor. He is victorious!
We all have to fight for something in our lives. For our family, a promotion, to succeed. I have a fighting spirit and through my younger years I succeeded at many things. One of my proudest moments was when I achieved my black belt, 2nd Dan in Karate. I also received my Protea colours multiple times and competed at various World Championships. I have many medals to show for that. And some scars. I was known for my “migeri” a front kick that would put my opponents down. I also got put down a number of times. But I always got back up.
Breast Cancer – the Fight for My Life
I stopped competing in 2001 when I switched gears to focus on travel, my education & career. After working in London, I came back to South Africa, fell in love with my future husband & landed a job at AutoTrader, where my B Com marketing degree got me a foot in the door. I thought my fighting days were over.
At 28, I was faced with the biggest fight of my life….I’d found a lump in my breast & after a whirlwind of blood tests, mammograms & a biopsy, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage 3 HER2+ breast cancer (meaning the cancer was more likely to spread quickly). I was newly engaged, in the prime of my career & didn’t see it coming. I was knocked off my feet. Destabilised. Shocked. Unpreparedm
Now I had a different fight on my hands….it wasn’t just the fight OF my LIFE it was the fight FOR my LIFE.
This was a fight I couldn’t afford to lose. My strategy was simple. I wanted to give myself the best chance to live. I made the difficult decision to have a mastectomy & I had 14 lymph nodes removed. The cancer had spread into my lymph nodes making it more likely it could spread to other parts of my body.
Being bold in the Boardroom
At the time I got diagnosed I was trying to build my career in the boardroom. From a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a business woman. I’d studied a BCom Marketing, worked a few jobs in South Africa and in London and when I came back, I landed a job at AutoTrader. Fast forward a few years and I had proven myself and had been selected to be on the company’s Management Development Programme. I was determined I was not going to let cancer ruin what I had been working so hard to achieve.
From Boobs to the Boardroom
And so I made the choice to stay at my demanding job throughout my treatment. And so, began the journey of a mastectomy, extensive physiotherapy, six months of gruelling chemotherapy, losing all my hair, followed by multiple operations & reconstructions, hundreds of tests and 5 years of hormone replacement therapy.
I’ve learned in life & in business, we are often faced with the unexpected. We can plan our future to the nth degree, have sound strategies & plans in place, but sometimes life happens, external forces play a part & you have to be prepared for the unexpected. You need to be willing to FIGHT to survive.
Fighting the Big “C”
12 years later I can proudly say I am a cancer survivor. With the love & support of my family, friends & colleagues, I worked full-time through all my treatment, got married to a wonderful (& patient) man, got an Honours degree in marketing, sang with my sister & on stage, celebrated my moms 60th birthday & my 40th, became an aunt 3 times & best of all, I live to tell the tale.
As I was navigating this unexpected journey I learned not only life lessons about love, laughter & mortality but I was stunned at how many parallels I could make with my illness & the business I have worked in the past 15 years, now as Marketing Director.
My hope is that in sharing my story, my many lessons learned & mistakes made, dreams lived & moments lost, that I can inspire you to nurture your boobs, be bold in the boardroom & in life, because although life can be bloody & brutal just like in the Rocky movies, it is when we get knocked down, our strength & light can often shine the brightest.
AKA Happy Feet