A quick breakfast with Retha van Greunen, a breast cancer survivor, turned into a morning of tears, joy, and a story of hope that many women need to hear.
Retha was diagnosed with cancer on May 16, 2016. This date is engraved in her mind as this was the start of an amazing journey of self-discovery. Ten days later she had a double mastectomy.
“Nobody can prepare you for those words ‘You have breast cancer.’ It is cold, it is clinical and it is heartless,” Retha said.
But instead of becoming a cancer patient, she became a cancer warrior.
“My support network was incredibly strong. My four children and my husband became my make-up. I still had to pack lunch, tie a shoe, and comb someone’s hair. My family kept me strong and sane.”
For a moment a curtain of sadness covered her eyes when she said a woman going through breast cancer is stripped of everything, her womanhood taken away and that is a reality.
Retha described the period from her diagnosis until her radiation stopped on February 13 as automated.
“Every day is set out. You do what you have to do, then go for radiation, then you feel tired, then you go for radiation, then you feel tired and it goes on and on and on. On Valentine’s Day I realized I did not have to go for radiation any longer. There was a sense of what now? What do I do? I am so use to the strict daily routine, now what?”
Yes, she did consider reconstruction, but before the procedure could be done a small cancerous gland was found behind her breastbone.
It was during this period that Retha realised how little women really are prepared for what is about to happen in their lives.
She started a journal and collected inspiring quotes that carried her through difficult times.
“There were times I wanted to stay in bed, but the journal kept me going and the idea of preparing women before they go for mastectomies grew stronger by the day.”
Retha’s dream became a reality when a friend started small paintings of every quote that carried Retha. This soon became a calendar, which she sold to all her friends. The calendar was the start of bigger things as Retha started adding more and more ‘need-products’ in a beautiful box and named it Bettie Bandana.
Inside the box she leaves a little note, “Each day comes bearing its own gifts and challenges. Here’s something to give you a little push or a pull on the days that you need it. You are not alone! Bettie’s box is a treasure of hope and blessings from someone who understands your journey.”
The items in the box include the calendar to remind you that every day is a gift and every day is filled with hope. A scarf or bandana when you need something to help you ‘hang’ in there and cover your head because it can get really cold. A journal because a life worth living, is worth recording. Slippers for the days when you deserve to put your feet up, bath salts when you need some time off, lip balm to brighten that smile, toothpaste and toothbrush because a beautiful smile is better than any makeup. Hand sanitiser to remind you to be grateful for all the hands that are caring for you, a pen because you are ‘INKredible’, a pink ribbon to remind you to have hope and tissues for good days and bad days.
“Life did not change, I changed. I learned to appreciate the little moments. I fill up four memory boxes for my children which I want to give to each when they turn 21. Cancer is a grace-disease; because it gives you time to find a million blessings.”