Lebo Kobola – A whole lot of spunk

Thirty-two-year-old Lebo Kobola tells us how a breast cancer diagnosis at age 30 has impacted her life and recent marriage.


Moleboge (Lebo) Kobola (32) lives in Ferndale, Gauteng with her husband, George Ndlovu.

Lebo is young, funky and ebullient so you wouldn’t think she has just been through breast cancer treatment. She is a self-confessed gym bunny and found love in the gym when she met her husband, George, in September 2018. After three months of dating, he proposed, and she said yes. Once the lobola was paid, the weddings were planned for April 2020 but due to the pandemic and her diagnosis, they postponed them. “I wasn’t heartsore, I knew George wasn’t going anywhere and I just wanted to get through treatment and see how we could move on from there. Plus, I think it worked in our favour as we could save more and invite less people,” Lebo says laughing. 

DIY diagnosis

In 2018, Lebo felt a lump in her left breast. After consulting with Dr Google, she diagnosed it as a cyst and thought it would go away. However, in March 2020, the lump was still there and sleeping on her stomach became problematic as her breast would push down on the mattress and it would be painful, and it was getting uncomfortable.

I told George, who was my fiancé at the time, that I should go get it checked so I went for a sonar. “The doctor told me he couldn’t see exactly what it was and wanted to do more tests. But due to the medical aid plan I was on, it didn’t cover much so he referred me to Helen Joseph Breast Care Clinic. Wow! That clinic is amazing. I never thought public hospitals could run like that,” Lebo says.

It was decided that a biopsy of the lump would be taken. “The breast specialist said there was some concern from looking at the results but wanted more samples, so I went for a second biopsy.”

“The funny thing is I was the one always telling my sister, mother and nieces to get their breasts checked but in those two years I don’t know, maybe I was too scared to go get it checked out,” she says. 

Diagnosed over the phone

In May, Lebo got the final results. “I remember I was on a story (Lebo is a camera operator) and got a call and one of the assistants diagnosed me over the phone, saying the lump is cancerous. She didn’t even ask if I was busy or if she could talk, she just blurted it out. I was so mad. I remember crying and we had to stop the story and come back to the office and the reporter who I was working with prayed with me and encouraged me. I didn’t even finish working. I just left and came home and cried the whole night. George told me not to worry and that we will get through it, we just need to find out what to do.”

The next day Lebo met with the breast specialist as the day before she raised concern of how the news was broken to her. The breast specialist apologised and explained that due to COVID, diagnoses were given over the phone for safety purposes. She went on to explain that the breast cancer was in the early stages, so the outcome would be good. 

Treatment

The 32-year-old explains that her approach to treatment was to just get it over and done with. “I don’t know what breast cancer I had and don’t remember much detail as my thought process was just do what I had to do,” Lebo says. 

Lebo had a lumpectomy and reconstruction in June and was referred to an oncologist at a hospital in Pinehaven as her medical aid plan would only cover an oncologist from that hospital. It was at this time that George suggested she cancel her medical aid and rather be put on his as his offers comprehensive care, which she did. Thankfully, Lebo started chemotherapy in October 2020 without any hassle. 

Protecting her fertility

Due to not having any children and still wanting to start a family with George, her oncologist put her on a three-monthly GnRH agonist injection to shut down her ovaries during chemotherapy to protect them. She is currently still using this injection and will take it for another eight years. “If I want to fall pregnant, they will pause the injection and after having children, I will go back on it.” 

“The disadvantage is that it puts women in menopause. I don’t get my period, I have hot flushes; I always wore braids, but it got so hot, so I took them out and left my hair short, and I have a low sex drive. Simply put, I don’t like this injection even though it’s helping me in the long-run.”

Chemotherapy and radiation 

Lebo disclosed her severe hypertension that she had since age 22 to her oncologist so he could take this into account when deciding what chemotherapy should be used. 

She went for chemotherapy every Friday for six months. “I would go stay with my sister after I had chemo as she stayed close to Pinehaven and was working from home due to COVID, so she could take care of me. She would insist that we celebrate every Friday; she would shower me with gifts to mark the progress. This was a good distraction. The support from my family was amazing.”

In May 2021, two months after completing chemotherapy, Lebo underwent radiation every day for six weeks. Thankfully, due to the new medical aid plan she was now on she could go to a hospital that was much closer to her home. 

Her diet and eating patterns were changed by chemotherapy. “My cravings were slap chips or a burger after chemo and it would satisfy me for a while but then my stomach would go crazy, and then I read that greasy foods shouldn’t be eaten while on chemo. I also stopped eating peanut butter as it made me feel sick and the smell of fried onions made me nauseous.”

“I thought I was clever during radiation, I would have long hot baths then started getting tender on my breast and armpit, then I found out I wasn’t supposed to get the area wet. So, I started using Bio-Oil. But, the worst was being admitted into hospital due to my teeth decaying from chemotherapy. It was so painful. My teeth were cleaned, and fillings were put in.”

Wedding time

In June, a month after Lebo finished radiation, the young couple had their traditional wedding and then in September they had their white wedding. “It was worth the wait because it was beautiful, and honestly having breast cancer enhanced our relationship.”

Lebo says she wanted to start a family this year, but her doctors told her she still needs to wait another year. “I was disappointed, but it was George who was calm and told me that it was okay and that we will have a baby when the doctors say we can. He is emotionally strong.”

“We do have some intimacy challenges as my sex drive went south due to the injection and intercourse is a bit painful; the skin is very thin due to all the treatment. But, the good thing is that we can joke about it even though we know it’s a serious issue. He also doesn’t touch my left breast as I think he is scared that it’s still painful, and there is no feeling in my nipple. But, we trust that we will work through all of these challenges.”

Community support

Thankfully, Lebo’s employer was supportive and allowed her to stop field work and help in the office. “They even did a feature on me in October 2020, my hair had just started falling out from chemotherapy and all my colleagues were surprised saying they thought I just changed my hairstyle, not knowing I was going through treatment. I shared my story and it helped a colleage; she had a lump and was prompted to go get it checked. From this, another website also covered my story, so I have really felt supported by my work community.”

Her response on how she experienced the breast cancer community is “It’s beautiful, you feel loved everywhere you go. Everyone is friendly and helpful. 

After I got diagnosed, I phoned Lillian Dube, South African actress and two-time breast cancer survivor, for advice and she told me not to worry she was going to hook me up with a great support group, Bosom Buddies. I’m still on the group now and I find it encouraging.”

Lebo tried to slowly get back into exercise during chemo by walking but she found she couldn’t breathe properly so she left it for a while. Thankfully, she tried again last year August and is back at it. “I need to lose the 20kgs I picked up since having treatment, but I have also told myself to not be too hard on myself and if I can’t do certain exercises, I accept it.”

Photos by LuciaB Photography | Facebook @luciabphoto | Venue: Studio64 – www.studio64.co.za | Make-up by Beatby_hakeem

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. Write to editor@buddiesforlife.co.za

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. Write to editor@buddiesforlife.co.za