Every birthday should be a celebration but even more so when you are a cancer survivor as it is another year that you have beaten the disease. Nkele ‘Soso” recently celebrated her 38th birthday on Valentine’s Day at the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg . She decided to treat other breast cancer surivors and patients with treats and goodie bags to give them hope and to help spread the message that cancer CAN be beaten.
How and when did you find out you had breast cancer?
I first discovered that I had lumps in both my breasts when I was 15 years old. The lumps were removed but later redeveloped and were removed again in 2006. I went for my normal check-up that includes a mammogram and ultrasound in May last year and the doctor assured me everything was fine. However, two months later I knew something was wrong as both my breasts started swelling and were very painful. I decided to get a second opinion and was referred to Dr Carol Benn who carried out a biopsy that confirmed that I had breast cancer.
Tell us about your journey so far.
In one word – amazing! Like many other women out there I didn’t know much about my condition and my first throught was that I was going to die. Fortunately, through acceptance and support from the many people who have crossed my path I have since realised that my belief in God and my will to live have played an important role in accepting my condition and steering myself into survival mode.
What has been the most challenging for you?
Initially it was the chemotherapy and all the side effects associated with it. However, I discovered that my symptoms were not too severe except for some restlessness after a shot, but I always regain my functionality the day after.
Hair loss – as good looking as I am told I am bald, I sometimes long for my feminine hair and natural eye lashes and eyebrows.
Tell us about your family. How are they coping with the disease?
I am a wife and mother to two boys (18 and 8) and a daughter (16).
My husband, Gershon, is my pillar of strength. He always accompanies me to all my medical appointments and he was with me when I was diagnosed. He has only missed one appointment since I started with chemotherapy.
We first disclosed my disease to my immediate family the very day I was diagnosed and they’ve all been very supportive. Their positive attitude uplifts my spirit all the time and I appreciate their support and love them dearly. I also draw a great support from my extended family who have supported me every step of the way.
Many of them are doing research and enlightening themselves to find out more about the disease and we sometimes discuss the technicalities behind the treatments. They have also come to realise that anyone can get breast cancer – males and females and that asking, why me, won’t get you anywhere.
I have encouraged them to go for annual and bi-annual check ups to pick up the disease as early as possible.
How do you get through the difficult times?
Fortunately, there have not been many of those but I have since learnt to pray in good times and challenging times alike. I have also invested in a number of motivational books which I read mostly when my soul withers. As an aspiring gospel singer, I also draw a lot of strength from singing hymns.
What is the biggest misconception that people have about women with breast cancer?
Some people believe that women with breast cancer don’t survive long after receiving chemotherapy treatment. Some women also believe that all patients undergo a mastectomy in order to heal and that they’d ultimately lose their spouses cause they are no longer “women enough” without their breasts. The misconception still exists that breast cancer is incurable.
What are your plans for the future?
God willing, I’d like to assist many patients who are in despair because of this illness through raising funds and providing spiritual support.
Written by Anelle Hamilton. Photos by Xina Davies – Moving Memories Photography & Videography.