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Oct 13
Health Systems Trust breast cancer survivors share inspirational stories

By: Lunga Memela (HST Communications Engagement Lead)

HST breast cancer survivors, Hlengiwe Madonsela and Sne Khuzwayo

October is commemorated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month in South Africa and globally as Pink Month – a time when most organisations, civil society movements and religious groups will be seen wearing pink ribbons to raise awareness and encourage citizens to get screened for early detection of breast cancer and as a preventative measure.  

The Health Systems Trust (HST) has two phenomenal breast cancer survivors, Hlengiwe Madonsela and Sinenhlanhla 'Sne' Khuzwayo, whose remarkable road to recovery raises much-needed awareness about the condition being real, severe but also preventable and beatable. They are activists of timeous and accurate information-sharing about breast cancer amongst their families, peers and the communities in which they operate.

Hlengiwe's story

A compassionate Psycho-social Advisor who joined HST in September 2018, Hlengiwe's story was featured in an HST blog article, capturing the hearts of many and reminding women, and men, that breast cancer can be beaten.

Hlengiwe said could have never imaged that one day she would get diagnosed with breast cancer in addition to other chronic illnesses. It was in May 2019 when the doctor confirmed the news after she had done a self-check and discovered a lump in her breast. The healing process, which led her to undergoing chemotherapy and a mastectomy, was not easy. She stressed that early detection is key, and that having a good support system at home and at work really goes a long way.

"The clinics do teach women's health – nurses hold health talks, there are posters on the walls etcetera, so it's important that we continue raising awareness to avoid ignorance and promote prevention," Hlengiwe says.

She said she finds reward in actively encouraging women, especially at church, to go for check-ups at the clinic and that she also teaches them how to self-examine themselves, as it is one practice that helped her to be diagnosed at an early stage. "I also teach people that cancer is not a death sentence as they presume because of a lack of knowledge."

Hlengiwe said, without a doubt, dealing with cancer is tough, "but I am stronger mentally, physically and spiritually. Healing is a process that takes a long time, however, I have to give myself that time, appreciate me that I am fighter, accept me with all my scars."

Sne's story

HST's HIV/AIDS, TB and STI (HAST) Technical Advisor, Sne's ordeal began in 1997 when she first experienced a sharp pain that stabbed through her right breast. The on-and-off sensation lasted for about two weeks. "Initially I thought it was pre-menstrual pains but when it persisted, I suspected and even verbalised it that 'I hoped it is not cancer.' A few days later, I woke up with my pyjamas stained by a discharge from my nipple and that was it, I knew then and there that something was VERY WRONG! Luckily I'm the type that listens to my body and 'acts fast' ALL the time. I did not go to work on that day but went straight to the doctor."

It was not the mammogram, but the ultrasound that detected Sne's breast cancer. Three weeks later she was in hospital for her first mastectomy, which is breast cancer surgery that removes the entire breast. Lo and behold, 10 years later, Sne felt a lump deep in her right armpit (the same side that had the cancer the first time). A biopsy of that lump confirmed the cancer – yet again! "A week later, I had an operation to remove all the glands on that armpit."

After much chemotherapy and radiation, and when her body was strong enough in 2009, Sne asked her doctors to remove the other breast. "To everybody's surprise, that 'healthy-looking breast' had already started developing abnormal growths... the X-ray images scared me. This was yet another very difficult decision, but I had to do it, to give myself a chance in life."

Sne is actively involved with Johannesburg-based Breast Health Foundation projects and activities, mainly telephonically. She volunteers her resources to the Cancer association of South Africa and is also known as the "go-to" person for anybody who needs their relative, friend, colleague or themselves spoken to. "I do not confine myself to breast cancer, but I will counsel for all types of cancers," she said.

A way forward

HST urges all women, and men, to regularly inspect their breasts for any lumps as they are a common symptom for the onset of beach caner. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that while breast cancer is most often found in women, but men can get breast cancer too. Reach out for help via the professional channels referenced below.


Email, Phone or WhatsApp CANSA


Help Desk: 0800 22 66 22 (toll free)

WhatsApp: 072 197 9305 (English and Afrikaans)

WhatsApp: 071 867 3530 (isiXhosa, isiZulu, siSwati, Sesotho and Setswana)

Visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation's website:

Helen Joseph Breast Care Clinic Phone:

Phone: 011 489 0130



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