As Breast Cancer Awareness Month continues, Mmegi Staffer, BABOKI KAYAWE speaks to a 45-year-old nurse who knows the cruelty of the disease only too well
“My boobs were my pride. They were very lovely and beautiful. Then I thought why should I be pretty and dead with boobs when my wish to see my children well taken care of is unfulfilled?”
Forty-five-year-old, Mpho Kgaodi is a double mastectomy patient. She is also a professional nurse who until recently was ignorant about cancer.
The mother of three sons had an illustrious nursing career that took her from patients’ wards in Nyangabgwe Referral Hospital to Letsholathebe Memorial Hospital and Athlone Hospital before she traded her expertise to the emergency medical services’ front.
But trouble was never far away.
“It started back in 2012 when I felt a lump in my right breast and the doctor sent me for a biopsy. When the results came out within a week, I was told I had breast cancer.”
Her immediate response was to ask her doctor to have the entire breast removed.
“The results from the labs had shown that the cancer was still at an initial stage, but it was about to go to the muscle. I didn’t want it to spread and I decided I would rather have one breast than have my purpose in life cut short by breast cancer,” she says.
Kgaodi began chemotherapy, a process she describes as excruciating, but one she was determined to see through until the very end.
“I was prepared to live with one breast, with no hair and with dark, black nails as I have children to raise,” she says of the after-effects of the treatment.
But that was not all.
In 2013, she started feeling a nerve-wrecking pain in her left breast. Kgaodi would stay awake the whole night as the pain pierced through her like a poisoned arrow.
Her husband, whose support she is ever grateful for, helped her perform the palpation test. This time around there was no lump but appointing with the doctor quickly, saved this cheerful woman.
She says: “I wanted the doctor to remove the left breast immediately. People thought I wanted to do it for cosmetic reasons and have an evenly flat chest. However, as I had suspected, the test results confirmed that the cancer had spread to the other breast”.
Her oncologist did not want her to undergo chemotherapy this time around, but after insisting on a second opinion, she was prescribed the treatment.
Kgaodi made interesting discoveries in her fight to beat the disease, one of which was the realisation that the country has a severe shortage of oncology experts and services that promote screening and early detection of any kind of cancer in the country.
“I have been a nurse since I was 18-years-old, but it is only recently that I noted these gaps. I guess it really has to happen to you for you to note this.”
Kgaodi is now on Tamoxifen, a pill used to treat breast cancer. Initially she was put on the medication for five years, but the duration has been extended to 10.
The medication is used to avoid the recurrence of the cancer.
“I am taking these tablets for 10 years everyday for a decade. My family is very supportive. It is not easy living with cancer. There are days when I wake up feeling very down, with pains and very tired.
“The fact that we never hide anything from the children has helped a great deal as they usually massage my feet when I am not feeling well. My elder son often jokes about it saying no one has boobs anymore in this house.”
Kgaodi says prior to her diagnosis, like many Batswana, she paid little attention to exercise and consumed alcohol moderately. She was never a smoker nor was she ever exposed to second-hand smoking and neither does her family have a history of cancer.
“It just happened to me. I don’t think I am cursed and I don’t think breast cancer will kill me. I feel very blessed. I have never been closer to God as now,” says the faith-filled woman.
According to Kgaodi, the best way to fight the disease is to stay positive, hopeful and invest in things that promote a healthy lifestyle. As a full time mother, she now has ample time to swim. She also has plenty of time to rest, and though she has reduced her alcohol consumption rate, she occasionally takes a glass of wine as her doctor is not against that.
“Try by all means to cut negative friends and environments. In this journey, I have lost so much. I have lost friends and I have lost a job.”
Recounting how she ended up jobless, Kgaodi says when she went for her second mastectomy, her employer brought in letters asking her to voluntarily exit the job.
“Imagine if an employer who is supposed to be knowledgeable about such issues could do that at such a critical time? What about other employers out there? What happens if this experience happens to someone who isn’t strong enough?”
“I refuse to give up this fight. I know I have a purpose in life – a God-given task to raise my children, and there is no way I am going to be defeated. In each person there is a fighter, and it is in times when the challenge is taken to another level that we must take into our strengths.”
As emotional as her story is, the cheerful, radiant, ever-smiling warrior adds even more impact as she moves her blouse to reveal the scars that gave her life.
“Many of us are walking around breastless my sister,” she giggles. “These mastectomy bras are great. When I have them, no one recognises my scars. My pride has been lost to breast cancer.”