Thato Moncho tells us how she has accepted her breast cancer scars as her new journey and about her proactiveness in obtaining radiation.
Thato Moncho (38) lives in Soweto, Gauteng with her mother and her daughter (13).
When Thato’s breast started to swell in September 2020, she already knew it was breast cancer. “I just needed medical confirmation from a doctor. So, I had a mammogram and ultrasound done at Helen Joseph Breast Care Clinic (HJBCC), but nothing was detected on either. It was then suggested that I have a biopsy. The results showed that I have inflammatory breast cancer,” Thato explains.
Nine cycles of chemotherapy were done first from October to April 2021. “I finished chemotherapy the Friday before Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH) burnt down. I was so lucky there,” she says.
Thato explains that during the first cycle, she could feel the chemotherapy entering her body. “I started seeing stars and then got this funny feeling in my legs.” She encountered nausea and hair loss. “I would rest for three days after and not exercise (Thato is a fitness instructor), but then I realised that if I wasn’t moving, my joints and muscles were getting stiff, so I started to exercise again in November. By exercising I got my energy back and my muscles were more active and there wasn’t severe pain after chemo.”
Recurrence three months later
While waiting for radiation, Thato noticed the same breast getting red and it was becoming more painful and her nipple was inverted. She also had oedema under her arm. After sending a picture to the breast specialist, she was sent for another mammogram and ultrasound. Once again, no cancer was detected, only the oedema was seen on the ultrasound, so an MRI was ordered. “The MRI came back clear as well. The breast specialist told me that she needs to know what’s going on in my breast as she didn’t like what it looked like, so she referred me for another biopsy. But since it hadn’t even been a year since my last one, it was refused. Thankfully, she enforced it and I had the second biopsy in September 2021. The results showed a recurrence, so I was immediately sent back for more chemotherapy.”
This time nine cycles of cisplatin were prescribed as the first chemo included doxorubicin and paclitaxel. “It was also decided to include nine cycles of trastuzumab every 21 days as I was still Stage 2 and fitted the criteria. I started this in January 2022 and this made me so ill; after the first cycle I was vomiting non-stop and had a severe headache. Every time I took a pain killer or anti-nausea tablets, I would vomit them out. The second cycle was similar but thankfully by the third cycle I figured out to drink a half a cup of water with a pinch of moringa and then afterwards I would put moringa in Mageu and drink it. This stopped the vomiting,” Thato says.
Job application during treatment
Unfortunately, due to COVID, Thato lost her job at a corporate gym so when she saw an opening at Virgin Active Glenvista, she applied even though she was still undergoing treatment.
“In my interview, I disclosed that I have breast cancer and still in treatment. I started working in December 2021 under a three-month probation and they were happy with my work and couldn’t even see that I was sick. I would work after chemo and my manager would get upset saying that I should have taken a day off. My response was that I didn’t want to be pitied. My contract was extended, and I was given three weeks off for my surgery in May and they even threw a get-well party before I left. Then I was put on the middle shift, from 10am to 5pm, for two months. But due to my fast recovery, I asked to go back to my normal shifts. Their support has really been amazing.”
In May 2022, Thato underwent a mastectomy. “When I had the lumpectomy, that was fine because I still had my breast but this time when I looked at myself, a piece of me was missing. For a while, my daughter couldn’t look at me as the scars were horrible, it’s only now that she can look at me. For the first two weeks, I was in a dark place thinking I wasn’t a woman anymore and incomplete. But Ouma and Jeanette from The Breast Health Foundation counselled me and encouraged me that I will always be a woman and will get through this as all three of them did. They helped me accept my scars as they are and that I’m not alone in this,” Thato says. “I can proudly say now that my scars don’t define who I am or where I’m going. They make me to be a better, stronger and more powerful woman because now they are a part of me. My scars are my new journey and I see them as a ladder to climb up higher and do bigger things. They don’t surprise me or put me down.”
Seeing the funny side
Fortunately, Thato also sees the funny side to her new normal. “I have forgotten my softie (breast prosthesis) twice now. I remember walking into work and only realising then that I forgot to put it in and so I blurted out ‘I forgot to put my breast in.’ The receptionist laughed. I even put in up on my WhatsApp status and my friends laughed too. To make jokes about it makes life easier,” she says.
The wait for radiation
The 38-year-old is still waiting for radiation. “In July, I went to book my radiation and I was told I needed scans done before I can start and to come back in October for those scans to be done,” she explains.
The good thing is Thato has been proactive is securing her treatment. “I was interviewed by a news channel who then forwarded my story to the MEC of Health, Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi. I was then contacted and asked to meet with the Head of Radiation. It was explained that there was a backlog and the emergency cases were being done first so I must be patient. I contacted the MEC again telling her that I need radiation within the space of four months after chemo due to my cancer being inflammatory breast cancer. The MEC then contacted the CEO of CMJAH, Gladys Bogoshi, who phoned me. She explained the backlog again and said she does sympathise with me but there is not much that she can do as they are understaffed, the fire caused so much damage and they don’t have budget.”
In the meantime, the reporter who interviewed Thato is trying to raise funds for her to get radiation done privately and Thato is living out her new journey.
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 email@example.com