According to statistics from the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa), approximately 25% of South Africans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Additionally, more than 100,000 individuals in South Africa are diagnosed with cancer each year. However, it is important to note that a cancer diagnosis does not always mean the end, as many people are able to overcome the disease and lead fulfilling lives.

By Vateka Halile

In the little town of eXesi, nestled in the Eastern Cape, resides the courageous Khuselwa Selana. In 2019, fate dealt her a challenging hand as she was diagnosed with the formidable foe known as colon cancer. Amidst this tumultuous journey, Health For Mzansi had the privilege of engaging in a heartfelt conversation with this indomitable spirit.

Nightmare diagnosis

After Selana presented symptoms of heavy menstrual bleeding and persistent fatigue, a medical professional successfully identified and diagnosed her medical condition.

“I informed older people back home that I was facing persistent challenges, and many of them believed that it might be related to traditional practices.”

Selana recounts her experience of seeking medical attention from a private doctor, who subsequently directed her to a clinic for further evaluation. At the clinic, a series of medical examinations were performed, which encompassed a pap smear among other tests.

“The results indicated that there is a wound at the opening of my womb.”

Subsequently, she was referred to Cecilia Makhiwane Hospital for further diagnostic procedures following her visit to the clinic. At the hospital, she underwent a series of examinations including a CT scan, an MRI scan, and radiation tests.

The following day, she encountered a distressing incident in which her stool was excreted in a liquid form through her vaginal canal. “I reported the unusual challenge and was informed that it was a vaginal fistula. Later, I was informed that I have vaginal cancer.”

After further investigation, it was determined that the initial diagnosis regarding the vaginal condition was incorrect. Instead, it was found that she was actually experiencing symptoms related to colon cancer.

Selani told Health for Mzansi that she had observed the presence of a perforation connecting her anus and vagina, which she was subsequently informed is medically referred to as a rectovaginal fistula.

“I was told that my tissues are deteriorating, which is the reason behind my recent health issues.”

Living with a colostomy bag

Selana explains that her body was no longer able to function effectively on its own, so she had to undergo a procedure to have a colostomy bag attached. She relies on the bag to assist with her bowel function.

A colostomy bag is a medical device attached to the stomach, which is used to collect waste from the opening in the large intestine. 

“I have been using a colostomy for the past four years. I am not accustomed to it. No, not at all. It is quite challenging to live with it.”

A lot has changed since she had to alter her lifestyle, and she had to cut out some foods.

If you have a colostomy or ileostomy, you may experience a lack of control over the movement of stool and gas into the pouch. The quantity of stool and gas that enters the pouch will differ depending on the type of ostomy and the food you consume.

“I have eliminated foods such as beans, spinach, cabbage, milk and spicy foods from my diet as they are known to commonly cause gas and diarrhoea.”

Emotional support

Selana struggles to be in crowded spaces or areas with poor ventilation. She avoids these places simply because she wants to avoid anyone who might detect any odours due to the challenges of living with a colostomy bag.

“I visit people and other places, but my visits are limited. Before proceeding, I assessed the environment to determine its suitability for me.”

Residing on her own in Gqeberha, she works as a private taxi driver. Similar to other people, she carefully organises her daily schedule. Maintaining good hygiene is crucial for her, especially because she has a colostomy.

According to Selana, the experience of living with cancer poses significant challenges due to the unpredictable nature of the disease’s progression. She has been informed that the duration of her reliance on a colostomy bag could range from one to ten years.

Selana reports that her cancer has entered a state of dormancy after undergoing treatment. As a precautionary measure, she now undergoes check-ups every six months to monitor the situation. “I can say that I am cancer-free until cancer demonstrates otherwise.” –

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