October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and so we saw it fit to feature young female Doctor, Dr. Nonkyameko Ndlovu. Learn more about her previous studies, profession, her experiences as a young black female doctor and what makes her who she is. Nonyameko also shares some facts about breast cancer, debunks some myths and provides us with some useful advice.
Background and Education
Tell us a little bit about yourself, who is Nonyameko?
I am a 26 year old female ,born in Zambia and bread in South africa. I have always been ambitious for my quest for success, not always knowing how to go about it but always having a burning desire. I am an introvert. I like to help people and my desire is to fight against poverty, in the environment I work in, it’s the norm.
Tell us about your previous education, where did you study and why did you pursue your degree (what is the benefit)?
I studied at UKZN Nelson Mandela School of Medicine. I wanted to be a doctor since a very young age, we all kinder want to be, childhood dream career. I didn’t think it would’ve been possible without the help of my parents, varsity is very expensive. I always watched these medical dramas, seeing the action of someone coming in almost dead and the miracle of the surgeon putting the individual back together, I wanted to be that person, reality is not always that dramatic and glamorous but we do make a difference.
What is your current profession and where are you employed?
I am a second year intern, I will be a com-service doctor in 2018. I work in the small town of Stanger in KwaDukuza Municipality , it’s a very nice place to gain independence and the working environment is good, never met such great hardworking doctors in one place!
What does your daily job entail and what are your responsibilities?
Well as an intern you always work under supervision but there’s always room for you to have some independence and to master the craft of being a well-rounded doctor. We rotate around almost all the disciplines, there’s ward rounds, clinic patients to see, theatre assistant if you’re doing a surgical discipline, we are basically the elves in Santa’s workshop.
How difficult/easy was the transition from being a student to a full time professional?
It was very difficult; it went from just being a bystander to having to fully immerse yourself in the work force and with the shortage of doctors you have to pull your weight.
Do you believe that your academic experience provided you with all of the necessary skills to fully integrate into the working place (E.g. team facilitation, management etc.)?
There’s a lot that you have to absorb as a student, working means having to apply it and sometimes you need the working experience to exercise that part. It’s not only about your knowledge it’s also your ability to work as a team and to have respect for everyone which you learn as you work.
What are the main challenges you face in your job (medical or non-medical) and what are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
The challenges are lack of equipment, infrastructure that is not conducive to an effective working environment e.g no beds available to examine a patient properly, large patient load and sometimes work load, patients lack of desire to be fully knowledgeable about their illness and therefore to take responsibility of their life e.g constant defaulting of medication. I am so grateful when people appreciate the time and effort you put in trying to help them even with a failing health system and making them better than they were before seeing you.
Would you say that there is diversity within your profession? Do you believe that black female doctors are well represented in leadership positions?
I think there is diversity, I think that we have started the race a bit later so black women are still realizing their potential and they are working towards leadership positions, we are still currently under represented.
Do you have any plans of studying further/to specialise and is this important for your career?
Currently I’m conflicted, I’m almost done but I’m still weighing out the benefits of the different specialties. I want to have a family one day, probably should be sooner as my age is catching up with me so I want to find something that will give me the leeway to do so. Specializing allows growth in your career it’s a difficult journey but the outcome if all goes well is great, definitely something to consider.
Breast Cancer Awareness
What are the most common types of cancer affecting women in South Africa?
Breast cancer, cervical cancer, uterine cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer.
From a medical perspective, what exactly is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a growth of abnormal cells within the breast tissue. Certain people are more predisposed as there is a genetic component involved but there are other risk factors that make certain people more inclined to it like obesity or women that are menopausal.
What are the early signs and symptoms of breast cancer?
Sometimes there are no warning signs or they may be subtle, usually there’s a lump in the breast, skin changes on the breast, weight loss, bloody nipple discharge, breast pain, swollen lymph nodes in the neck or underarm or a change in the size of the breast or nipple.
Angelina Jolie made headlines several years ago when she opted for a double mastectomy because tests showed that she was genetically inclined to develop breast cancer. Can you elaborate on cancer risk assessment techniques? Would you recommend this to women with a family history of cancer?
A test for the BRCA1/2 gene can be done especially in those with a family history of breast cancer. Mammogram screening from 40 years of age in low risk females. I think it’s a personal choice, they always say prevention is better than cure so if you can eliminate the risk by getting rid of the source you should.
Sometimes a lump may not necessarily be breast cancer, what other illnesses can this be mistaken for?
It could be a breast abscess, fibroadenoma, some women get lumps during menstruation which disappear on their own called a breast cyst, traumatic fat necrosis and intraductal papillomas.
How significant is early detection? Women can reduce their risks by undergoing examinations, can you elaborate on the types of examination processes available?
The earlier it’s detected the quicker treatment can be started and the spread can be reduced. The easiest and least expensive way to detect abnormality is regular self-breast examinations or clinical examinations, women more than 40 should have regular mammograms and if a lump is detected it should be tested either by fine needle aspiration, tru-cut or an excisional biopsy.
Can you list 3 common myths/misconceptions about breast cancer?
Men can also get breast cancer, it’s not as common as women but it does exist. Traditional medicine doesn’t cure you from cancer, seek medical attention if you’re worried and cancer is not only a Caucasian illness, black women should always be alert to any symptoms.
Are there any lifestyle habits one can adopt to reduce their risk to contracting cancer? Anything specifically for breast cancer?
Exercise and having a healthy diet, no smoking or alcohol use is recommended, this however doesn’t eliminate the risk completely if you especially have a strong family history.
What other interests do you have?
I’ve taken up reading again, I’m still finding out what I like, having been so engulfed in school has left me “interest-less”.
We often hear about doctors’ stressful work schedules, how do you balance you professional and personal/social life?
I keep a small circle so it’s easy to find time to be social, there are weekend off days and post calls that allow you to have a life outside work.
What are your goals for the next 5 years?
Marriage and possibly 2 kids. Owning a business, trying to get into property and hopefully in a reg program.
Fun Facts about Meko!
Must have beauty item: Face mask, I’m still like a hormonal teenager, pimples pop out everywhere. I use Clinique face mask, keeps my face feeling open.
Sweet or savoury: SWEET, I’m a sucker for sugar, a bit addicted even. I have a cupboard, LOL!
If you had a super-power what would it be and why? Reading people’s minds so that I can get a better history from patients, LOL.
Best way to de-stress: Going on a holiday.
As a doctor do you like your own handwriting? Yes, I’m very considerate, even a grade 3 learner can see the letters!