Zweli Nkosi – The gentle giant

Zweli Nkosi shares how he dealt with family responses to him having breast cancer and how his wife, Patricia, is his pillar of strength.

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Zweli Nkosi (61) lives in Florida, Gauteng with his wife, Patricia. They have four adult children.

Late September 2019, Zweli noticed blood stains on a white shirt he was wearing which indicated the blood was coming from his nipples; this went on for a week. “I was scared when I saw it, I didn’t even tell my wife,” he says. 

He adds that his breasts weren’t sore, however, when he touched them, there was some discomfort. “If I wasn’t wearing a white shirt, I wouldn’t have noticed the blood,” Zweli explains.

Zweli knew this was unusual so after a few days, he told his wife, Patricia (a nurse), who prompted him to goto a GP. The GP in turn referred him to a breast specialist who sent him for a mammogram and ultrasound. 

In October, a biopsy was done which showed atypical ductal hyperplasia (precancerous condition that affects cells in the breast) as well as gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue in men).

It was decided for surgical excisions to be done to remove the atypical ductal hyperplasia. However, due to the start of the COVID pandemic, the excisions only took place six months later in May 2020. 

Once the specimens were tested by a pathologist, it was found to actually be papillary ductal carcinoma in situ (non-invasive or pre-invasive breast cancer). A bilateral mastectomy was then scheduled a month later in June, with Zweli not opting for reconstruction.

Good recovery

The breast specialist was happy with the outcome of the surgery with Zweli going for check-ups every six months and now annually.

Though Zweli says every time he went to the hospital, he had to get tested for COVID and says that was more traumatising than the actual operation. “I think I was tested more than four times and all the ways you could get tested. It was stressful as I knew I needed to see the doctor and if it was positive then my appointment would be delayed and ultimately so would my treatment. Thankfully, I never tested positive.”

He adds that his high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes were all well-managed during the operation. 

Since having surgery, Zweli has a tightness in his arms and feels this when strength training at the gym. 

When asked if he is self-conscious about having no breasts, he says, “It’s healed well, and I always wear a vest, plus I’m so big so no one even notices that I don’t have breasts.” 

Learning about male breast cancer

To recover from both surgeries, Zweli took two months’ sick leave; he is a traffic officer. “I told my employer I was sick, but I didn’t specify with what. At that time, I was scared and still waiting to hear exactly what it was. I eventually disclosed the diagnosis to my manager and those close to me,” he says.

Before Zweli got diagnosed, he never knew that men could get breast cancer and he says this was the exact response he got from his male friends, asking him: how can he (a man) get breast cancer? 

He found a family member’s reaction extremely hurtful. “I was told that our forefathers are angry with me and this is my punishment for a family dispute we had after my mother passed away. I was very hurt and felt like this person didn’t understand what I was going through and was making fun of me.”

When asked if he believes what the family member said, he responds, “No, I don’t believe it.”

Loving guidance from his wife

Zweli is so grateful to his wife, Patricia, for being there for him through everything. “Patricia is a nurse, so she understands all of this and explained everything to me, which really helped me. The day I went into theatre, she was there by my side. Even with my diabetes, she really tries to make me eat better but I always cheat,” he says laughing. 

Once again Patricia consoled Zweli when he was hurt by the family member’s remark and he goes on to say, “I am where I am today because of my wife. She is my pillar of strength.”

Photos by Mandy Steenkamp Photography | Follow @mandysteenkampphotography

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.

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.
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