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.

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