“Never give up!”
And five more lessons learnt from breast cancer
khanyisa Ndyoko was 43 when she discovered a small, hard lump in her breast while getting ready one morning. “Coincidentally, I’d learnt about self-examinations just a month earlier at a health seminar at work, and although I wasn’t overly concerned about what I’d found, I’ve always been responsible about my wellbeing, so I made an appointment to see my doctor,” she recalls.
“Going for a mammogram seemed routine, but when I saw the concern on the nurse’s face as she looked at the test screen, anxiety crept up on me. I tried not to think of the worst-case scenario while they did the ultrasound and then the excruciating biopsy, but the nightmarish news came soon after that: I had breast cancer.
“The diagnosis terrified me. Would my beloved children Lukhanyiso, 20, and Lilitha, 11, lose their only parent? To my eternal gratitude, I made it through, thanks to the support of loved ones, colleagues, amazing doctors and prayers. Now cancer-free, it brings me joy to share my story and if I’m able
to encourage just one person, that will mean everything to me.”
1 Don’t lose faith
My first chemo treatment left me feeling nauseous and exhausted. And, as if that wasn’t enough, the lease for my apartment wasn’t renewed. It was winter, I had two kids to take care of and now I was losing the sanctuary where I’d watched them grow up. The rooms echoed with memories of my family and friends, and the special moments we had shared there.
Desperate and weeping, I called my pastor’s wife, and she told me the Biblical story of Job who lost everything and had his faith tested. In that moment I felt like Job, as I faced obstacle after obstacle. Then I realised this was my chance to show God that my faith was bigger than any pain or loss.
I kept praying, and I was rewarded when I found a new home through a friend at church. The three-bedroom house where we now live is perfect for my family and we are making wonderful new memories!
2 Stay strong for others
I was terrified to share the news with my parents. My oldest sister died in an accident in 2005, and my youngest sister passed away exactly a year before my diagnosis. Would this be the straw that finally broke them?
We sat down to talk, and I insisted that, thanks to early detection, I would be fine. In the time that followed, I didn’t allow myself to show my parents or children the extent of my physical and emotional pain, and I discovered something amazing: keeping it together for other people helped me keep it together for myself.
3 You are not your looks
I prayed that I would not lose my hair, but three weeks after the first chemo treatment, my dreadlocks began to fall out. In the grand scheme of things, that loss might have seemed small, but my dreads were my pride and after holding back the tears for so very long, I finally gave in to weeping.
My sister, Fundiswa, took me to the barber to get my head shaved. To my dismay, I didn’t resemble the media star Pabi Moloi! But with time, I learnt to enjoy collecting fabulous headscarves and to keep a red lipstick on hand, so I could retain some glamour in my life. More importantly, I saw that we are all so much more than how we look.
4 Listen to your body
I’m a very active person, so it was tough to lie in bed, to sleep and to do nothing, but that was what my body needed, and I listened, whether that meant resting, eating properly or exercising the right way. As a result, I was very lucky as I didn’t experience side effects to the extent that I’d feared.
5 You are not alone
My mother, Nobanzi, sister, Fundiswa, and brother, Simphiwe, were there for my first chemo session, and Fundiswa came to every single treatment after that. She also offered whatever I needed, from making sure my kids were OK andcooking for us when I could barely lift my arms to giving me regular pep talks.
Then there were the emails from my colleagues and the calls from my pastor. At first, pain made me feel isolated, but I soon realised I was not alone at all.
6 You have a unique purpose in the world
Two years since my diagnosis, I’m thankful to be healthy and alive. More than that, I believe that I was saved for a purpose. I can inspire other women by showing them that breast cancer is not a death sentence. My belief in this divine plan is even stronger thanks to another great connection: at the time when I fell ill I was a representative for Avon, a company which is known for its breast cancer awareness drives. Now, that very company is giving me a platform to share my story. Whatever your struggle, it can be overcome!
“Whatever your struggle, it can be overcome.”