Survivors share how they triumphed over cancer
For almost all her life, registered Cape Town nurse Ntuthu Sonjica dedicated herself to helping and serving others. Now, at the age of 61, she still hasn’t lost her passion to serve and, despite her age putting her at risk for Covid-19 complications, she remains active as a vaccinator in her community.
But her own personal journey hasn’t always been easy. For a few months in 2019 she had to take a break from her duties after she was diagnosed with lymphoma – a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is the body’s disease fighting network. Symptoms include enlarged lymph nodes, fatigue and weight loss.
On Wednesday, International Cancer Survivors Day, Sonjica, who has no family history of cancer, spoke about her journey with the dreaded disease to encourage other people that cancer can be beaten.
It was in January 2019 that she fell very ill and had to be admitted in hospital. She was later diagnosed with cancer, and her doctors at Groote Schuur Hospital recommended chemotherapy, which she confesses that she initially refused. She stayed in the hospital’s oncology ward for three months.
“I did not want to get chemotherapy because I know it can either make me sicker or it can make me healthy. I was totally against it. But the oncologist had a chat with me while my son was at the hospital and he advised me to take the chance so that I can still be there for my son. I then decided to take chemotherapy thanks to the advice from the doctor. When I look back that is what saved my life.”
Seven months after her first chemotherapy treatment, Sonjica has now been cleared of cancer.
According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), cancer affects one in four South Africans, through diagnosis of family, friends, colleagues, or self.
Getting cancer diagnoses can be a shock and coping with the tests and treatment is hard. The first goal of cancer treatment is to cure the cancer, and many survive it. When it is not possible to cure it, then the goal is to help you cope with having advanced cancer, to prevent it from spreading and to limit your symptoms.
Another Cape Town mother who has walked the cancer journey is Fatima Meyer, 24, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2019. After she was referred from a Mitchell’s Plain health facility, Meyer was later admitted to Groote Schuur Hospital where she had surgery to remove the tumour in her ovaries.
“It all started with pain in the abdomen,” she said.
Being diagnosed with cancer at a young age and with a young child, aged 4, made her journey even more difficult. She has been in remission from cancer since late 2020. Remission means that the signs and symptoms of your cancer are reduced. If you remain in complete remission for five years or more, some doctors may say that you are cured.
One thing that both Sonjica and Meyer have in common is their spiritual faith and the support of their loved ones.
“Getting support from family and making them understand what you are going through when you walk this journey with cancer is important so that they can support you where possible. Cancer starts in the mind, especially when you get diagnosed. Don’t give up. Focus on your inner self and shut out the noise that is around you,” said Sonjica.
Tips on what to do when you are diagnosed with cancer and going through treatment:
- Seek healthcare if you experience troublesome treatment side effects.
- Meet with your healthcare worker to plan for your treatment and to choose what care you would like if you become too unwell to decide.
- If your cancer spreads and a cure is no longer possible, ask for palliative care to help you and your family cope with the symptoms and stress of having advanced cancer.