Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition


Featured Item

Breast cancer – a life sentence, not a death warrant

Avatar photo



It’s a diagnosis no-one ever wants to get, but it’s not the end, say three inspiring breast cancer survivors. Breast Cancer Awareness Month may be long over, but considering the fact that early detection improves one’s prognosis, raising awareness is vital throughout the year.

Diagnosed with left breast cancer in June 2009, just four days before her youngest child’s first birthday, Desirée Firer had a single left breast mastectomy within a week of the diagnosis. “The irony was that I had been checked for the BRCA gene [which examines DNA changes that increase one’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer] three years before I was diagnosed, and I had come up completely clear,” she says. In November 2009, she began a year of chemotherapy treatments.

After completing chemotherapy, Firer underwent a breast reconstruction in February 2011. “I didn’t want silicone or implants because I was scared of putting foreign matter into my body, so the surgeons cut my stomach muscles, the transverse rectus abdominus muscle and they built the breast from that,” she says. “I was put on a regimen of Tamoxifen – a progesterone and oestrogen inhibitor – from December 2010 for just more than 10 years.”

Always a keen runner and cyclist, by mid-2011, Firer had slowly built up to completing running road marathons again. “In March 2012, I ran the full Jerusalem Marathon, 42.2kms in rainy, freezing weather,” she says. Afterwards, she kept competing. In early June, she finished the Comrades Marathon and in September, the 50km City2City Marathon.

Firer completed the Jerusalem Marathon with co-runners including Alan Jacobson, who was on the board of DL Link, a non-profit organisation that provides care and support for patients going through cancer treatment as well as their families. Michelle Goodman, the founder of DL Link, heard about Firer’s run and they had a meeting where the idea of using the marathon as a DL Link fundraiser was born.

“I became their Jerusalem Marathon consultant,” Firer says. “I had shown that it could be done, and I was asked to speak at pre-run parties for runners before they left for Israel. I cannot take credit for what DL Link has done with the Jerusalem Marathon since – it orbits a completely different solar system.”

In mid-2014, just after the Cape Town marathon, Firer discovered a “callous” on her right foot, which turned out to be a breast cancer lesion – a complete anomaly. After a wider excision on her foot, she underwent 30 sessions of targeted radiation therapy. Today Firer is cancer free and, though she no longer runs marathons, she does trail running, which is less taxing on her foot.

“If I had to have cancer, thank G-d both times it was caught in the very early stages,” she says. “I went back to running, working, and raising my four magnificent children, and I’ve realised that cancer, especially breast cancer, isn’t a death sentence. What it is though is a life sentence, one has to remain vigilant and routinely undergo annual, nerve-wracking scans and checks. There’s constant fear that dissipates only after the checks are done. Yet there’s joy in the fact that though hair and nails grow back, not always so the cancer. The aesthetic losses are only temporary – full recovery is possible.”

Stacey Cohen, who was diagnosed with a third stage ductal carcinoma, an aggressive form of breast cancer, at the end of 2011, agrees. “A lot of breast cancer patients think it’s a death sentence. Many think, ‘How am I going to get through this. Am I going to survive?’ Especially now, 12 years after I was diagnosed, the treatments have come so far. It’s not the end of your life when you’re diagnosed. It’s challenging, and if you have to go through treatment, it’s not easy. You have to face many challenges: getting up every day, feeling sick and carrying on, but it’s definitely not the end.”

For Cohen, having two small children when she was diagnosed at the age of 35 became her driving force for survival. “A lot of people said, ‘It must have been so hard with your kids so young’, and it was tough – my son was five and my daughter was three,” she says. “Yet, they were the best distraction because I didn’t have a choice, I had to get up.” Though she had massive support from family, friends, and an au pair, Cohen knew her kids needed their mother. “I’d get up, put my wig on, go to their school events, and do as many lifts for them as possible. I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t want to die at 35 years old.”

Having the right oncologist in her corner was also priceless, says Cohen. “My situation was bleak, but she said, ‘I’m going to hit you so hard with the worst treatment that you can ever comprehend for a year and a bit, but after that you’re going to be fine.’ She was amazing, I held onto those words forever.”

Cohen’s treatment was harrowing and resulted in her losing all her teeth which necessitated two bone grafts. She also went into early menopause at 38, the effects of which she still battles with today. “But thank G-d, I’m healthy and I’m active,” she says. Though her daughter doesn’t remember her mother’s cancer treatment, all these years later it’s still imprinted on her, says Cohen. “She’s proud that I fought it, and she speaks about it in every English speech she makes.”

When Monique Wener woke up with a bleeding nipple, she immediately consulted her doctor. After a series of tests, she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. Then COVID-19 struck and so, when she underwent a double mastectomy in April 2020, she had to do it alone. “It was really hard and frightening when I had to go to hospital without anybody,” she said.

Though she had amazing support from her family and colleagues, Wener had a difficult time processing what had happened to her. “When I came home from the hospital, I couldn’t talk to anybody,” she says. “I couldn’t look at myself. I was really emotional. It took me a long time to look at myself again.”

Wener chose not to have a breast reconstruction. “I didn’t want to go through the pain,” she says. “Even when I go for my scans every year, I get anxious because being tested through all those machines again is like a trauma. It’s hard,” she says. Now cancer free, Wener didn’t require any chemotherapy or radiation, but remains on medication.

Today she gives talks about her cancer journey. “I didn’t ever go for annual check ups, for mammograms, and I should have,” she says. “I want to encourage people to do that. I want to be an inspiration to others and show them how far I’ve come and how strong I’ve become.”

Continue Reading


  1. Abel Mothupi Malebye

    Dec 1, 2023 at 8:20 pm

    Cancer has affected our family very bad.i lost my father due to throat cancer in 1997,2014 I lost my younger sister due to brain cancer,2017 I lost my sister due to breast cancer,2022 I lost my sister due to blood cancer.After seeing that cancer is real we started a saving Live foundation to raise awerness about cancer. We engaged with communities, traditional leaders, government department and NGos to make sure.
    Most awerness we host fun walk fun run ,soccer tournament
    Our intention is to build a cancer center in our area.
    Any form of assistance we really appreciate it

  2. Abel Mothupi Malebye

    Jan 13, 2024 at 3:03 pm

    On the 9th of December we hosted a very successful fun walk fun run,it started at Makapanstad to Kontant village. The aim of that walk and run was to raise awareness about cancer ♋️.
    Most of the people participated, Pheladi Banda who is living with cancer urged the community to check themselves regularly so.she also confirmed that cancer need a working together of the community.
    A lady from Moratele Dineo maimane during her speech,with tears on her cheeks said she lost a daughter due to brain chuma and other three family members .
    Thanks to Dr Lebohang Mosweu who is always available for advice and support to saving lives foundation
    Thanks to Kgaka Attorneys, for always availing themselves
    Not forgetting Spaeker of Moretele Local.Municipality Freda Mapela who is always there for saving lives, MMc francina Tsoku and national artists solly moholo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *