Omar Hunte - Integrated Therapies to Beat Breast Cancer

Omar Hunte - Integrated Therapies to Beat Breast Cancer

Originally published in Issue 2 2006 icon

Breast Cancer - Quick Facts

Omar Hunte

How Integrated Therapies Helped Omar Beat Breast Cancer

By Ginny Fraser

Omar Hunte is a 49 year old single working mum, living in Finchley, London with her two sons, Piers (15) and Callum (11).

Her natural resilience and no-fuss, practical attitude to dealing with the cancer helped her get her life back on track.

She is now a keen supporter of CANCERactive.

"You read in the magazines that after every period you are supposed to check your breasts. I’d always been quite good about doing that, and at the end of 2002 I did a check and felt some lumps in right breast. My GP referred me to the Royal Free Hospital in London I had a needle biopsy, a mammogram and ultrasound. I wasn’t frightened at all really. I’d previously had a fatty deposit after breastfeeding, so I really didn’t think I had cancer because I had no other symptoms at all.

Because I had private health insurance it all happened really quickly. I had the tests on the Tuesday and on the Thursday I was back for the results. As a working single mum with two boys I didn’t really have time to be worried. My feet didn’t touch the ground between the Tuesday and the Thursday organising stuff for the boys.

My friend Juliet came with me, but really only because they said I should bring someone. I was convinced there was nothing wrong, but sure enough it was breast cancer, with a Grade 3 tumour.

My attitude was basically "What do we do next?"


Open quotesI was convinced there was nothing wrong, but sure enough it was breast cancerClose quotes

 

They wanted to get me into hospital sooner rather than later and I was admitted on the Sunday for an operation.

 

They couldn’t tell me whether it would be a mastectomy or a lumpectomy until the operation was in process.

I didn’t have time to have an emotion, really. It was like watching a movie in slow motion where I could see everyone else’s emotions and I didn’t really have any of my own. I suppose that was my way of coping with it.

Before the diagnosis I was quite into natural health and taking care of myself. I was interested in homeopathy, reiki and acupuncture and fantasised about how if I ever won the lottery I’d have treatments all the time!

I had a pretty healthy lifestyle before I got sick. I never took time off work, so the cancer was really quite a surprise. In the end I was off work for a year.

My mum helped a lot. She and my Dad were originally from St Lucia and Antigua, and I was born in Islington. When I told her about the cancer it was like a veil came down over her face. She couldn’t understand it because I had seemed so healthy. It took her weeks to come to terms with it - she was probably mentally planning my funeral! Her side of the family have definitely got longevity - with most of them dying in their 90s and ill health was rare so it did come a bit out of the blue.

I went into hospital on the Sunday. During the pre-op examination the nurses who checked my bloods came back with lots of questions. They asked me if I was tired at all. I said, "Yes, I suppose so, I’ve got a busy life." And then they said, "Do you not feel faint sometimes?" And to be honest, I hadn’t. But then they told me I was so anaemic that anyone else would have been brought in on a stretcher.


Open quotesI suppose I have got an inner strengthClose quotes

 

I suppose I have got an inner strength. I don’t harp on about the negative and put it to the back of my head and look at what needs to be done next. Having cancer felt a bit like being in the supermarket with my list for the week. "OK, I need to get this. I need to get that." I do believe in God and karma, but I’m not a big churchgoer. I don’t believe going to church makes you a better person - it’s more about what you do day-to-day that counts.

 

My Mum is a Jehovah’s Witness, but I’m not. During the operation, because of the anaemia they put some blood in, and when my mum came to see me she saw the drip and was told I’d had blood. It’s against the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses so the first thing she said to me in hospital was a telling-off about getting blood! It happened while I was under anaesthetic, so I wasn’t really responsible, but I wouldn’t have it again I don’t think - out of respect for her views and with what I now know about the other things we can all do.

In the operation they did a lumpectomy and took out eleven lymph nodes. Between seven and nine were affected. I felt fine after the op, and was just glad I had cleared the first hurdle. I’d always been flat-chested, so I didn’t have a big change in my appearance and I definitely didn’t want reconstruction. I just didn’t want any more intrusion. I’ve got a bit of a dent on one side, but I can still go topless on the beach. It also helps that I don’t have a partner at the moment!

Three weeks after the surgery I had chemo. I was signed up for eight lots once every three weeks. Nothing could have prepared me for how I reacted to the chemo.

Omar Hunte

Some people can handle it fine and even go to work while they’re doing it, but there was no way I could. I got the kids involved after the first session when my hair started to fall out and got my eldest to cut it. In the end I just took a razor to it. I didn’t have a single hair anywhere on my body.

By the second session I was really sick and my sense of smell had got really sensitive. I couldn’t stand my mum’s perfume - it made me retch. The smell thing got so bad that in the week after chemo I couldn’t eat, even though I was hungry, because the smell of food made me feel so bad. On "chemo week" all I could do really was stay in bed and not really eat. I slept day and night - it felt like I was riding out a storm.

I started preparing myself the week before the chemo. On the weeks I felt OK I would eat a lot, and especially good stuff that would build me up. I ate loads of sardines, beetroot juice and took Noni juice. I definitely believe we are what we eat, because toward the end of the chemo my blood count was very low and the doctors wanted to give me some drugs to build it up before I had the next chemo.

I refused it - I was having enough drugs - and asked them to give me a week and I’d build it up myself.

Sardines were my thing - I had them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with loads of vegetables and again, loads of beetroot juice. I’d read Chris Woollams’ book Everything you need to know to help you beat cancer - it was my bible and I kept it by my bedside. There is so much in there that can help. When I went back, sure enough my bloods were up!

The doctors were intrigued, and said "We don’t know what you’ve done..."! After that I had the fifth chemo, and from then on I really doubled up on all the dietary stuff I was doing. I think it really helped.


Open quotesI got through it by just gritting my teeth and getting on with itClose quotes

 

Half way through the regime (I was on Doxorubicin & Syclophosphamide (known as A.C.) they changed the chemotherapy agent to Docetaxel (known as Taxotere) which made me less sick but really constipated! I got through it by just gritting my teeth and getting on with it. I’d count them down, "Only three more to go, only two..."

 

It was pretty awful but I don’t regret it. I really wanted to give my kids a chance to have me around for a bit. Chemo’s a bit like having a baby: you forget about childbirth once it’s over! One good thing I suppose is that my psoriasis disappeared during chemo and it’s only just started to come back a little. When the chemo was finished I had a break for two or three weeks and then started radiotherapy once per weekday for five weeks. That was fine! I had no side-effects whatsoever. I used drink a lot of Aloe Vera juice and put the cream on the area, which made a difference, I think.

I had a CT scan in 2003 after the treatment and it showed that everything was clear. I haven’t actually had one since because of some trouble I had with my ovaries. I was put on Arimidex after the breast cancer, and one of the side effects is that your periods stop. However I ended up having a couple of periods so I got it checked out. Before the cancer I had had an operation to remove a benign cyst on my ovary and it had happened again. Because my cancer was hormone sensitive I just decided that rather than mess about I would have both my ovaries removed.


Open quotesI’ve found it really helpful to read about how celebrities dealt with breast cancerClose quotes

 

I’ve found it really helpful to read about celebrities like Anastasia, Caron Keating and Kylie Minogue and how they dealt with breast cancer, but I suppose the fear it might come back is always at the back of my mind. I’m doing a lot to help myself - as soon as I got my diagnosis I changed my diet. I cut out wheat and dairy and looked for alternatives. I got quite interested in the whole food thing. I work in the West End of London, and there are juice bars everywhere, so I usually have three wheat grass shot every week and I get a weekly organic fruit and veg delivery at home. I also take selenium, zinc, BioBran, CoQ10 and chlorella. I stagger the tablets and switch them around so I’ll just take one type of tablet at a time. I don’t know if that’s a good idea, but I think it helps each one work to its full potential. I watch out for chemicals as well. I used to relax (straighten) my hair, but it involves a lot of chemicals, so I don’t do that anymore. It actually grew back really soft, like baby hair after the chemo. I use Neways products now.

 

Emotionally now I feel that each day is precious. When I was ill I never cried in front of anyone, though I did sometimes cry on my own but on the whole I think I am blessed to be incredibly resilient. I am prepared to take whatever life has got to throw at me and I’ll deal with it - my kids are so important to me and I want to see my grandchildren! Life is good now.

Omar Hunte

When I was better I took the boys to the Caribbean and I went to Milan - somewhere I had always dreamt of going. After my year off work I went back to my old job as front of house manager for a post-production video company, but was subsequently made redundant. Since then I have been working as a temp, and I’ve been really fortunate in that the work has been consistently coming in.

I’ve never ever thought "Why me?" about the cancer. I am very fatalistic, and my response has always been to get practical and muster enough positive energy to deal with it all. I’ve had fantastic support through all of it and love to say a huge thank you to Juliet Gonsalves - who introduced me to Chris Woollams’ book, to Christine Weekes, Malvinka Bitelli, Jenny Lewis and to Juliet Bartley. And of course, to my Mum, Mary Hunte. We fight like cat and dog but I love and appreciate her very much and she was such a support when I was ill.

There’s lots I want to do - I want to go self-employed and get into property development so that I can use eco products like Solar Power to help the environment for my children and grandchildren! And I’ve always wanted to open a chain of organic greasy spoons!

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