Making peace with my new lifestyle
Mother of two, Rene Abdullah, tells us how she handled the loss of her career as a personal trainer after being diagnosed with EGFR positive non-small cell lung cancer.
Rene Abdullah (52) lives in Bryanston, Gauteng with her husband and two children.
Rene was diagnosed with Stage 2 EGFR positive non-small cell lung cancer in February 2010. “I was in Cape Town on holiday and started having a persistent cough. After two courses of antibiotics, I was still coughing. It was suggested that I have a chest X-ray; a small nodule on the lower lobe of my left lung was found. A CT scan of the chest and abdomen was ordered and it was confirmed as lung cancer,” Rene explains.
In March 2010, Rene underwent surgery to remove the lower leftlobe of her lung (about a quarter of it). Thereafter she had chemotherapy and radiation for about six months concurrently. Unfortunately Rene didn’t do well on the aggressive chemotherapy but says that having radiation at the same time helped in that the side effects weren’t prolonged. Her oncologist stopped radiation as he was happy with the results and Rene was deemed in remission.
In 2018, the tumour came back and was now Stage 4 as it spread to her brain. This is when Rene was prescribed a new targeted therapy drug (EGFR inhibitor) that was on trial. She took this for three years until it stopped shrinking her tumour.
Her oncologist then prescribed another targeted therapy drug (EGFR inhibitor) that was also on trial. “I take one 80mg tablet a day and think I’m doing fairly well on it, considering the side effects of chemotherapy. The quality of my life has definitely improved. It has only been the last few years that my lung capacity has progressively regressed, making breathing challenging.”
“When I started the second targeted therapy tablet, I had diarrhoea, headaches and fatigue but that seems to have subsided.
I have also had side effects on my muscles and bones; I now get spasms and was diagnosed with osteoporosis of the spine. This is more than likely due to all the prednisone (a corticosteroid) I need to take in conjunction with cancer medication,” Rene says.
Currently Rene’s medical aid only covers the cost of two packets of the targeted therapy drug for the year as this medication is incredibly expensive.
Loss of career
The 52-year-old admits that accepting her Stage 4 lung cancer was one of the hardest things. “I cried for months! Maybe because I was a personal trainer (in gyms) for 15 years and I never saw the inside of a gym again. However, I knew I had to change my thinking in a way I can benefit myself and my family.
I realised that if I wasn’t as fit as I was, my lungs wouldn’t have carried me the way they did, and still do. I’m still alive and kicking. I did ask the question: why did this happen to me as I have three sisters? But then I changed that and I asked myself: why not me?”
“I think not being able to exerciseor help others achieve their goals was mentally devastating as this was my way of expressing myself. Once I made peace with my new lifestyle, I started seeking other ways to keep my mind focused.
I was always looking for something to keep my hands busy. My last venture was a Shawarma takeaway; this gave me new purpose, a new way of connecting with people. This unfortunately closed, in 2020, when COVID happened.”
Ocean brings peace and rest
Rene says it’s her husband and children that motivate her to push on. “They still need me.” She adds that their constant support and love has made this road easier and that her tenacity to want to be alive plays a major role.
In order for Rene to pause and get the rest she needs over December, she says she needs to be near the ocean. “Not just at the ocean but in the ocean water every day! Then making time for other extended family also helps.
This article is sponsored by AstraZeneca in the interest of education, awareness and support. The content and opinions expressed are entirely of the patient and not influenced by AstraZeneca in any way.