Cancer and Tobacco Control Multimedia Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)

Behind Her Smile

Written by Fathima Simjee

This week on Special Assignment, Health-e follows a single mother and her battle against breast cancer. Wednesday at 9:30PM on SABC 3.


Nozipho Mgoma


In a non-descript face brick house in Kagiso, an extraordinary battle is being waged against impossible odds. A 38-year-old single mother, Nozipho Mgoma is fighting for her life.   Her body is swollen and sluggish.   On her bedside table are a handful of pills that might, momentarily, dull the excruciatingly pain shooting through every cell in her being. But, just reaching for them requires all of her willpower.

‘€œStruggling. Struggling. It’€™s not nice this disease. It’€™s not nice at all. Every day. Some days are worst that this. Some days when I stand up and try to do something I just collapse in the kitchen. They will have to come and take me and put me back in bed.’€

Two years ago Nozipho was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had seen several doctors and gone to countless clinics to find out why she had been feeling ill and was in severe pain, but was always sent home with run of the mill painkillers and no answers. It was only when she collapsed on her way to work that further tests were done. By the time her cancer was discovered, it had already spread to her brain, spine, liver and kidneys.

‘€œYou get pain, especially when it has spread this far. You get pains every day. You know, sometimes you don’€™t feel like talking, you know. You are just tired. You get angry at other people. If someone tries to do something for you, you just feel like a burden.’€

In South Africa, 1 in 29 women will get the disease during their life times. The American Cancer Society believes that the number of cancer-related deaths in Africa will double by 2030.   If diagnosed early, breast cancer can be successfully treated. But, if you are poor and reliant on the public health system, it can be a death sentence.

For people like Nozipho, ignorance and a lack of regular check-ups allowed her cancer to go undetected, until it was too late.   Now, every day she lives is precious. It is a day longer with her nine-year old daughter, Gugulethu.

‘€œI am scared. Maybe if I didn’€™t have child, I wouldn’€™t be scared. But, because I have a child, I’€™m scared. No one is going to love my child like I love her.

I tell her, ‘€œMummy’€™s sick and Mummy is going to die.   Some day, you will be alone and then you will have to do things for yourself.   So that is why I’€™m teaching you now.’€

Cancer is a one of the leading non-communicable diseases, commonly known as chronic or life-style related diseases, which include diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases. These are responsible for more deaths than all other causes combined and have emerged relatively unnoticed, while the international community has focused on communicable infections, like as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The WHO believes that non-communicable diseases are a massive cause for concern and will – in the future – financially cripple developing nations.

While world leaders are gathering in New York on 19 ‘€“ 20 September 2011, for a historic UN Summit to decide a global strategy to address Non-Communicable Diseases, Special Assignment brings you the story of Nozipho Mgoma, a courageous mother whose life hangs in the balance.

‘€œI tried to fight this cancer.   I tried. I tried very hard, but I’€™m still not giving up. If there’€™s a chance, I’€™m going to take it.’€




About the author

Fathima Simjee

Fathima Simjee is a television journalist with Health-e News. You can follow her on Twitter @FatzSimjee