Bright-smiled, Avumile Solundwana, speaks candidly about having male breast cancer and how ever since having a mastectomy, his confidence has grown.
Avumile Solundwana (27) lives in Krugersdorp, Gauteng.
Three years with the lump
In 2014, a small lump formed in Avumile’s left breast. “It started off very small and wasn’t painful. Then it started to grow, and pain slowly appeared,” Avumile says.
For three years Avumile had this lump and thought it would go away, but, in June 2017, the pain became unbearable and the disproportion of his breasts was extremely noticeable, so he went to a clinic. “I never even knew male breast cancer existed, so it was never a concern,” he says.
The clinic referred him to a hospital in Kagiso, which in turn referred him to Helen Joseph Breast Care Clinic. A mammogram, sonar and biopsy were scheduled and once those results were in, the security guard was called in and informed he had Stage 4 breast cancer.
“I was confused and stressed at the same time because this was the first time I ever heard of male breast cancer. I still asked how does this happen to men? I’m a man and don’t have breasts?” Avumile recalls.
The breast specialist told the young man not to worry as there is treatment available and that she would do everything she could to get him in good health.
Since the tumour was too big to surgically remove, Avumile had over a year of chemotherapy to shrink it. He started in December 2017 and finished in June 2019. Then only could surgery happen. Avumile had a mastectomy and was informed of his options of getting a temporary nipple or tattooing, to which he declined. “It doesn’t bother me, and I don’t see the use of a temporary nipple.”
During treatment, Avumile wasn’t working and relied on his mother financially to catch a taxi once a week to go for treatment. “At times, the only way was to use the grant money for my two little brothers, or we begged for money. My mom would come with me to every appointment; she was very supportive. Even she didn’t know men could get breast cancer. We would pray every day for God’s guidance and healing. Our faith played a big part. I then applied for a disability grant; this helped cover the cost of transport,” he explains.
Due to the cancer spreading to several lymph nodes, the 27-year-old had two more surgeries. The most recent being in 2020 to remove the cancerous nodes.
Since the mastectomy in 2019, the male breast cancer patient has been waiting to have radiation. “Last year August, I was called in and they made markers to the area that would be radiated but I haven’t heard back from them yet,” he says.
Pain and embarrassment
A month before chemotherapy started, Avumile says the lump ‘burst’. “It was so painful, I couldn’t even move.
I phoned my pastor and he prayed for me. When the lump popped, it started to stink very badly, like a dead dog, and green stuff came out. This is when I became embarrassed because if I could smell it, I was sure people around me would also smell it. So, for two months, I didn’t leave the house unless I had to go for chemo and I would wear a big jersey and a T-shirt in case it leaked. It was an open sore with two holes and the meat was rotten… you could pick it out. Every morning I woke up and hated myself,” he says.
The hospital gave Avumile special plasters to put on. However, the plasters were much smaller than the opening, so he had to use two to three plasters to cover it. Throughout chemotherapy, it leaked but by the end it was more of a clear fluid coming out.
When Avumile had the mastectomy, it was such a relief. “Finally, it was gone!” he says.
Avumile is of the opinion that cancer is no longer seen as a white person’s disease as his late grandfather passed away from prostate cancer and his great grandmother had ovarian cancer. However, he does believe that there is definitely still a belief that breast cancer is a disease that can only affect women. “In our culture, we still need education. I mean when we look at magazines or TV, we only see women who have breast cancer. No men. When I told my friends, they couldn’t believe it as they never knew men could also get it. If our elders are educated, then it will be passed down to the younger generations. I mean I only learnt about it because I got sick,” Avumile explains.
He adds that there is also a belief that if you are a male, you are strong so don’t need psychological help. “But from time to time, we as men do need therapy. I refused it at first but now I would like assistance as I still have anger inside of me as why it happened to me, and if it happened to me, it could happen to my children. Plus, now I’m the only one working in my family, so I have the stress of if something happens to me, who will take care of my mother and brothers.” The Breast Care Clinic has referred him to get the necessary counselling.
Since the mastectomy, Avumile’s confidence has grown. “I wasn’t very confident before as I’m a big guy and have a big bum so was self-conscious about that. I wouldn’t even wear shorts, but now I do, even if it’s just at home. I’m now free and not scared to show my body.”
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Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Write to the [email protected]