She thought her life was ending after she was diagnosed with stage 3 bone cancer. "But when I started my first cycle of chemotherapy [she underwent 18], I realised there was no turning back," says Nomsa Tshingowe.
Today, Tshingowe is a 27-year-old social worker who wants to share her cancer journey and help raise awareness.
A life-changing diagnosis
“I think the symptoms had always been there, but I wasn't aware that it might be something serious until I moved from Ha-Mulima to Sekhukhune, where I currently live,” she says. Her symptoms worsened over time. "My right knee was swollen – it was incredibly painful and I couldn’t walk. My symptoms seemed to be triggered by cold weather."
This went on for a year – Tshingowe’s treatment consisted of pain medication from the local clinic. But she couldn’t continue like this. “In 2014, I demanded a referral to the hospital."
She finally had a biopsy on 5 September 2014. “In October, at the age of 23, I was diagnosed with stage 3 osteosarcoma cancer. I thought my life was ending.”
It was a terrifying time for Tshingowe. “I was young; I had just got a permanent job. I did not understand how a young person could have cancer,” she says. “My life came to a standstill. I had to deal with chemotherapy treatment and surgery; the after effects were the worst. I remember asking the doctor to stop giving me the treatment; I just wanted him to end my suffering.”
But she didn’t give up and says her family was incredibly supportive. “They were always there by my side – seeing them beside my hospital bed gave me courage to fight even more. I had highly skilled doctors, supportive friends and colleagues.”
Losing her leg
Tshingowe endured endless blood transfusions, blood tests, scans and pain all over her body during treatment. On 27 April 2015 she had her last surgery – a total knee replacement where doctors removed her right leg and gave her a prosthesis.
“I remember coming out of theatre," she says. "I couldn't move, I couldn't feel my leg and cried uncontrollably. I had to use a walking stick and other walking support devices for months.”
“The day you were diagnosed with cancer, that’s the day you won your first battle," says Tshingowe. "And chemotherapy? That's just another battle. Instead of getting angry or sad, use the energy to document your journey for other survivors –every survivor is the inspiration to the other survivor. I am here because of well documented cancer journeys of other people.
"Even when cancer stripped me to zero, it couldn't take away my voice and my courage to fight. I came out a stronger person than I was before.”
What she’s doing today
In 2016, she decided to start creating awareness around cancer.
“I created Cancer 0 Thirty 5 Awareness when I realised there is a lack of cancer knowledge, especially in our black communities. It is aimed at promoting cancer education and awareness. The main targets are children and youth in Limpopo and the mission is to provide support to children and youth cancer survivors and their families so that they can also enjoy quality life.”
Tshingowe is currently doing her Masters in Public Health at the University of Limpopo.
Image credit: Supplied