XOLANI’S BRAVE FIGHT
South Africans have rallied around the 702 Breakfast Show presenter since he revealed his advanced colon cancer diagnosis
HE’S one of radio’s most popular guys, a true gentleman of the airwaves – silky-voiced, urbane, amusing and smart. So listeners to 702 were disappointed when Breakfast Show anchor Xolani Gwala announced he was embarking on a period of radio silence while he dealt with a serious health issue.
Fans wondered what was going on. Then came the devastating announcement: he has cancer. And it’s bad.
In an emotionally charged broadcast on 702, Xolani (42) opened up to colleague Stephen Grootes and discussed the gruelling road ahead.
“Under the circumstances I’m okay, but obviously I’m living with something inside and it’s massive,” Xolani says matter-of-factly.
“After thorough investigations, they found I have colon cancer, which is advanced – quite advanced.”
Xolani was hesitant at first to talk about what was going on.
“Currently, I am facing a medical challenge,” is all he said a few weeks ago when he announced he would be off air for a while. “The medical team is still examining the nature of this medical challenge and the process is underway. So when we are all clear about what it is, I’ll come back and let you know . . . But it’sa serious medical challenge.”
He was true to his word. On Grootes’
show – in the company of his wife, former Miss South Africa-turned-investment banker Peggy-Sue Khumalo, his oncologist, Dr Omondi Ogude, and his close friend, sports presenter Robert Marawa – Xolani laid bare the nature of the struggle he faces.
“It’s going to be a very difficult fight and a long fight but [it’s] a fight I’m ready for.”
THE diagnosis came out of the blue. Super-fit Xolani – or XG, as his listeners know him – ran the London Marathon in April this year as well as local marathons. Apart from a fever, there were no signs that anything serious was afoot.
He decided to go for a thorough checkup anyway – not suspecting the shock that was to come.
“There was absolutely nothing wrong and then suddenly you go to the doctor and they do one or two tests and they say, ‘Listen, you have cancer.’ Not just cancer, but advanced cancer,” he says.
“After this I’ve learnt you’ve got to raise awareness. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I live well. I eat well. My parents don’t have it as far as I know – so the thing about cancer is that it can happen to anyone.”
Xolani has already undergone a procedure to remove part of his sigmoid colon [the part closest to the rectum and anus] and is beginning chemotherapy to treat the disease, which has spread to his liver.
But his oncologist is impressed at how well Xolani is responding and is hopeful for a positive outcome.
“While his cancer is advanced, I think ultimately we could do something for him,” Ogude says. “At this stage, what’s in his liver is not operable. We are offering what is called conversion therapy. The idea is to convert him from a non-operable case to somebody who can be operated on later. At which stage this happens depends on how quickly he responds to the chemotherapy.”
Fellow radio personality Mark Pilgrim (48) is no stranger to cancer. He was only 18 when he was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer. It spread to his lungs and kidneys. After being cancer-free for 28 years, he’s now a motivational speaker for the cause and he encourages Xolani not to accept defeat.
“My reaction to hearing Xolani’s news was initial shock and sadness. I’m just sending positive energy that he has the will and mental stamina to withstand what is going to be a tough journey,” Mark says.
“I remember during the dark times of my chemotherapy I was debating if I should continue or not because so often it’s the chemotherapy that makes you really ill. I said to myself, ‘Just remember one day you won’t be in the darkness anymore, you’ll be in the light.’ ”
Xolani, who married Peggy-Sue in 2015, says he’s surrounded by huge support and has everything to live for.
He has two daughters from a previous relationship and Peggy-Sue has one daughter. He made it clear in broadcast that his loved ones are keeping him going.
“Family is at the centre of this entire thing. It’s your family that makes you stay positive. I’m not ready to die yet.”
‘I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I live well. I eat well . . . it can happen to anyone’
Xolani’s wife, Peggy-Sue Khumalo, a former Miss South Africa, was with him when he announced his condition on air.
ABOVE: Fans were sad to hear why Xolani had taken time off air. LEFT: Radio personality Mark Pilgrim is a cancer survivor.