Hugh Masekela on gearing up to fight cancer
Hugh Masekela opens up about his cancer battle, and why he’s going to tackle it with everything he’s got
HE DOESN’T sound like a sick man. Instead he has that usual bubbliness and is full of life, the man South Africans know and love. But truth be told he isn’t 100% healthy – cancer has taken hold in his body and he’s had to slow down to beat the dreaded disease.
Legendary jazz musician Hugh Masekela isn’t panicked about his diagnosis though. In fact, the flugelhorn player sounds quite upbeat when DRUM catches up with him a few weeks after an emergency operation on a tumour.
“I’m battling prostate cancer and my cells are going haywire and spreading,” he says when we ask to chat to him. At first he wasn’t up to it but then changed his mind. “You know what? The funny thing is I’m feeling better today, and that’s why I can talk to you.”
The cancer has affected upcoming appointments. Bra Hugh has cancelled high-profile gigs to attend to his health.
He’s been receiving treatments for prostate cancer since 2008 when doctors discovered a small “speck” on his bladder. Although the treatment appeared to be successful, the cancer came back in 2016 and he had to undergo surgery in March of that year as it had spread.
Then things took a turn for the worse. “In April 2017 while in Morocco I fell and sprained my shoulder,” he told fans when he announced cancellations of upcoming appearances. “I began to feel an imbalance when I was walking and my left eye was troubling me.
“Another tumour was discovered and subsequently, in September 2017, I had emergency treatment, and the tumour was neutralised.”
Bra Hugh spoke to DRUM a few days before sharing his news with the world. He wants to rest for a bit, he tells us. “I’ve been feeling down the past few days but today I feel good. And you can hear that. Maybe it’s your
‘I urge all men to have regular tests to check your own condition’
call that makes me feel better,” he says with a laugh. “But, honestly, I woke up feeling much better today.”
ALTHOUGH he has up days, there are down ones too. And he needs to focus on his health, which is why he postponed a collaboration with rapper Riky Rick after the operation on his eye. More recently he cancelled his appearance at the recent DStv Delicious International Food & Music Festival. It’s because the cancer cells were spreading through his body, Bra Hugh explains.
So important is his need to focus on getting better, he’s even cancelled his performance at an event bearing his own name. He says he won’t be performing at the Hugh Masekela Heritage Festival at the Soweto Cricket Oval next month. “If I’m feeling better I’ll perform as a sup- porting act to Oliver Mtukudzi,” he says.
The show, however, will go on because the renowned musician has been surrounded by well-wishers and loved ones.
“It’s a tough battle but I have the support of my family, friends and fans who have been supporting my musical journey, which remains the greatest source of my inspiration.”
He won’t give up without a fight and urges all men to get checked for prostate cancer. One in 19 men in SA will get it, according to the 2012 National Cancer Registry. But if it’s detected early patients have a survival rate of about 98%.
He knows the importance of getting checked – and the consequences of not doing so. Bra Hugh lost his dear friend Alf Kumalo, to prostate cancer in 2012. The iconic photographer was 82.
“I urge all men to have regular tests to check your own condition,” Bra Hugh says. “Ask questions, demand answers and learn everything you can about this cancer, and tell others to do the same.”
He’s “in a good space” as he fights the cancer, he says. And he still has a lot of fight left in him. “I am feeling a bit tired. But I need to be positive and not let this disease pull me down.”
Bra Hugh Masekela has been battling prostrate cancer off and on since 2008, but hasn’t let it get him down.