World Cancer Day is observed on 4 February, where cancer survivors are celebrated and encouraged to share their stories. The day is also dedicated to raising funds for cancer research and a causes.

According to statistics from the National Cancer Registry (NCR) 2016, the top five cancers affecting women in South Africa include: breast, cervical, colorectal, uterine and lung cancer. Approximately 19.4 million women aged 15 years and older, live at-risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer – the cancer affecting South African women the most. Apart from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women of all races, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 25 in South Africa, according to the 2016 NCR. A World Health Organization (WHO) study estimated that that 627,000 women died of breast cancer in 2018 – accounting for approximately 15% of all cancer deaths in women.

While celebrating cancer-free for 13 years, Betty Nkhweng (50) woke up one morning and noticed a blood discharge on her breasts that she rushed to have examined immediately. She was diagnosed with stage three cancer which had not yet spread to other parts of her body. She survived and she has since found her purpose as a motivational speaker who works with Buddies for Life, an organisation that assists women with cancer to navigate their journey of healing. Nkhweng also visits hospitals to engage with cancer patients. She is supporting 65 people on their healing journey, through home visits that motivate and encourage them to stay strong until they have completed surgery and the healing process.

“My journey has been tough, but I am well now. After the diagnosis I was informed that the doctors would have to remove my breast which took its toll on me. I was stressed but as the treatment began I accepted it. My diagnosis affected my family because they always associated cancer with death as they had no previous experience with any cancer survivors. For me that was my motivation to show them that I would be their first survivor and lead a journey of faith and resilience” said Nkhweng.

Cancer awareness is incredibly important as early detection, often through screening, can catch the disease when it is most treatable. When diagnosed early patients get to experience better outcomes as a result of advanced treatment options, and less extensive surgery.

One of the organisations at the forefront in the fight against cancer in South Africa is the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). To obtain advice, get access to awareness materials, information and referrals for anything related to cancer support and care on can contact CANSA on the following platforms:

Help Desk: 0800 22 66 22 (Mon to Fri from 08h00 to 16h30)

Email info@cansa.org.za (general queries)

Email advocacy@cansa.org.za (related to advocacy queries e.g. access to treatment)

WhatsApp: 072 197 9305 (English and Afrikaans queries)

WhatsApp: 071 867 3530 (isiXhosa, isiZulu, siSwati, Sesotho and Setswana queries)

Women at high risk, usually due to a history of breast cancer in the family, should commence with yearly mammograms and magnetic resonance imaging five years before the age at which their family member was diagnosed with breast cancer, or from the age of 40, whichever comes first. It is important for women, non-profit organisations, medical organisations, medical practitioners and the government to unite become one voice and make it their mission to create awareness around the disease because the journey of fighting breast cancer cannot be done in isolation.