You can listen to this articles below, or by using your favourite podcast player at pod.link/buddiesforlife
Nkhutliseng Nyirongo speaks about the positive outcomes of having breast cancer treatment and how the journey opened her eyes to genuine love and care.
Nkhutliseng Nyirongo (46) lives in Roodeport, Gauteng with her husband.
In 2019, for two months Nkhutliseng noticed every time she put her seatbelt on, the area just above her right breast would itch but wasn’t necessarily sore. “I spoke to my mother about it and she advised to not take any chances and go to a doctor. When the GP saw it, in April, she didn’t think it was of concern but to be cautious she referred me for a mammogram and sonar. When it was confirmed as breast cancer, she was just as shocked as I was,” Nkhutliseng explains.
“Due to my nursing background I knew what cancer was capable of, but thankfully being a naturally calm person, there was acceptance quite quickly. I managed to drive myself home and shared the news with my husband. I think the way I brokeit to him (being composed) helped him digest it. Though, I was scared to go to sleep, thinking what if I don’t wake up. There was confusion, like you are paralysed and don’t know how to express yourself… so many mixed emotions.”
The 46-year-old adds that she is beyond grateful to her mom for insisting that she have it checked-out. “I wasn’t going to go as I always had breast cysts during menstruation, so I thought it had something to do with that. But because I went when I did, the breast cancer was caught early and was still confined to the breast.”
After seeing a breast specialist, it was decided to have preoperative chemotherapy. “The specialist said the tumour was only the size of a Smartie. I underwent eight cycles, from May to September, and had a lumpectomy and reconstructive surgery in October, and in November I started three months of radiation,” she says.
The blessing of reconstructive surgery
Nkhutliseng is so appreciative for the option of having reconstructive surgery. “My breasts were big and shapeless, so the reconstructive surgeon advised to reduced them when the lumpectomy was done. And now, they are pretty; I never had pretty breasts before. I have gone down in bra size but don’t actually need a bra (that is how good the reconstruction was). Ever since the surgery I wear sports bras as they are more comfortable. I find normal bras to be uncomfortable.”
The upside of treatment
Loss of hair, diarrhoea and vomiting were the side effects Nkhutliseng experienced the most. But she says there was an upside. “When my hair grew back it was beautiful and grew long, my skin now has a glow to it. My oncologist said the chemotherapy was going to clean my system out so it’s like I’m a baby, starting all afresh.”
The benefit of lockdown
Nkhutliseng went back to work in 2020 for a week after completing radiation but then the pandemic erupted, and she was forced to work from home for a year. “Honestly, the timing was perfect for my recovery; my job entails a lot of driving so to be forced to work from home was good. I was still weak, so I wouldn’t have been able to drive properly, plus all my leave days were finished.”
The 46-year-old explains that she saw this year as a year of her full recovery. “In this year, I made an effort to look after myself by exercising and eating healthy; I enjoy going to gym, jogging, brisk walks but most of all I love stairs, going up and down. Exercise gives me more energy and makes me feel good the whole day.”
Love, support and new friends
Once Nkhutliseng shared the news with her husband, he was quick to tell the body of elders at their Kingdom Hall and this is when Nkhutliseng’s concern of not having a support system was washed away. “My husband got his support from them and that gave me strength, then the congregation took over our lives…in a good way; each week someone was assigned to cook for us and a schedule was made, for us to be driven to all the doctors’ appointments.”
Nkhutliseng’s mother came from the Free State to stay with her for the duration of chemotherapy. “She was actually nursing me like a little baby, and she was enjoying that. I also got my strength from my mom, she always reminded me: if you fall, you always get up.”
She also adds that all the healthcare professionals she dealt with were all so positive and encouraging and that gave her hope too. “With all the support I received from the congregation, colleagues, husband, mother and family members, it showed me that I belong to a society, a group of people who genuinely care, genuine friends and they fill my world and make me feel like I belong. I hear a lot of cancer survivors saying they lost many friends through their journey, but I gained new friends. Plus, that feeling of belonging really does help in the recovery process.”
A stronger person
She concludes, “After the storm, I came out a stronger person and can now say my faith was the centre of my good recovery. You think you have a relationship with God but in this time, I was shown what a real relationship is with Him. My faith was really refined, and I was shown that life is short, and it needs to be celebrated. I was a very stingy person, but this journey taught me that if I want an expensive perfume, it’s okay to buy it. So, I buy it.”
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. Write to the [email protected]