Hannelie Bergmann: Christchurch woman battles breast cancer and red zones


A Christchurch teacher is urging women to get regular mammograms after an aggressive breast cancer was picked up during her routine mammogram just prior to the February 2011 earthquake.

Hannelie, now 56, is a South African who moved to New Zealand in 2008 and because of the incredible support she has received from others since her breast cancer diagnosis, says she would do almost anything to help other women diagnosed with the disease.

“You can’t begin to imagine the support I have had in the past three years, often from complete strangers. If I can repay some of that by speaking out about my experience and encouraging women to be vigilant about their breast health then I would gladly do it, again and again.”

When she was first told how aggressive her breast cancer was, Hannelie’s initial reaction was to do nothing because she thought there was no hope of recovery.

But after taking some time to think, she realised she needed to do whatever she could to beat breast cancer.

However, by this time, Christchurch had been shattered by the second earthquake which left the city and hospital in turmoil and meant Hannelie’s surgery couldn’t be done there.

She eventually had a mastectomy and 29 lymph nodes removed at Ashburton Hospital.

As if this wasn’t enough, Hannelie was also dealing with a house in the Christchurch red-zone. In the midst of 12 months of chemotherapy and Herceptin treatment she moved out of her ruined house, back in again and then eventually across the city when it was finally confirmed that there would be no repairs or rebuilding in her suburb.

In spite of all this, Hannelie still found the time and energy to help others by volunteering at the children’s cancer ward in Christchurch. This was, in part, a way to keep busy between treatments, but also it was a way to repay some of the unbelievable support she had already received from so many others.

“New Zealand is amazing. Friends in South Africa kept suggesting I go back as there would be no earthquakes and it was home, but I feel strongly that despite the lack of extended family here in New Zealand, the support I have had here is far greater than I would have had back in South Africa.”

Hannelie also used BCAC’s Step by Step support pack during her treatment and hopes everyone will support BCAC and New Zealand women with breast cancer.

“The Step by Step support pack I received from BCAC really was wonderful and the more people who have access to information and support like this, the better,” she says.