Stories of “fighting the good fight,” in terms of health issues, do not usually have happy endings. For 15 years, Bontle Modige, has wrestled with and overpowered a disease that threatened her life, making her one of a niche group of survivors. She speaks to Mmegi Correspondent, NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE
At first she felt a slight pain in her throat. She dismissed it as the usual tonsil infection, which often afflicted her.
The pain worsened, especially during winter and on cold days.
At the tender age of 14, Bontle Modige was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer. Now 29, Modige is a very beautiful and healthy young woman who loves life and is very keen on educating people about cancer.
“I had cancer for more than 15 years now. I was diagnosed with it in 2000 and started treatment the following year,” she says.
The rare nasopharyngeal cancer affects nostrils and the oesophagus, making swallowing and breathing difficult. Modige says it does not spare the neck and head as well.
She underwent an operation and was later put on chemotherapy.
“Chemo is the most painful treatment of them all. I had sores and couldn’t eat or swallow. I stayed in hospital for about one and half years. I spent three months in hospital and would be given a week off to get fresh air at home. After a week I would be taken back to hospital for another three months, and then get another week off.
“That happened for the whole year of the treatment period,” she tells Mmegi.
She had radiation treatment for six months but due to complications she returned to chemotherapy. The treatment period affected her studies.
“In Form 1, I only registered and spent all of the first term in a hospital bed. At that time, some people gave up on me.
They thought I was going to die. I just went to school to show them that I was still their student but I was very sick,” she reflects.
She says chemotherapy affected her hearing and, in addition to her illness and absence from school, she failed her junior certificate examinations.
“Fortunately I was sponsored by the Reach for a Dream Association which is now called Hope,” she says.
“They sponsored me with tuition fees. I re-wrote my junior certificate examinations in a private school. I also acquired my Cambridge (BGCSE) at Livingstone Kolobeng College with the organisation paying my school fees.”
Modige, who is also a Cancer Association of Botswana (CAB) employee, says she chose to work with cancer patients so that they could get inspiration from a cancer survivor.
“I want to inform people that there is life after cancer. Cancer is like any other disease. It is up to a person to figure out how she or he sees it. Do not take it as
We cannot ignore it because it is a reality.
“It is high time young people learn more about this disease and change their lives. They should quit smoking and abusing alcohol,” she says.
She urges the youth to learn more about cancer and urges them to have regular check ups as cancer can be painless even when it is in a crucial state.
“Don’t wait until the disease is uncontrollable,” she cautions.
Modige says she was able to beat cancer with the love and support of her family, especially her mother.
“My mum bathed me, took me to the toilet and even patiently fed me. I was too weak to do anything. Lifting my hand was a burden. I could not afford to do anything for myself,” she says. Modige says that even though her family did not how to take care of a cancer patient, they worked hard to learn about the disease and how to take care of her.
“My family also learnt that they had to feed me even though I threw up. They were told that I had to eat no matter what, as I needed strength,” she says.
She relates how her siblings were afraid of her as they thought she was going to die. She had severely lost weight.
“My younger brother was the only one who did not seem to have a problem with me as he did not understand what was going on with me. My uncle would cry whenever he visited us,” she recalls.
Even today, she still has to go for check ups two or three times a year to ensure that she does not have infections and that the cancer has not come back.
The brave girl now has a special man in her life who understands her and supports her. He always accompanies her for check ups.
“I am also happy that we go to church together and do not drink or smoke,” Modige says.
Thus far, she has not suffered a remission and is now the proud mother of a baby girl, living life to the fullest.
“All I can tell other people living with cancer is that we come across different challenges for a reason.
Those challenges or obstacles are not meant to break us but they are here to keep us strong and motivate us to work harder.
“Cancer is the beginning of another type of life. All you have to do is to have hope and live under God’s guidance,” she adds.