“I Conquered Ovarian Cancer And Breast Cancer At The Same Time.”

“You can decide to let your cancer diagnosis get the better of you or you can choose to fight. There was no other option for me but to fight,” says Robyn Frick, Teamhead Commercial Marketing for PUMA. And fight she did, when in January 2023 Robyn was diagnosed with both breast cancer and ovarian cancer. This is how she went into combat with “The Big C” and came out a champion.

Being Diagnosed With Breast Cancer And Ovarian Cancer At The Same Time

“With any diagnosis, hearing that you have cancer comes as quite a shock. This diagnosis would be my second, and little did I know it would be a double whammy,” recalls Robyn. During a 2023 routine check-up, doctors discovered the ovarian cancer she’d been diagnosed with in 2013 had come back. And while undergoing tests, they discovered Robyn also had breast cancer. She had two large lumps in her right breast which had not been visible during a mammogram 6 months prior.

What’s The Treatment For Fighting Two Separate Cancers?

“Fighting two different cancers at the same time is somewhat unique,” explains Robyn. “They both require different treatment plans that ideally coincide so one cancer isn’t left to its own devices but that in itself is tricky.”

Usually, doctors have to make a decision; which cancer they will treat first. In an ideal (albeit rare) circumstance, if the two cancers share characteristics they could respond to the same targeted drug or chemotherapy plan. 

READ MORE: 11 Symptoms Of Breast Cancer In Women That Aren’t Lumps

How Common Is It?

According to WebMD, researchers estimate around 1 in 20 people with cancer have another separate cancer at the same time. “At the same time” is defined as two tumours that occur within less than 6 months of each other.

Robyn’s Treatment Plan For Fighting Breast Cancer And Ovarian Cancer

After consulting with a panel of oncologists and surgeons, Robyn’s oncologist came up with the best treatment plan possible. They would tackle her ovarian cancer first – the chemotherapy would treat the breast cancer at the same time – then her breast cancer.

Her oncology treatment plan included:

  • Chemotherapy: 6 cycles of chemo (carboplatin and paclitaxel) which was administered every three weeks and took 6 hours per session.
  • Mastectomy: The chemotherapy was followed by a bilateral mastectomy (and immediate reconstruction which she elected for)
  • Radiation: Then 5 weeks of radiation with 5 sessions per week.
  • A PARP Inhibitor: Before Robyn started with chemo, she consulted with a Geneticist. This was to determine if she carries one of the BRCA gene mutations, which she does – BRCA-1. This opened up the opportunity for her to take a PARP Inhibitor (a type of targeted cancer drug) for post-treatment support. She will take this for the next two years.

“Alongside my oncology treatment plan, I have a holistic treatment plan which will continue for years to come,” she says.

Her holistic treatment plan includes:

  • Supplements: She takes supplements targeted at her specific cancer
  • A special diet: This diet excludes wheat, gluten, sugar and dairy
  • Rife Therapy sessions: Rife machines produce low electromagnetic energy waves similar to radio waves
  • Vitamin C drips: IV drips quickly increase the levels of ascorbic acid (or Vitamin C) in your blood.
  • Exercise
  • Spirituality: Robyn is tapping into her spiritual side

The Biggest Out-Of-Pocket Expense

With Robyn’s particular cancer, she qualified for a drug called Lynparza – a PARP Inhibitor. In her first consultation with her oncologist, she mentioned this drug would become part of Robyn’s post-chemo treatment plan if she was able to upgrade her medical aid to one of the top plans.

If not, she would be facing a monthly cost of roughly R90,000 for the next two years.

“Thankfully I was fortunate enough to be able to do the upgrade, and that monthly cost when compared to the price of the drug is nominal,” she says. 

READ MORE: My Experience With Breast Cancer, At Age 27

Inspirational Words For Anyone Who Has Received A Cancer Diagnosis

“You can decide to let your cancer diagnosis get the better of you or you can choose to fight. There was no other option for me but to fight. Was it hard? Absolutely! Having to deal with a second cancer diagnosis and questioning why it happened to me in the first place, would treatment work this time around, how severe was my cancer diagnosis, had it spread through my whole body? Constant doctor’s visits, undergoing tests, treatments, it becomes exhausting. Losing my hair, losing my breasts, those are two things that define who you are as a woman, right?”

“But if you choose to fight, you know your hair will grow back, you know that you will have the option for reconstruction (should you choose to do so), and you know that life is about so much more than those things.”

“Focusing on one day at a time, being present in the moment, the support and love from my family, friends, colleagues, my medical team, even a whole lot of strangers, has definitely made my journey and the bigger picture that little bit easier.”

You Are More Than Your Diagnosis: 

“I don’t want my cancer diagnosis to define who I am. While it has forever changed my life and I am grateful to have survived it, I view it as a small part of my journey here on this earth and so many other amazing things have happened in my life which need to be celebrated,” says Robyn.

Advice For Those Currently Experiencing Breast Cancer

Take It Step By Step

“It may sound like a cliché but take one moment at a time – one minute, one hour, one day. This is a journey not a race, so be kind to yourself. You will feel like you again.”

Rely On Your Circle

Robyn suggests surrounding yourself with the people who make you laugh, smile and who see you for who you are. On the hard days, let them carry the weight for you. And on the good days, invite them to celebrate with you.

Do Your Own Research

Robyn says you should investigate alternative therapies which can live alongside your treatment plan. But she emphasises that you make sure it is done with someone who specialises in cancers. “I have my wing chick and honestly could not have done this without her by my side – I am beyond grateful for her, her knowledge and her passion to find a way to cure cancer,” she says.

READ MORE: 8 Breast Cancer Myths You NEED To Stop Believing

Advice Everyone Should Heed About Breast Cancer

If someone in your immediate family has breast cancer and tests positive for the BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation, it is recommended that you get tested as well, Robyn emphasises. According to her, you would rather be equipped with that knowledge and take the necessary preventative measures should you test positive.

“Had I done the gene test after my first diagnosis, I would probably have had a bilateral mastectomy and prevented my current breast cancer diagnosis,” she reflects.

She highlights that you should really get to know the ins and outs of your body and trust your gut if you think something is amiss.

How Fighting Breast Cancer And Ovarian Cancer Has Changed Robyn’s Life:

“Well, first of all, I have a new set of perky boobs and a flat tummy,” she says. Robyn chose DIEP Flap surgery as reconstruction is done immediately and would eliminate the number of operations she would need to undergo had she selected implants. “My plastic surgeon was also very pro this surgery,” she says.

Thankfully, she was a good candidate for a DIEP Flap which is a type of reconstruction that uses your own tissue to create a new breast after a mastectomy. They used Robyn’s abdominal tissue to create new breasts, which took around 9 hours as it is such an intricate surgery.

The New Normal:

You look at those around you who don’t have cancer and just want to feel ‘normal’ again, as you perceive them to be. But you soon realise this is your new normal and that life can’t go back to how it was before – you were given a warning, take heed of it and develop the skills to reduce stress, practice mindfulness, change your diet, set boundaries and so on. It does take daily practice though.”

“I have only recently completed treatment, so I am still adjusting to what life looks like outside of daily treatments and doctor’s visits, but one thing it has definitely done is made me slow down and focus on today. Being diagnosed with cancer opens your eyes to what is important in life – prioritising time spent with family and friends, taking the time to listen to the sound of the waves crashing, the wind blowing through the trees, the sunsets and the moon rising – life is about the simple things we so easily take for granted,” she says.

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