Cancer survivor an inspiration to others

“I REMEMBER the day I was told that I had cancer like it was yesterday, but then again everyone remembers the day that changed their life forever.”

These are the words of Yolanda Bukani, a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2012.

The gloomy journey began in 2007 when she discovered a lump growing under her armpit. Little did she know that five years later her world would be turned upside down.

“In 2012 when I was completing my undergrad degree at Rhodes University I started getting really sick. I had night sweats and my mom was very worried and suggested we seek medical help once again,” said Bukani.

When biopsy tests showed she had lymphoma, it was a shock.

“I don’t even remember how I handled it, except that I was completely numb with fear. It was a very difficult time for my family and I was also very scared because at the time my son was only 11 months old.”

The first time Bukani walked into a chemotherapy room was in March 2012.

“I had heard of chemo before and all the horrible side effects but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw that day.

“I walked into a room filled with people sitting on chairs, strapped to drip stands. They all looked so sad and helpless.”

She said the nurses explained that she would also sit and wait till the medication in her IV was finished before she could leave. “The room reeked of chemicals and it has taken me years to forget that smell.”

She recalled how when she started chemotherapy she used to cry and pray for surgery instead. “Chemo is physically and emotionally draining. I would choose surgery over it.”

Bukani said she needed to fight to stay alive because she wanted her son, Jody, to get a chance to know his mother. “I wanted to celebrate his birthdays and make memories with him.”

The experience has also given her a new perspective on life, adding that she missed walking on the beach.

“Cancer taught me to appreciate the little things, the people I have in my circle and most important, cancer has taught me to live. Life is so short and we waste it worrying about petty things. Next year I am going on my very first international holiday to celebrate my life after cancer.”

The 29-year-old is now a motivational speaker and has registered her own non-profit organisation called the Yolanda Bukani Foundation.

“When I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t know anything about the disease. So we are changing that now by going into the communities, especially the rural areas, educating people about cancer and how to live a healthy life.”

She also helps to raise awareness for the Igazi Foundation and Marrow Masakhane.

According to Igazi Foundation’s board secretary, Cole Cameron, the Marrow Masakhane initiative was born from the need to increase the number of donors and it particularly appeals to black individuals to become bone marrow donors.

“The nation is in desperate need of donors of colour because without them individuals suffering from various leukaemias and blood disorders have a very slim chance of finding a matching donor,” said Cameron.

“As it stands, South Africa is in a crisis of which only 5.8% of donors on the bone marrow registry are black.

“That means of about 68 000 members only about 4 000 of those members are black,” said Cameron.

He said as it stands, the likelihood of an individual getting a match with a donor is relatively low but even more so if the donor is not of the same ethnicity as the recipient.

“The chances of finding a match with someone of the same race as you is 1 in 100 000, however these statistics are brought down to being even lower with an individual who is not of your race being 1 in 500 000,” said Cameron.

Bukani has been in cancer remission for five years and wants to help other survivors by giving them inspiration and hope through her story.

“This will sound very strange but I believe that God brought cancer into my life for a reason, not because he wanted to harm me, but because he wanted to use me,” said Bukani.