After suffering with painful colon cancer for nearly five years, 59-year-old Maki Makunyane-Moela of Alexandra township has been diagnosed free of the disease and is now on a mission to spread awareness that a cancer diagnosis is not always a death sentence.

Makunyane-Moela has plans to establish a support group for cancer sufferers, helping them to overcome stigma and believe that they can be healed.

“People used to think I was bewitched or HIV positive. I was dark as my skin colour had changed. I was vomiting a lot and had lost weight. My diarrhea was unbearable and the pain was excruciating,” she said.

Makunyane-Moela said when she first sought medical attention for pain she was experiencing, she was admitted to Bophelong Hospital in the North West Province. She underwent tests and as told she was in the early stages of colon cancer.

“One of the doctors at first had said it was menopause,” she recalled, adding that misdiagnoses were common and could lead people to take the wrong treatment. Through her support group, she plans to invite experts to educate people on different forms of cancer and the symptoms. She also wants to offer patients a safe space to comfort one another.

“I’m grateful to Bophelong Hospital. After they told me I had cancer they encouraged me to take treatment immediately and I did. I went for chemotherapy at Charlotte Maxeke (Academic Hospital) and it was very successful. I want to tell people that it’s better to go through the pain for a while than to suffer the rest of your life,” Makunyane-Moela said.

Cancer education

She said veteran actress, Lilian Dube, also a cancer survivor, was her inspiration. Lucy Balona from the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) said the idea of a cancer support group in the community was great, because cancer was fairly common.

“Education about ways to lower the cancer risk is important as cancer affects everybody, no matter what age or race.  And what is key, is that early detection of cancer is extremely important as this increases the treatment options and also helps with recovery.  Many survivors go on to live many years, so being diagnosed with cancer doesn’t necessarily mean a death sentence,” she said.