Surviving cancer through early detection
This month marks the 20th commemoration of World Cancer Day, a day set aside to raise awareness of one of the top 10 non-communicable diseases said to be responsible for 8.2 million deaths a year.
When detected early, cancer can be cured yet due to limited information and fear, people often leave it to the last minute.
Cancer survivor Andani Mawela, 18, uses every opportunity to speak about his experience especially when he is with young people.
Andani was diagnosed with malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumour (MPNST) of the orbit, a rare orbital tumour that arises from peripheral nerves, after eye surgery when he was 16 in 2017. He had been experiencing problems with his vision.
He had chemotherapy for six months, followed by a month-long radiation treatment and now the cancer is in remission.
“It was very difficult for me both physically and emotionally.
"I had to be strong for myself and my family. I remember after my first treatment, I didn’t want to eat anything,” explained Andani adding he found courage and strength from interacting with other young cancer patients. “I learnt that if they could go through this, so could I.
“I am so happy I can walk again. It used to take me ages to walk from my room to the lounge because my body wouldn’t get back up quick enough”.
Another survivor Nomawethu Mandisa Ntsinde said she found a lump in her right breast in 2018 and started doing online research and investigated her family’s history of breast cancer.
Nomawethu Mandisa Ntsinde
“My parents told me there was a family history of cervical cancer and not breast cancer. I relaxed, thinking it was just my hormones acting up,” said 28-year-old Ntsinde.
For months she ignored persistent symptoms associated with cancer including face and chest swelling and general pain. After her family intervened, she eventually booked a biopsy test and a mammogram scan.
Not satisfied with her first consultation, she sought a second opinion at Helen Joseph Hospital, well-known for its breast care clinic. The breast cancer diagnosis came out positive.
“The doctor casually said to me, ‘so it’s cancer.’ I was grateful that he was casual because I had to get a grip and didn’t have time to be devastated. Shortly after the consultation, I saw counsellors who helped me process everything,” she says.
At the time, she explained, she had never met a cancer survivor and her perception of the disease was gleaned from watching movies. She underwent chemotherapy for five months and had her right breast removed.
“When I was going through it (treatment), my mantra was to stay in the present," said Ntsinde, whose cancer is also now on remission. She said she tries to keep a positive attitude although she is battling the after-effects of the disease.
She advised women to arm themselves with knowledge and to never skip their annual full-body check-ups to be able to pick up any cancers.
A 71-year-old David Pasipanodya considers himself fortunate to have beat prostate cancer. His was diagnosed by chance in 2011, after experiencing pain in his bones and had an ever present need to urinate.
The diagnosis was hard to take in especially because he lost two of his brothers to cancer, he said.
“In the first five days of finding out I fell deep into depression. It played on my mind and I didn’t see a way out. The oncologist told me that mine was severely aggressive and had already progressed to stage four,” said the former life coach turned author.
Pasipanodya said he changed his mindset from fear to faith and documented his journey, which led to him subsequently releasing his debut book about his struggle.
“Because of what I went through, I felt obligated to share my story - to speak out to as many people to increase the knowledge and awareness, especially because I survived it, saying with just a little fight and positive attitude, many more men can too.
“But I still feel more could be done to remove the stigma that has crippled so many of my fellow men,” adding that after an 18-month long treatment, he is finally cancer-free.
Skin cancer survivor Naniki Seboni. Picture: Zahira Amor
“This is no longer about me now. I have gone through this battle but people out there need to know and understand how to look out for it and banish the idea that talking about cancer is taboo,” this is according to skin cancer survivor Naniki Seboni who also decided to spread awareness in her circles with the hope of saving lives.
The 29-year-old was diagnosed five years ago and although her symptoms were always there while growing up - developing moles and being sensitive to the sun - she blamed lack of knowledge especially within the black community for not taking action sooner as the excuse has always been that “I am black and skin cancer is a white man’s sickness”.
“I found out when I was already in stage three, she recalled.
Seboni underwent a surgical procedure - one of the three main forms of treatment offered after radiation and chemotherapy - in 2015. She was declared cancer-free the following year.
The Sunday Independent