Breast Cancer Awareness: A Doctors Advice

Nonyameko Ndlovu

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

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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.

Finding Balance

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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!

Young, fit, free and ready for the comrades!

Nokuthula Dubazane

We feature Nokuthula ‘Noks’ Dubazane aka #babeswomgwaqo, an environmentalist who has a strong passion for long-distance running. Get to know how this BWIS manages to remain in her element while excelling in her scientific career and preparing for her first ever, 90 km Comrades Marathon this weekend (10 June 2018). 

What did you study / are you currently studying? Why did you choose to continue beyond your undergraduate degree?

I have an honours degree in Geography and Environmental Management which I attained at UKZN. Quite honestly, when I finished my first degree I was still confused as to what I wanted to do within the very broad environmental space so I believed that a postgraduate degree would allow me to figure that out. As it happens, that was a great decision as I love what I do now and I don’t think that I would have gotten here without my postgraduate training.

Tell us more about your career or your current research. Were you ever apprehensive or intimidated getting into this career and why? How did you handle that?

I have been working since 2010, and during that time my role has changed quite a bit. I started off with an NGO working on a programme that focused on environmental education. This was fine but after two years in that role I knew I wanted a change. I wanted to do something that would challenge me, but this was very difficult as the requirements for all the posts I tried applying for were too high. So in the end I knew that in order for me to be able to compete properly in the job market, I needed skills that I didn’t have at that point. So I took up an internship position which came with a salary cut but it also allowed me to begin my Masters studies. This was probably the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my career but it taught me a lot about sacrificing the small pleasures for long term goals. This time allowed me to plan and focus properly on my professional development, it also provided me a great opportunity to ensure that I was getting the right skills while networking with the right people. Eight years later, I have moved quite a bit in the environmental space (worked for both NGO and local government) and now work for government focusing on projects that deal with climate change adaptation and mitigation. So it has been quite a journey.

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Where do you see yourself in your professional career in the next 5 years?

Like I do with my running, I think that I will take my career one step at a time. I think that aiming for a title or position doesn’t say anything about my abilities. I want to finish my Masters (which has taken longer than I would have wanted to) and learn leadership skills from the people around me. I want to be in a position where I am the best that I can be in my industry, and I want to be inspiring other young women around me to be doing the same.

On Instagram you describe yourself as “a social specialist by profession”, what does this mean?

Good question, right? Well I have an honours degree in Social Sciences, and have battled with what that means in my career for the longest time but my research has led me to my own definition of what it means. To me a social specialist is someone that investigates the complexities of human interactions and how the perceptions and experiences of individuals can filter up to influence the governance structures of organisations. No matter how big an organisation is, the building blocks for success or failure are its people and we need to understand them and their contributions before we can move forward. I have been fortunate enough to have done some research and work in this space and continue to be fascinated by social systems.

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How were you introduced to running as a hobby? (When did you start, why, fitness inspiration…)

Running as a hobby?! I think hobby is an understatement because running is one of my passions. I have always been an active person. I used to go to the gym for more than just a free shower. However, a few years ago I found myself in a stressful situation, I was battling to balance my work and life and I needed something to do to cope with stress. I was living in Howick at the time and don’t let this small town vibe deceive you. It is home to some of the best running trails and the most active people and I soon found myself in good running company without having to look very far.

We often use time as an excuse to neglect our physical health as busy students and professionals, how do you balance it all? What advice do you have for other women in this regard?

We have to make the time to care for ourselves and there’s a domino effect that ripples through the day. It’s like saying that you don’t have the time to eat properly when eating right gives us more energy to work efficiently. When I go for a run in the morning I definitely feel that I have more energy and confidence to face the day ahead.

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How often and for how long/what distance do you run in a week? Tell us more about the running club you’re involved in, what differentiates this from any other club?

It depends on what I am training for, while training for the Comrades Marathon my training sometimes went up to as much as 90km a week which is quite high but if I were training for a normal marathon I would generally aim to average about 40km -50km a week. On peak training seasons I do try and run 4/5 times a week.

I also do group runs at least twice a week with a group of ladies that share my love for running. We meet twice a week and also get together for long runs during weekends. Our time together is always amazing, while we push each other with the running we also use it as a chance to encourage one another while catching up. This is a running community which means that there is no club fees or licensing for runners. Running clubs are generally characterized by their affiliation to Athletics South Africa (ASA), as a community we all belong to different running clubs but we do most of our training together.

Is a healthy diet an important aspect of your lifestyle, why? What’s your biggest weakness and how do you resist the temptation?

Yes but honestly it’s an area where I can still grow in. I honestly hate cooking, so it’s easy for me to grab a takeaway which is not always good. I try and eat healthy when I am preparing for a race as good nutrition goes a long way on race day, so my go-to appliance during those times is my steamer.

Do you think that focusing on a healthy lifestyle benefits other areas in your life/what differences have you noticed since beginning this journey?

Balance is important, for me running and the general outdoors certainly keeps me sane. Work can get busy and stressful, so when that happens I find that running helps put my mind at ease.

What is your best advice for someone who is interested in pursuing running as a way to get healthy? Any fitness apps/aids/gadgets you would recommend for runners? Favourite one?

Download apps like Nike Running App or Strava which track your distance, this will motivate you as you get to see how many km you run each time. Running is fun, it should be a lifestyle, so if you not used to it, rather take your earphones with and have an epic playlist which will get you through those moments of huffing and puffing. But remember, safety comes first, so make sure you can hear what’s going on around you.

Have your participated in any races? What are the costs involved? Can you recommend any student budget friendly events?

Yes I have, a lot of races charge a small entry fee which varies depending on the distance and organisers. Generally you get a free t-shirt and a medal when you finish the race. I would not suggest you do all the races because of cost but rather choose a few and in that way you don’t end up paying a lot. I would budget between R60 – R160 for race entry but this depends on whether you require a temporal license and the distance you running (cost is not the same for a 10km and 21km race).

What are your goals for your running career? Any marathons we should look out for?

I love running, and I just do it merely based on that, I enjoy pushing myself and realizing how much I can accomplish. Goals for this year include doing a few Ultra Marathons such as the Comrades Marathon, which is this weekend and I also intend to do more trail runs. I hope that in the next few years I can be able to do international runs such as Berlin Marathon.

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Can you recommend free/affordable running/fitness clubs for students and career women on the run?

Parkrun is great since it’s free and there’s usually one in most areas.  Distance for parkruns is 5km and this generally caters for runners of all levels

What do you envision for the modern female scientist?

I don’t know but one thing I’m certain of is that she knows who she is, what she wants and does everything she can to get it. She is no longer entrapped by societal standards of what she needs to be but rather plots out her own fate. Modern female scientists are redefining what it means to be women, wives, researchers, etc by just being themselves. Is it easy? No but they are allowing the next generation to know that it can be done.

Are you a black woman in science in her element? What does being in your element mean to you?

I think I am getting there, but honestly this has taken a lot of coaching and mentoring. As a young professional I am constantly in spaces where I feel challenged and out of my depth but I have learnt over the years that the feeling of unease is mandatory for growth. We learn when we are out of our comfort zone. Having the right mentors has pushed me to focus on career development and has helped me balance the technical work skills with the relevant soft skills needed to survive the workspace. So am I a black woman in her element? I don’t think I am there yet, but I know I am certainly on my way there and I am surely finding pleasure in the journey.

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Noks’ Fun Facts!

Favourite book: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg & ‘Broken Flowers’ by R.M Drake

Describe yourself in a hashtag: #babeswomgwaqo

Item you just cannot live without: Garmin Forerunner 35 watch

Dream destination: Bali

Life motto: Small sacrifices for big dreams

Keep an eye out for our fellow BWIS this Saturday! We wish you the best Noks.

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♥BWIS

Ndoni Mcunu

Ndoni Mcunu founder and CEO of BWIS holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Environmental Science and Geography as well as a Master’s Degree in Science (MSc) in Applied Environmental Science. She is currently pursuing a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) at the Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute at Witwatersrand University under the supervision of Professor Bob Scholes. Her research focuses on climate change and its effects on biodiversity conservation and agricultural production for farmers. Continue reading “Ndoni Mcunu”