My name is Lauren Segal. I am a fifty one-year-old married woman with two children, a son aged 19 and a daughter aged 17. I currently work as a museum curator and my most recent projects are curating and designing the new Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre and the Museum of the Constitution at Constitution Hill. I am also a four-time cancer survivor and the author of a book called Cancer – A Love Story that was released in September 2017 in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
My first diagnosis was a malignant melanoma when I was just 23 years old. I was too young then to realise the severity of the diagnosis and its threat to my mortality. Luckily, the removal of the melanoma was completely successful and I needed no further treatment. The second diagnosis was when I was 45 years old. My radiologist found a DCIS in my right breast, a sleeping kind of breast cancer but that nonetheless resulted in me having a double mastectomy because of my previous cancer experience.
After my mastectomy, I thought I was done with cancer. So you can imagine my distress when I received a third diagnosis of cancer a mere three years after my mastectomy – this time a more serious and advanced form of lobular breast cancer. The tumour on my right chest wall was 6.5 centimeters long and had grown in the tiny bit of breast tissue that remained. I underwent the awful slash, cut and burn routine – chemotherapy, excision of the tumour and radiotherapy which required a lot of strength and endurance especially since I suffer from a severe needle phobia.
By some awful bad luck, I received my fourth cancer diagnosis just after I had finished six weeks of radiation. This time, the skin specialist discovered a malignant melanoma on my right arm. I was devastated by this news but luckily, the surgical excision of the melanoma revealed that the cancer cells had not spread.
These four diagnoses of cancer have profoundly shaped my life – particularly the last five years when I was a cancer patient and in the difficult maelstrom of cancer treatments. During this time, I kept a journal of my experiences to help me put words to my fears and vulnerabilities and to give me a modicum of control in my life. It was also a creative outlet during the harsh times of a suspended life.
After my treatments and operations were over, I committed to writing a book on my experiences. It often felt like the book was writing me. I share my story as a person who lived in mortal fear of what I was going through, in the hope that it lends courage and support to others who may have cancer or who find themselves in a difficult position in their lives. I often didn’t know how I would survive the challenges but I found my way.
I believe strongly, that we survivors need to share our experiences and help break the shame that still surrounds breast cancer. We need to ensure that this disease, which affects one in eight women in South Africa, is detected before it is too late to save a life.