One in four South Africans will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, according to statistics from the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa). Furthermore, over 100 000 South Africans receive a cancer diagnosis annually. However, a cancer diagnosis is not necessarily the end and many survive the disease to live a full life.
Health For Mzansi spoke to Khuselwa Selana from eXesi in the Eastern Cape, who has been living with colon cancer since 2019.
Selana’s diagnosis came after she had been experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding and persistent fatigue.
“I informed older people back home that I was facing persistent challenges, and many of them believed that it might be related to traditional practices.”
Selana recalls visiting a private doctor who subsequently referred her to a clinic. At the clinic, they conducted some medical tests, including a pap smear.
Afterwards, the clinic transferred her to Cecilia Makhiwane Hospital for additional testing, where she underwent a CT scan, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and radiation tests.
The next day, she had a terrible experience where her stool was passing through her vagina in a watery form. “I reported the unusual challenge and was informed that it was a vaginal fistula. Later, I was informed that I have vaginal cancer.”
It was eventually discovered that the vaginal diagnosis was incorrect and that she was actually suffering from colon cancer.
Selani tells Health for Mzansi that she had noticed a hole between her anus and vagina, and was informed that it is a rectovaginal fistula.
“I was told that my tissues are deteriorating, which is the reason behind my recent health issues.”
Living with a colostomy bag
Selana says her body could no longer function properly on its own, and she was subsequently fitted with a colostomy bag. She uses it to support her bowel function.
A colostomy bag is a medical device attached to the stomach, which is used to collect waste from the opening in the large intestine.
A lot has changed since she had to alter her lifestyle, and she had to cut out some foods.
If you have a colostomy or ileostomy, you may experience a lack of control over the movement of stool and gas into the pouch. The quantity of stool and gas that enters the pouch will differ depending on the type of ostomy and the food you consume.
“I have eliminated foods such as beans, spinach, cabbage, milk and spicy foods from my diet as they are known to commonly cause gas and diarrhoea.”
Selana struggles to be in crowded spaces or areas with poor ventilation. She avoids these places simply because she wants to avoid anyone who might detect any odours due to the challenges of living with a colostomy bag.
She lives independently in Gqeberha and works as a private taxi driver. Like everyone else, she plans her day. It is important for her to prioritise her hygiene, due to living with a colostomy.
Living with cancer can be complicated, Selana explains, because one never knows when the condition may worsen. She was informed that the duration of her use of the colostomy bag could vary from up to 10 years.
Selana says the cancer went into a dormant state following the treatment. She undergoes a check-up every six months as she was informed that the cancer has become dormant, meaning that it is still present but not growing.
“I can say that I am cancer-free, until cancer demonstrates otherwise.”
Do you want more information on how to manage cancer?
Cansa is committed to connecting people facing cancer with information, day-to-day help as well as emotional support they need in the communities where they live. their aim is to ensure that cancer Survivors and their loved ones don’t have to face cancer alone.
Cansa suggests making every meal a smart choice. By adapting to these choices, you can improve your overall health:
- Choose whole grains and starchy vegetables.
- Fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables.
- Reduce intake of red meat. Try to include fish twice a week.
- Opt for nuts, avocado and vegetable fats/oils such as canola seed and olive oil.
- Try to include these in dishes at least once or twice a week. Opt for at least one vegetarian main meal each week, including legumes, pulses and soya.
- Reduce your intake of added sugars and processed foods.
Get the Health For Mzansi newsletter: Your bi-weekly dose of kasi health, wellness and self-care inspiration.