Going to university as a young black woman from a disadvantaged rural area in Africa is sort of a miracle. For me, it was not just about going to university. It was the fact that I was going to the university of my dreams. And to study for a bachelor’s degree of my choice.
Walking through the gates of Rhodes University and into the pharmaceutical lecture theatre’s was exhilarating more than it was frightening for me. I was ready to take up space and claim my power from the hands of poverty. An experience that almost felt surreal, not only to me but to my family too.
From Chem 101 to Pharmacology 4, I still can’t figure out how I made it through. Looking back on it now feels like it went by in a blink of an eye. However, during the journey, the obstacles and pitfalls, what I had to put up with seemed insurmountable. The biggest of them being diagnosed with cancer and having to battle with it for the duration of my undergraduate studies.
For over a year, I suffered from excruciating pains, heart and breathing problems in complete oblivion. Not only did I not know what was wrong with me. But physicians couldn’t see past my pains and occasional fainting spells. It was in that state of uncertainty and confusion that I experienced my first depression and series of panic attacks. However, having just started university (which I believed was my only path to escape poverty). I vowed to myself that as long as I could breathe, I was going to stay in school and see how everything unravelled. So I did, but in time, things went south. My health deteriorated with each heartbeat. At the same time, my grades dropped below average. And ultimately below the pass rate.
With every vital check, blood test and x-ray in each hospital visited, I was told that I was okay. And that I should stop faking sickness to get a leave-of-absence note. So I stopped going to the hospital for a while. Instead I stayed in my room, endured the pains in silence, and in one of those days, I just felt the urge to google my signs and symptoms (even though I was warned many times by many people that it was a bad idea). I did the research, starting from the excruciating pains that had overtaken my entire left leg. I also noted the pelvic pains, the difficulty breathing and the chest pains.
After about six months of persistent symptoms, I started to notice the changes in my mobility, and the area below. As well as around my pelvis which started to harden like a rock. The last symptom slowly led to difficulties in sitting and even sleeping.
As I continued my research, I learned of the term “tumor”, but even so my mind was far from thinking that it could be malignant. As the tumor started to grow rapidly and extensively, I started losing consciousness and ended up admitted to the local hospital several times. And with the little information I had, I happened to meet a lady doctor in one of my admissions and she was friendly enough for me to find it easy to explain to her everything about my signs and symptoms.
I remember vividly saying to her, “do you think it could be a tumor?” and it was at that moment where I knew from the look on her face that it was a high possibility that I could have cancer in my body. The doctor immediately filled in a referral to a tertiary hospital in a different city where I began doing more tests such as MRI, CT scans, and biopsys.
It was then that exactly after 12 months of agonizing pain and depression. I was diagnosed with Soft Tissue Sarcoma. Which is a type of cancer that begins in the muscles, fat, fibrous tissue, blood vessels or other supporting tissue in the body. And thus in the middle of what was meant to be a joyful time for me. I began my journey of cancer treatment and care.