A breast can­cer sur­vivor shares her story

She lost her mom to can­cer – then dis­cov­ered she had it too. Now breast can­cer sur­vivor Re­filwe Se­dumedi wants to ed­u­cate oth­ers


ASHOCK of pink hair and a bright smile are the first things you no­tice about her when she walks into the room with her two chil­dren.

Re­filwe Se­dumedi ( 41) ra­di­ates en­ergy and vi­tal­ity and has plenty on her plate – es­pe­cially in Oc­to­ber, Breast Can­cer Aware­ness Month.

This is the month she ramps up her work to drive home the mes­sage loud and clear: check your breasts. And act im­me­di­ately if you think some­thing is wrong.

She learnt the hard way how dan­ger­ous it can be to ig­nore a lump.

“I’m a breast can­cer sur­vivor in re­mis­sion,” Re­filwe, nick­named Fifi, says.

“I have my God to thank that I sur­vived this evil disease.”

It wasn’t al­ways so easy for her to talk about can­cer, let alone ac­cept it as part of her life.

The disease has cast a shadow over her since her mother, Pontsho Se­dumedi, died of a brain tu­mour at the age of 47 in 2004. Pontsho raised Re­filwe and her older sis­ter, Lesedi (43), so los­ing her was like a body blow.

She’s al­ways feared can­cer, Re­filwe says, but see­ing her mom’s suf­fer­ing made her ter­ri­fied of it.

Born and raised in a small vil­lage of Di­noka­neng near Rusten­burg, she lived with her mother, older sis­ter and grand­mother Mmampi Ramosotho.

Then the un­think­able hap­pened: in 2011 she dis­cov­ered a lump in her breast – but she did noth­ing about it for two years be­cause “I was afraid of the out­come”.

She went to the doc­tor for treat­ment for flu in 2013 and de­cided to tell him about the lump in her breast.

“I just men­tioned it ran­domly. He ex­am­ined me and checked un­der my armpits and then gave me a wor­ried look,” she re­calls.

“That’s when I knew some­thing was wrong.”

Re­filwe was told by her doc­tor she ur­gently needed to go to a breast clinic. And she knew she could be in se­ri­ous trou­ble.

AF­TER a bat­tery of tests, in­clud­ing a mam­mo­gram and an ul­tra­sound at Hel en Joseph Breast Care Clinic, she fi­nally heard the news she’d been dread­ing. She had stage 2 breast can­cer – mean­ing the disease had spread from her breast to the lymph nodes un­der her arm. “The hard­est thing about get­ting tests done is hav­ing to wait for the re­sults be­cause you can’t pre­pare your­self for what to ex­pect,” Re­filwe says. “I couldn’t eat or sleep be­cause the wait was killing me.” She re­mem­bers the day in Oc­to­ber 2013 like it was yes­ter­day. She was in a ter­ri­ble state, she re­calls. “I don’t know if it was the devil whis­per­ing in my ear but when I was driv­ing back home I thought if I drive in front of a truck I could die in­stantly and never have to deal with this.” Even though she was a sin­gle mother to Ole­bo­geng (now 18) and Pontsho (now 12), the thought she may have can­cer was enough to make her want to end it all. “I saw a truck ap­proach­ing and I thought to my­self this was a great op­por­tu­nity for me to end my life but a lit­tle voice stopped me and told me not to do it.’’

But Re­filwe, a data an­a­lyst, still couldn’t stop think­ing about the way her mom died, she says.

“When my mother first got sick we thought it was a mild stroke but she just kept get­ting sicker and sicker un­til we were forced to call an am­bu­lance to take her to hospi­tal,” Re­filwe ex­plains.

She was bedrid­den for a month and was even­tu­ally moved to a sin­gle ward. Pontsho was di­ag­nosed with a stage 4 brain tu­mour and by the time it was dis­cov­ered it was too late – there was noth­ing doc­tors could do to help her.

“On the day my mother passed away the nurses say she was eat­ing and she dropped her food on the floor. She fell asleep and never woke up.”

Re­filwe steeled her­self and went for treat­ment. She had her first op­er­a­tion to re­move the lymph nodes a month af­ter she was di­ag­nosed, and three weeks later the lump was re­moved and both her breasts re­con­structed – one breast was big­ger than the other so sur­geons worked their magic to make them even.

“You know the scary thing about go­ing to the­atre is you never know if you’re go­ing to make it out alive or not. I have scars to­day on both my breasts and I look at them and say, ‘God is great be­cause I made it out alive’.”

She also spent seven months un­der­go­ing chemo­ther­apy, which were “the worst months of my life. My com­plex­ion changed and my nails were so dark they were char­coal”. But it was worth it. R EFILWE is cel­e­brat­ing four years of be­ing can­cer-free – but she ad­mits it wouldn’t be the case with­out the wake-up call she re­ceived from one of her doc­tors. While in the throes of chemo, she was de­pressed, los­ing her hair and feel­ing sorry for her­self.

Her doc­tor showed her a pic­ture of a woman who’d been di­ag­nosed with stage 4 breast can­cer and told her this was what awaited her if she didn’t fight it. She had a real chance, she was told.

“I looked at that woman and I felt selfish for feel­ing sorry for my­self be­cause I couldn’t imag­ine what she was go­ing through. The doc­tor then said to me, ‘Re­filwe, it’s up to you now: do you want to fight or do you want to die?’ From then on I just thought about my kids and I found the strength to fight.”

To cel­e­brate life and kick­ing can­cer, she launched the Se­dumedi Hope Foun­da­tion in 2016 to raise aware­ness of the disease and drive home the mes­sage it can be beaten. That same year she joined a group of breast can­cer sur­vivors in walk­ing to Ever­est Base Camp.

She’s also be­come a part-time model af­ter do­ing a pho­to­shoot to show breast can­cer sur­vivors they’re still beau­ti­ful – even with re­con­structed breasts.

Her daily goal now is to ed­u­cate peo­ple and kill the stereo­type of can­cer be­ing a white per­son’s disease. “I’ve re­alised our black com­mu­ni­ties lack knowl­edge about this killer called can­cer. Se­dumedi Hope Foun­da­tion is here to ed­u­cate, em­power, mo­ti­vate and cre­ate aware­ness.”

It’s a scary disease, Re­filwe ad­mits. “But I lived,” she says. And now she wants to help oth­ers live too.

‘I have my God to thank that I sur­vived this evil disease’

Re­filwe Se­dumedi with niece Keamo­getswe (left) and daugh­ter Pontsho. The can­cer sur­vivor says think­ing of her fam­ily helped her fight the disease.

LEFT and RIGHT: Re­filwe climbed to Ever­est Base Camp in the Hi­malayas along with other South African breast can­cer sur­vivors in 2016. Since beat­ing the disease she’s started a foun­da­tion to raise aware­ness of can­cer and has taken part in a cam­paign to fight the myth that breast can­cer sur­vivors can’t be beau­ti­ful.

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