Part 1: The Show Must Go On
Three weeks ago I was on the last leg of an amazing three and half month musical tour, performing across ten cities in China, playing the lead alternate, as Eva Peron, in the musical Evita.
It was the most thrilling experience for me, especially since I had starred in this musical when I was ten years old as one of the children and had dreamed of playing the lead role someday.
Here I was on the Balcony of the Casa Rosada, in a white sparkling dress, dripping in jewels, singing to a packed house “Don’t cry for me Argentina”. It was magical.
As fate would have it, one Saturday night, with only three weeks left on tour, the sound technician, Rob, and I hit it off. We spent almost every night together from that point on.
About a week into our romance, he felt a lump in my breast. "Dani you have something here, I think you should go and check it out". It was quite a big lump, like a medium-sized marble. How did I not feel this before? I was exceptionally concerned so I called my company manager who immediately organised a doctor's appointment for the next morning, where I went for an ultrasound. Unfortunately the results were inconclusive so an MRI was scheduled for the following day.
That evening I broke down and cried in Rob's arms. I was petrified and emotional. This was completely out of the norm for me. I am an exceptionally strong woman and not many people get to see my vulnerable side. Rob was very supportive and assured me everything was going to be ok.
The next morning he came with me to the hospital where I went to have an MRI. I told him that he could leave because it was going to take about 45 minutes, and knew he needed to get back to work, but he insisted he would stay and wait for me. I couldn’t believe what a beautiful kind soul had come into my life. He really was an angel and If it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't have discovered the lump in my breast until my next annual check up at my gynaecologist, which might have been too late.
After the MRI, my company manager insisted I take the night off as I was emotionally drained and was playing the lead the following day. There was no way I was going to miss that show! I lived for my 2 lead performances every week.
At my next performance, I channelled everything into my character, Evita. I truly left it all on the stage. Her strength, her vulnerability, her fear and denial. This powerful woman wouldn’t surrender. She simply couldn’t accept that everything she had worked so hard for, the empire she had built could be taken away from her by a stupid illness like cervical cancer.
“What is the good of the strongest heart, in a body that's falling apart, a serious flaw, I hope you know that!”
It was a very emotional show for me as the question whether or not I had cancer was still looming.
It was Friday and I had to wait until Monday to finally get my results. I was trying to stay positive, praying it was benign. I mean how could I get cancer?
Then finally Monday came, and Rob came with me to hold my hand for my results. As much as I appreciated the amazing support, I decided that I wanted to face the music alone and Rob waited outside whilst I entered the doctor's room. The Doctor, a Chinese man, lacking in bedside manner who spoke very broken English, informed me that he and the oncologist were almost certain that it was cancer.
"The good news is we caught it in the early stages. You should have a biopsy when you get home and remove it and the chances are you will be 95% fine".
On hearing the results my mind began to wonder. I truly don’t know how I didn’t cry. It was so surreal that in a way I felt removed from the situation and I went into a logical mode of “Ok, this is happening, this is what needs to be done, this will be the outcome and I will be fine."
Rob took me for dinner that night and reassured me that it was early stages and that I will be be fine and would be able to deal with all when I return to South Africa and that I should focus my current energy on my final EVA show the following day.
In my the final show, I got so lost in character - I was enveloped by raw emotions and had to fight hard not to let the floodgates of tears drown me in my final death scene.
I came out for the final curtain call, trying to catch my breath, partly from the emotional release I had been suppressing to keep a brave face and partly from knowing that I gave it my absolute all as the audience cheered, screamed and applauded.
It was a long journey but I finally trusted myself on that stage, believed in myself and knew my worth. It felt great to finally arrive at that place as an artist, to get out of my head and into my heart.
Somehow I was ok and dealing with the breaking news. The doctor assured me that all I needed to do was get rid of this foreign “thing” inside of me and I would be fine. I couldn’t even call it Cancer. It was a foreign body that needed to go! This was the story I was telling myself.
Rob was an amazing distraction and I embraced every single moment with this kind soul who just wanted to nurture me. I guess a part of me was in denial about it and I didn’t want to fully accept what was actually happening.
So I did what any Jewish girl would do in Guangzhou, I shopped till I dropped and tried to forget about it.
I flew back home on the Friday, landed on Saturday the 21st December 2019 and on Monday morning I had another ultrasound, mammogram and a biopsy. The next appointment was later that afternoon with one of the best oncologists in Cape Town, Dr Hart, who explained the different stages of cancer which is determined by the size of the tumour. The Grade refers to the aggression of the cancer. Grade 1 - 3, being the most aggressive.
Owing to the fact that I still had not received biopsy results and my anxiety was starting to build as I didn't know what stage or grade I had.
Then it finally hit me, I have breast cancer, WTF? How is this happening to me?
This was the hospital I came to with my father who died of kidney cancer and my grandfather who died of prostate cancer. Now here I was, sitting in this chair, receiving this diagnosis - WT actual F!
I cried for a bit until the shock wore off and then became paralysed with fear at the thought of chemo, losing my beautiful long hair and a double mastectomy meaning I would be losing my most prized assets, by perfectly perky breasts.
My mother and I sat in my car shocked and in disbelief that this was actually happening and decided we would pray.
That night my brother and sister came over to bring me dinner and to keep me company with our new puppy, Lulu, who my mom got the day before I called her to tell her the bad news. What a bundle of joy and light she has been.
The next morning I woke up feeling like I was waking up from a bad dream and then realized it wasn’t a dream, I have breast cancer.
I waited anxiously for Dr Hart's call and when I saw his number come up on my phone my heart started to race. He told me he had the results and it was Stage 2 about 2-3 cm in size and Grade 3 being the most aggressive type. Even though this sounded a lot worse than what the Doctor in China told me,
I didnt for one second ever believe that this was terminal for me. I knew in my gut that this was something I needed to go through in my life, a little bump in the road but that I would come out even stronger on the other side.
I called my mom to tell her and while this was happening the internet fibre guys were at my door coming to reconnect my wifi… I mean what incredibly bad timing! My mom rushed over, we had a good cry in front of the fibre guys. She then popped a tranquilliser and I started to try shift my perception. "This isn’t terminal, it's early stages, stage 2, thank God I found it when I did. I’m gonna beat this thing!'
The truth is I feel a hundred percent, I don’t feel sick, I feel fit and healthy! If I have to get a few wigs I’ll hit up the religious girls for some sheitals or the African hair shops in town. Hopefully I get to keep my breasts but if I don’t, I’ll get new ones and I’ll Survive! Cause I am a survivor!
At the age of 17, I survived a terrible car accident with my family. All three children, flew out of the car and landed up in ICU.
My brother broke his back, I had a punctured lung, a broken arm and collarbone, and my face was ripped open from a severe cut. Fortunately I'm still able to smile, use my arm and use my lungs to sing. My younger sister Gabi was found by my father 13 metres from the accident, unconscious in a bush. She suffered a head injury as well as a punctured lung and was declared dead MEDICALLY by the paramedics.
My younger sister and I were on life support in ICU and my brother was discharged a few days later to another ward. Due to the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) suffered by my younger sister, she struggled in her teen years to fit in socially and was diagnosed with bipolar and depression. Fortunately she was unsuccessful in her suicide attempts and has now blossomed into the most beautiful, kind and compassionate woman with the help of an incredible psychiatrist and hypnotherapy. She is a walking miracle.
I have lived my life with passion, celebrated every moment and I’m not going to let this dim my light! I will not be a victim! Yes it’s unfortunate that foreign cells are in my body, yes the “C” word is scary and we associate it as a terminal illness. But its not taking me down! I am here for a reason.
If this is meant to teach me invaluable lessons I am open to receiving them, I am open to growing.
If my lesson is surrendering my ego, having to let go of the superficial appearance, going deeper and connecting to my true essence and learning to love myself with a whole new meaning, then I welcome it.
I don’t know why me? I guess I’ll never know, but I am going to find meaning and see every single silver lining during this process, practice gratitude for such an amazing family and friends who support me and are here for me on this journey.
As I journal I’m sure some days are going to be harder than others, and what I might think I can handle now might be a lot more frightening when the time comes. I just have to take it one day at a time, one step at a time and be positive! In a few days time I’ll be getting more test results, meeting with the surgeon and figuring out the best form of treatment. Then the actual ride begins!
Luckily I have the ability to compartmentalise. Apparently this is the “freeze” state as in fight, flight or freeze.
After receiving my results I threw myself back into my music as I had a massive New Years Eve gig. I was DJing and singing at Grand West Casino, It was my highest paying gig yet, so I had to be amazing. I went to my New Years Eve gig excited! The client loved me and I was on a natural high. I thought, “ I’m not gonna let this 'invasion' bring me down, it must go!"
Love & Health Danielle