Badge of Honour – Linda Hedley and Mbali Maphumulo

We honour and celebrate Linda Hedley for reaching her 15th year of being cancer-free and Mbali Maphumulo for beating breast cancer twice.

Linda Hedley (61) lives in Bellavista, Gauteng. She has two adult daughters and three grandchildren.


In 2002, Linda had a mammogram and was told she had a breast mouse (fibroadenoma), a small lump that moves around. She was told not to worry as it showed no malignant signs.

A year later, at the age of 46, Linda underwent a hysterectomy. In 2004, she went for her six-month check-up and her gynaecologist suggested she have a mammogram. A lump was picked up, in her left breast, and her gynae referred her to another doctor. More tests were done as well as a biopsy; it confirmed that the lump was, in fact, cancerous. 

The doctor, who Linda describes as cold, told her, “You need to have a double mastectomy, please go book your appointment.” Not only the news but also the way it was broken, sent Linda into a spiral of depression.  

Due to Linda not coming into work, or always crying at work, her then HR manager, Doreen Morris, who was also a registered nurse, scheduled an appointment for Linda at a breast specialist for a second opinion.

Second opinion changes her life

There was such a stark contrast from the previous doctor to the new one. “I was comforted and my diagnosis was explained to me in detail. This doctor was empathetic and carried me through the trauma and process,” Linda explains.

Unfortunately, Linda had to redo all the tests as the previous doctor would not send her results to the new doctor. But, Linda was thrilled when she heard she only needed to have a lumpectomy, which she underwent in August 2004. Thereafter, she had six weeks of radiation every day, and was on tamoxifen for six years, due to still having her ovaries. 

“What I learnt is that if you’re not comfortable with the option a doctor gives you, go for a second opinion. 

And, always go to a breast specialist. That first doctor wasn’t a breast specialist, and had no idea how a double mastectomy would have affected my life,” Linda says.

“After the lumpectomy, I was still confident. This is important and the breast specialist took time to understand and listen to my worries regarding surgery. I have the most beautiful set of breasts and I didn’t want to lose them, and I didn’t! I must thank Doreen, if it wasn’t for her, my life would be very different.”

The grandmother explains that the counselling before the lumpectomy was of immense help.

Annual check-ups

When asked how it feels to be cancer-free for 15 years, the 61-year-old says, “To be honest, I am over the trauma, but I do still fear. Every year, I go for my mammogram and check-up and it is clear, which I’m grateful for. But, no matter how long you have been in remission for, it’s still nerve-wracking. 

I always have a lot of tension and am extremely emotional the night before. 

I hardly sleep and go very quiet. But, deep down I know I am cancer-free. But, it is just the thought…” 

“Like last year, there was something on my nipple but thank goodness, it turned out to be scar tissue. I went again in Jan, for a six-month check-up, and there was nothing. This is why I am so diligent with my check-ups.”

Positive thoughts go a long way

“To all the newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, have positive thoughts. Breast cancer is not a death sentence. If you do exactly what your doctors (the ones you are comfortable with) tell you to do, you will sail through. The state of your mind is so important. If you are struggling with your diagnosis, or can’t cope, you must seek help and voice it to your doctor. I am happy and healthy, and I thank God every day for my life.”


Photos by Joalet Reyneke Photography  |  Make-up by Beautimarked  |  Location: Thaba Eco Hotel


Mbali Maphumulo (38) lives in North Riding, Gauteng with her husband. She has one daughter and four step-children.


In 2001, at the age of 21 and in a foreign country (Germany), Mbali was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, she was playing the character of Nala (she was the first ever South African to be chosen to play the role) in the stage production The Lion King. 

Mbali presented with a rash on her left breast and when she lifted-up her arms, it was extremely uncomfortable. She purchased an ointment and applied it, yet the rash didn’t go away. So, she decided to consult a doctor. 

He then prescribed the same ointment she had tried. After telling him, it didn’t work, he prescribed her antibiotics. Though, after the course was finished, the rash was still there. 

So, she went back to the doctor and he did a mammogram. It was then decided to do a biopsy, which confirmed the actress had early stage breast cancer. 

The doctor commended her for being persistent.

Due to the language barrier, Mbali found it hard to understand what the German doctors were saying, especially when it came to the medical terms. “I would have to research what a German word meant to understand what the doctor was saying,” she says. 

Fight for immediate reconstruction

The planned treatment was a left mastectomy. Immediate reconstruction was a must for Mbali. As an actress, her body was part of her skill-set and what brought in money. “I refused to have a mastectomy without immediate reconstruction. I gave the doctor my reasons, and he responded by saying beauty has got nothing to do with my health insurance. Then I applied to my health insurance for approval of immediate reconstruction, with motivation from a previous production, Umojo, I had performed in, where it was explained that if I had to play that specific role again, I would need to have both breasts,” Mbali explains. 

Her health insurance approved it and an implant was inserted after the mastectomy.

The actress took two months off from the show to recover and received great support from the production company. She found it easy to go back to acting and had no problems moving her arm. 

Second diagnosis

Five years later, in 2006, still in Germany, Mbali instinctively knew something was not right when she experienced pain when she laughed, coughed or breathed in. She went straight to the same doctor who diagnosed her before. This time a breast cancer was found in her right breast. “I thought I was better prepared, thinking I have been through this before, and it was such an easy process with the same doctor. But then the bomb was dropped, I had to go for chemotherapy. I was so fearful of losing my hair and losing weight,” Mbali explains.

She had her right breast removed, underwent chemotherapy and radiation and then reconstruction. She was given half a year off to recover and heal. “Thankfully, I didn’t lose my hair nor did I lose weight. I remember, I had to jump straight into work on my first day back as people called in sick. But, it was so easy, it was like riding a bike!” she recalls. 

Telling her family

It was only in 2014 that Mbali told her family that she had had breast cancer. “It took me a while to tell my family…we have these stigmas in the black community that we must have done devilish things to get cancer…like it’s a payback. Also, the translation of cancer in Zulu is ‘Eats you up from the inside.’”

“Then when I did tell people, I got stupid questions like ‘Are you still a woman now? Do you still have breasts?’ It’s those insensitive questions that I was running away from,” she says. 

When asked how she dealt with both diagnoses without family support, Mbali responds, “My parents died when I was 9; my young aunt raised me. So, I have always been a loner, and able to handle things on my own. There were more males in the cast so I couldn’t speak to them about it. But, I did have a female friend, Juliana, one of the cast members from Brazil, who I spoke to about it.”

Current health standing

Mbali believes her weak bones are a side effect from radiation. She had to undergo a bilateral hip replacement a year ago. “No one could tell me why, I just started walking funny. It can’t be proved but I believe it’s caused by radiation. My skin is also discoloured. 

Other than that, she is doing well and goes for her routine checks-ups. Though, she concludes, “There is nothing better than knowing your body. Your body will always tell you if something is wrong.” 

Photos by Joalet Reyneke Photography  |  Make-up by Beautimarked  |  Location: Thaba Eco Hotel


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

MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams

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. [email protected]