Cancer warrior says early detection is key to coping

Renée Singh is a cancer survivor who founded the awareness organisation, Warrior With A Purpose, and the Pink Bra Project. She says regular breast examination is crucial in early detection.

Renée Singh is a cancer survivor who founded the awareness organisation, Warrior With A Purpose, and the Pink Bra Project. She says regular breast examination is crucial in early detection.

Published Feb 3, 2024


Durban — Fighting cancer is hard on the body and even harder on the psyche, according to survivor Renée “Ney” Singh who has been in remission for the past six years.

Speaking to the Independent on Saturday before World Cancer Day tomorrow (Sunday), Singh said she had not expected to find a lump when she had done a routine self-examination one Sunday morning.

Her health had been fine but several members of her family had been diagnosed with cancer so she had made a point of regularly checking her breasts.

“You look in the mirror and you compare your breasts. You have to look at the size of the nipples, redness, any rash, any fluids coming out, any change in the breast. Men can also get breast cancer,” she said.

Singh hadn’t felt anything unusual and her skin had looked fine. She had asked her husband to assist her and he had felt a lump.

“Remember that not all lumps are cancerous but if you see changes, you immediately need to get medical attention,” said Singh.

Her biopsy results came back positive for an aggressive form of stage 2 breast cancer. What followed was chemotherapy, radiation and lots of weakness and nausea.

She also realised that while she knew many people who had cancer, her knowledge on the subject was limited. She desperately needed a network of survivors who had first-hand experience and could offer support.

“Every day is a challenge and there’s a lot of fear, but early detection saves lives. I want to tell people that it’s not a death sentence,” said Singh.

That’s how she started Warriors With A Purpose and the Pink Bra Project. Singh, who has been in remission since 2018, devotes her time to raising cancer awareness and supporting others on their journey.

Her next awareness drive is for the elderly and takes place at The Gardens Estate in La Lucia on March 2.

This week, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) said cancer patients in South Africa faced an uphill battle for care and that most people relied on the public health-care system where diagnostic and radiation equipment was in short supply and standards of care varied.

The World Cancer Day 2024 Equity Report, which examines the state of cancer prevention and treatment across the globe, shows healthcare inequities were exacerbated by socio-economic conditions including gender, age, income and education levels, location and ethnicity.

Former UICC board member Ann Steyn said despite a progressive Constitution on human rights, the healthcare system showed deep disparities.

“With 84% of the nearly 60 million population accessing public health care, there are enormous challenges to overcome. The treatment varies, with only five out of nine provinces offering specialised cancer care. Moreover, most cancers are diagnosed at a late stage due to lack of proper early detection and screening systems, affecting survival rates adversely,” she said.

Steyn, who is also the president of Reach for Recovery International, said the issues were exacerbated by “entrenched barriers” such as gender and racial equity.

“In South Africa, only 20% of health-care professionals are in the public sector, with 70% of them being white males treating a majority of patients that are people of colour. This can often create challenges for diagnosis and treatment if there is no mutual language understanding or cultural background consideration.”

The Warriors With A Purpose event will feature speakers, music, personal testimonies and meals. Singh has called on those interested in the event and anyone who can set up a mobile screening clinic to call her at 064 684 7915 or Taliah Maharaj at 061 705 2786.

Independent on Saturday