Zukiswa’s story

The life of a young mother battling breast cancer

Zukiswa Lepote, or Zuki as she is fondly called, is the eldest of three siblings, but has been happily married for eight years and resides near Germiston in Gauteng. She recalls the moment that changed her life forever.

Zukiswa was diagnosed when her son was 12 years old; when she had recently moved into her dream home; when she was planning years and years ahead of her with her loving husband, Lionel.

Since 2013, Lionel had noticed a “weird-feeling bump” in Zukiswa’s right breast, but it wasn’t painful, so she dismissed it. Then, a year later, while raising her arms to get something from her closet, Zukiswa spotted that the bump was bigger. “I knew I had to go to the doctor.”

When doctors informed Zukiswa that she had breast cancer, she immediately felt what she describes as “a mixture of devastation and shock.”

“I’ve been through very tough times in my life. Thus when the news broke that the lump was cancer, I was devastated!” explained Zukiswe. “In 2013 I was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, now breast cancer… Luckily I have a great support structure – my husband and my mother.”

This Gauteng mother has meanwhile made a full recovery from TB. In October 2014 she went for a mammogram, thereafter a biopsy followed. But Zukiswa didn’t quite know what she was in for when she began chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer in April last year.

“I hated the chemotherapy. I constantly felt tired. I struggled with nausea and vomiting, and I coughed too much. I also battled with some short-term memory loss. At some stage I developed something strange – my feet were getting some kind of skin irritation like dryness or rash, which itched a lot. It was so painful, sometimes so much so that I couldn’t even walk.”

Zukiswa received chemotherapy treatment every three weeks at Johannesburg General Hospital – now known as Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. She couldn’t avoid some common chemotherapy side-effects, but says the worst was when she became bald. During our interview, this young mother wore a beanie to hide her bald head. “It was awful when my hair started falling out. I felt so ugly without hair. Eventually I decided to get a wig – long hair.”

Zukiswa’s resilience and the support of her family and friends are what she believes allowed her to keep fighting the cancer and to take control of her life.

“My mom is my pillar – I called her with every change I experienced in my body while undergoing treatment.”

Zukiswa had her mastectomy on 14 February of this year and is expected to start her radiation treatment soon.

Believe you will get better. Have a great support system and pray a lot, because God is great! Breast cancer did not ruin my life – it changed my life. It made me realise that I don’t know what the future holds.

Written by Elsje Smit.

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