Friends essential when cancer returns

22:44, Jul 09 2013
EMPATHY AND STRENGTH: Sandra Schouten, 40, and Paula Krammer, 37, bonded over their cancer experiences four years ago. Now, Krammer’s cancer is back and Schouten is helping her cope with the terminal diagnosis.

Friendships are formed out of many things - a chance meeting, a shared hobby, a common goal.

But for Christchurch women Sandra Schouten and Paula Krammer, theirs is based on something entirely different.

Schouten and Krammer were diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time and formed a close friendship through their experiences.

They thought they had both beaten it.

But Krammer's cancer has returned - this time terminally - and she needs the support of her old "cancer buddy".

Four years ago, Krammer was pregnant with her third child when one of her breasts became sore, enlarged and "hard as a rock".


"I was induced to have my child less than a week later and started chemo before I left the hospital."

Months of chemotherapy and surgery followed.

About the same time, Schouten found a lump in her breast.

"I knew straight away something was wrong and the doctors soon confirmed it."

During surgery to have her breast removed, the doctors found the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.

"I started chemo and my daughter was at kindy. One of the teachers pointed out to me that one of the other mums was having chemo treatment as well," she said.

"We both had such similar experiences - Paula also had her breast removed and also had it in her lymph nodes. We talked it through and bonded over what we went through."

Both women went in remission, but they always kept in contact.

"We remained friends and our kids now go to Marshland School together. We had such a strong bond because of what we went through," Schouten said.

But tragedy struck 18 months ago, when Krammer discovered her cancer was back. It had spread to her lungs, brain and skeleton. "You didn't expect it back after a year in remission. It was devastating."

Krammer reconnected with Schouten to help her through.

Schouten supported Krammer as she went through more chemotherapy and radiation, but the cancer was "too far gone".

Diagnosed as terminal, Krammer does not know whether she has "two days or two years" to live.

"I don't want to put a time frame on it because I'm not giving up without a fight. I plan on being here for as long as possible."

When Krammer received a free makeover last month from the Look Good, Feel Better charity - something both of them received four years ago when they were both sick - it was Schouten who went with her.

Krammer said it was ''even better the second time around".

''It was a really nice thing to do with someone else. For one day, we didn't think about cancer, we just had a nice time,'' Krammer said.

Last week, Look Good, Feel Better had their annual fundraising campaign, Dream Week.

General manager Yvonne Brownlie said the charity offered women going through cancer treatment "comradeship, laughter and hope to face the mirror and the future with confidence".

The self-funded charity has so far given 3000 women a free makeover.

The Press