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!

Trading Places: From Student to Lecturer

Nkhensani Mogale

Meet Nkhensani Mogale, a young phenomenal scientist and lecturer in the Clinical Anatomy division of the University of Pretoria. Nkhensani represents female scientists who have chosen to pursue the academia and research career paths. She is a fine example of the growth potential within her profession and how rewarding it can be. Recently elected as the Honorary Secretary of the Anatomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA), it is clear that Nkhensani juggles many significant roles in her life. She epitomises the modern well-rounded female black women in science we are inspired by.

We discuss the challenges of transitioning from the role of the “student” to “lecturer” and she shares her perspective on diversity within South African universities. In this article we honour Nkhensani’s late father Mashangu Harry Maluleka, a former pastor and lecturer, for playing a pivotal role in inspiring her choice to pursue academia, being a supportive parent and leading by example.

Education and Research

Tell us a bit about your background, who is Nkhensani Mogale?

Born Nkhensani Maluleka, I am a middle child of three (older sister and younger brother). My parents are both teachers in their own right, my mom is a now retired mathematics and life sciences teacher and my late father was a pastor and a ‘retired’ lecturer (he wouldn’t have agreed with me on the retirement bit, but at the time of his passing he no longer lectured in a formal setting of an academic institution). That may account for my initial interest in academia, possibly. 

I am a mother of a five year old little girl (Onaka-Ayana Mogale), and have been married to my husband (Mpho Mogale) for six years now.

I believe in hard work and ascribe to Oprah Winfrey’s philosophy, ‘Nothing worth having happens without hard work’. That said I also feel after an achievement it’s important to stop, smell the roses, take in the scenery and move on to conquer the next mountain.

What is your previous education, where did you study and why you choose that specific path?

My post matriculation journey started at the University of the Free State where I completed a BMedSc (Human Biology). The initial plan was to eventually apply for MBChB as at the time I thought I wanted to be a doctor, all which changed in my second year when Anatomy became a major subject. You could say I fell in love with the intricacies of the human body, it has been a passion since. I went on to study a BSc Macro-anatomy (Honours) at the University of Pretoria, which was followed by an MSc Anatomy (UP). I am currently enrolled for a PhD Anatomy at the University of Pretoria.

In 2008 I was employed by the University of Johannesburg (Department of Anatomy and Physiology), that’s where I discovered my love for academia which then became my chosen path.

What is your current profession and what inspired you to pursue a career in research/academics?

When I graduated from the University of the Free State I was fortunate to get a part-time position at the University of Johannesburg while I was furthering my studies. I stayed in this position for six years, which helped nurture my confidence as an aspiring academic, I was entrusted with a variety of roles during my stay at UJ. I was then employed into a full-time Junior Lecturer position by the then University of Limpopo (Medunsa Campus), this campus was later renamed the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University. I was later promoted to Lecturer, I stayed in this position for three years and three months.

I have recently joined the Clinical Anatomy division of the University of Pretoria as a lecturer where I am hoping to further sharpen my skills and contribute to this field of science.

I think academia chose me or maybe Anatomy chose me, I can’t explain it but I love what I do and the rewards that you get from the interactions with students are unexplainable. The other benefit of my job is that I get to do research as well, which is further enriching my role in the scientific community.

What are the most rewarding aspects about your job?

As people who relay information and help with guiding knowledge for further understanding by students, one of the greatest rewards is when students grasp the knowledge of what is being conveyed and when they move to the next year. The look on their faces when they finally make the connection, that is satisfying.

Publications also give a certain level of satisfaction, to see your hard work documented and available for the broader community. As an Anatomist, the research end goal is to make a difference with your research to the broader medical field.

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How easy or difficult was your transition from being a student to a lecturer?

It’s a different world and a bit of a mental shift from being the receiver of knowledge to now being the conveyor of knowledge. Life was definitely easier when I was a student. Academia also comes with its pressures, student expectations and the like. There is also a need to publish and meet certain targets yearly. I do love it though, and I guess that is what keeps me going.

Can you give us a short summary about one of your research endeavours? What are the benefits of your research for society and the scientific community?

My interest is in Clinical Anatomy, I want any research project that I embark on to have some clinical significance. The clinical research that I completed was looking at the anterior and anterolateral approach to hip arthroplasty, specifically looking at which method may be better for patient outcome and the anatomy related to the hip. From that research conducted, one article has been published so far, and we are working on a second article. My PhD research is looking at the clinical, anatomical repair integrity of the rotator cuff following open surgery, with the focus being on a South African sample. What my hope is for any research that we embark on, is that it will assist clinicians, who are ultimately the ones to apply the research.

Do you think that there is diversity within the academic staff in South African universities? Are black female scientists being well represented? If not, how can we change that?

I think its discipline specific, some sectors are more transformed than others. We are slowly getting the representation we need, it is up to those of us who are in the field to change things and make it better and more accessible for aspiring scientists. Mentorship also plays a crucial role, the ‘each one teach one’ slogan.

Studying Abroad

You have had some experience teaching in Latvia, can you elaborate on your time abroad?

I visited the University of Latvia, and with time made my way to the medical school. That was an enriching experience for me, meeting people who are just as passionate about teaching and thoroughly enjoy working with students. In my short stay I was asked to give one lecture to the first year medical students, as anatomy is a ‘universal language’ it was an enjoyable experience. My time at the university also taught me to appreciate our education system, we really are on par with the world.

Keeping It Real

“There are moments when I feel I am in my element, but I’m not completely there, it’s a work in progress and I am mostly succeeding” – Nkhensani Mogale

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How do you successfully balance your professional and personal life?

The trick is having a good support system, and learning to take time off to recharge. You need to learn to accept help as well, to avoid burn out.  Consciously make time for the people in your life, especially your family. Work hard when you need to work but take time out to enjoy life as well.

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What is your message to young women aspiring to become lecturers?

It needs to be a passion, anything done with passion and love does not feel like work and becomes more rewarding. It is important to be true to yourself, and know yourself so you do not sell your soul in the attempt to forge ahead.

A good work ethic is important, because there will be times when you just want to throw in the towel. Work hard on making things a bit easier for those who come after you, they shouldn’t go through the same struggles. My father, Mashangu Harry Maluleka, lived by this slogan ‘If those who come after us complain about the same things we did, then we shall not have lived’.

Nkhensani’s Fun Facts!!!

What do you do for fun? I Read (A lot! That’s my utopia).

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One of Nkhensani’s Faves!!

Favourite South African artist? Nomfundo Xaluva, The Muffinz, Thee Legacy, Thandiswa Mazwai, Lira, Dr Tumi, Zonke Dikana.

Who inspires you? Several people, Chimamandza Achidie Ngozi, true to herself and unapologetic about her feministic ideas and ideals.

My Daughter – Onaka-Ayana Mogale, makes me want to work harder and leave a dent in the world so her journey can be a bit better.

Thuli Madonsela, I love her authenticity – she tells her truth in silence (you don’t have to be loud to be heard, listen more talk less).

Mashangu Harry Maluleka, my late father – I have never known greater love than this, his absence in my heart is a reminder of the dent he left in this world.

Favourite South African cuisine? Tripe and dumplings, curry anything (especially lamb curry), samoosa’s, oxtail and samp.

Diving into academia can be intimidating however, everything is about perspective. Thank you to Nkhensani Mogale for giving us an insiders look into your career path and sharing your personal experiences. We are sure that there are many who share the same passion as you and are motivated to follow in your footsteps. All the best on your journey! See Nkhensani’s LinkedIn profile here.

♥ BWIS

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