‘A positive attitude was my weapon against cancer attacks’

IRENE SEME

A middle-aged Mosotho woman who survived four types of cancer in her late 20s says she believes she survived because of the positive attitude she had even when doctors had already told her she could only live up to six months if not treated immediately. The now baldhead Mabohlokoa Pekane, in her early 30s, says some think she cut her hair willingly, little do they know that she battled cancer for almost four years and it began with continuous bleeding, while she was already confirmed three weeks pregnant.

Thinking it was a miscarriage, she saw a doctor for check-up where she was reconfirmed pregnant after some tests and was told it is normal to bleed while in the first trimester. However, Mabohlokoa says the bleeding continued at an alarming rate and, before she could revisit the doctor, she began to drastically lose weight and she fainted.

She says she took it lightly thinking it was low blood pressure which she sometimes struggled with. When she was finally taken to a doctor, she was told the embryo was still there although this time there was no heart beat. Surprisingly the doctor discovered the embryo was growing faster than normal so he conducted further tests and had to clean her womb and referred her to Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) for thorough tests.

It was then discovered that Mabohlokoa was battling a rare type of cancer called Molar pregnancy or Choriocarcimoma which is described as a non-cancerous tumor that develops in the uterus as a result of a non-viable pregnancy. Explaining what the doctor told her, she smiles a little trying to stop tears from running down her cheeks. She said: “The doctors told me that during the development of the fetus, the natural process of having a baby stops and turns into cancer. It becomes a piece of flesh that keeps growing in the womb.”

Even after her treatment at MMH, the bleeding continued and this time she began to lose weight and while coughing she would see some blood droplets and thought it was tuberculosis (TB). Subsequent to a number of tests including TB and HIV which came out negative, she was told that she now has cancer in the cervix and lungs and was warned that lung cancer spreads fast to other parts of the body.

“I was then referred to Bloemfontein and I was told that I would not be released as the type of cancer I had was a deadly type,” she says. “Since I was told that lung cancer spreads fast, in Bloemfontein they discovered that it had spread to the spine and the brain.” It was then that Mabohlokoa was told that she had four different types of cancer which are cervix, lungs, spine and the brain cancer. The doctors then told her they could not release her from the hospital otherwise she would only have six months to live if not treated immediately. Nonetheless, the death notice meant nothing to the bold Mabohlokoa as she says in conversation with herself she rebuked death and declared more years of healthy living.

“The moment I was told I would die, I thought of my son and husband. I thought of how the trauma of losing a wife and raising the child alone would be like for him, and how he would cope with his stressful job and how my son cope without a mother because he was about 2 or 3 years then,” she recalls. “It’s surprising how I never thought of myself but my family only. Honestly being diagnosed with cancer was a nightmare for me because I have always been cautious of what I eat and I made sure that I maintained a healthy lifestyle.”

Mabohlokoa says despite the doctors telling her bluntly that she would die, they calmed her fears and told her that she can defeat cancer with treatment and that it is not as deadly as it is said. With a bold face and a big smile Mabohlokoa says: “I think I was saved more by my positive attitude that I would not die of cancer and my belief in God because I said to myself ‘if God decided that I would have cancer then it is for a good reason and indeed it is, I am a living testimony that cancer is curable. I am cancer-free today.” She says the unwavering support she had from her husband, her relatives and friends also kept her positive as they would often ask how she is coping and if she needed any assistance.

Of all people, Mabohlokoa says her mother was more broken than anyone else as she would cry everyday wondering why her daughter would have to go through such pain. She says her husband was keeping strong for her sake and that of their son. “At the time I was in hospital before I lost my memory, I was told that my son would ask where I am and how I was, would I die or live,” she says in a sobbing voice.

Mabohlokoa says it is due to treatment that she lost hair and her memory at some point. “Most people think cancer is a death sentence but I never took it so. I told myself that if I die I would have fought, I would not just give up so that when I say my body cannot take it anymore I would have fought.” “The treatment I used led to memory, eye sight and hair loss. There was a point where I felt like I was hallucinating and I could not recognise people and differentiate who is who. “I am told that the other time I was asking who my husband was,” she says as she bursts out laughing and adds: “Imagine asking your spouse who they are.” Fortunately, Mabohlokoa’s body responded well to treatment despite the said loss she went through.

Four years later she is free and has been released and her constant check-up visits to the hospital in Bloemfontein came to an end. She is finally free and has gained her memory and eyesight except full recovery of hair growth. Mabohlokoa says that day when she was coming back home she felt God has a purpose with her and saw His mercy for giving her second chance of life. “Presently I live my life for a purpose, I am thankful for the second chance in life and I have changed a lot of my negative habits such as procrastinating and not having enough time to sleep,” she says in a flat voice.

To her she says living with a purpose now means making a difference in other people’s lives and amongst various businesses she does for a living, she has a non-profit organisation called Youth Volunteers Network (YOVONET) that has in it some juvenile programmes to assist them with to live a positive and more meaningful life. Mabohlokoa says another main focus of YOVONET is for her to raise cancer awareness and advice to people anywhere.

“It is about time that people stop worrying about death when told that they have a chronic illness. I think I have assisted a number of people by giving them hope because they saw me battling cancer and now I am well and alive,” she adds. To people who are currently battling cancer and those who are taking care of cancer patients, Mabohlokoa says: “Cancer is curable and is not a death sentence. Your attitude towards dealing with it is the one that will make or break you.”

“My advice is simple: Keep a healthy lifestyle by avoiding processed food and eat fresh vegetable, fruits and nuts. Have a positive attitude, rest when need be and surround yourself with people who give you a positive feeling,” she adds softly. Mabohlokoa says she wants to be remembered as a peace keeper, someone who puts others first and makes them happy. She also wants to be remembered for being the hard worker that she is – a woman who does not fear challenges and loves beautiful things such as looking smart and beautiful.

Above all, she says she wants to be remembered as someone who loves God and her country Lesotho. Speaking about fond memories of her youth, Mabohlokoa says she has always loved cooking and while young used to take her mother’s groceries to go and cook with her mates. “I would tell my mates not to bring anything to cook while we play ‘Mantloane’, and the other day I took too many groceries from my home and my father lashed at me until I rescued myself by hiding under the bed where he could not reach me,” she laughs.

 

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