Many Breast Cancer Patients in Research Project Consider the Disease a “Death Sentence”

Perceptions of Female Patients with Newly-Diagnosed Breast Cancer at Durban’s Addington Hospital was the subject of research which earned social worker, Mrs Kogielambal Perumaul a Master’s degree in Medical Science.

Perumaul’s research explored knowledge, awareness, preconceptions and myths of breast cancer among the patients being studied as well as examining their concerns regarding physical status, symptoms and psychological experiences.

Perumaul found that once diagnosed many patients regarded cancer as a “death sentence” while also having a wide variety of different perceptions, thoughts and opinions about their diagnosis. Some patients had family support whilst others ended their marriages or relationships after being diagnosed.

Patients also struggled with the side effects of treatment but most never stopped fighting to beat the disease while some said they now realised they had spent their entire lives living for others but after their diagnosis had decided to put themselves first.

The research suggested sufferers should strive for improved healthy lifestyles, use de-stressing techniques, ensure they had quality “me-time”, revisit their multi-roles in the family and learn to say no.

Perumaul said while taking part in focus group discussions many patients realised that life was short and should not be taken for granted. The general consensus was to live in a simple way and enjoy life to the full.

Perumaul said she undertook the study to do something constructive for her patients. ‘As a social worker I counsel cancer patients and I felt that there was a need to give back to them as well as to assist and support them during this difficult time of their lives. In order for me to become their strength I had to educate myself further and inform patients. Breast cancer research opens the door to finding better ways to prevent, detect, and treat breast cancer, and to improve the quality of life of cancer sufferers and survivors. As a principal investigator the findings were a personal eye opener for me as well.’

Among the challenges Perumaul faced during this study was suffering from depression after hearing about some of the experiences of the patients.

‘My late supervisor Professor Madiba was a very learned and super intelligent individual who helped me through the process and the journey of this study. My co-supervisor Professor Van Wyk filled in the gaps and took my study to another level. A big thank you to both of them,’ she said.

Perumaul (46), an acting Head of Department in Social Work at Addington Hospital, is providing counselling and support to KZN flood victims in the province.

She plans to further her studies and complete her PhD in Social Work.

‘I feel overjoyed that my hard work paid off as I completed research in both qualitative and quantitative methods. I also feel that I took my education to another level where my patients will also benefit from my accomplishment. I see myself as an effective social worker who can make a difference in people’s lives. I would also like to open up a non-government organisation and provide social services to the vulnerable and needy especially the elderly,’ added Perumaul.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan