South Africa’s Xolani Gwala Back on Radio a Year after Cancer Diagnosis

It took almost a year, but Xolani Gwala says he has accepted his cancer diagnosis and believes sharing his story will inspire other men and women to undergo screenings.

“I’ve dealt with it. I am now content,” he tells City Press this week at 702 talk radio headquarters in Sandton, an hour before the drive-time show.

“I’ve witnessed young black men and women undergoing chemotherapy. It’s terrible – it’s bad. It’s worse than you think,” he says.

Now, he is back on radio full time. For now he is standing in for Joanne Joseph on the Afternoon Drive show for a few weeks, but insiders say he will be officially back on 3 September on a “midday show”.

“Effectively, I am back on radio. I was bored, I’ve missed my listeners,” he says.

He is running late for our meeting, but he calls to inform us that he started his second session of maintenance chemotherapy at the hospital that morning.

A few minutes later, the 43-year-old arrives in his grey BMW 3 Series, hip-hop music blaring.

Clad in a gold T-shirt with a black jacket and pants, we can’t help but notice his weight loss.

“I’ve changed my diet. I have cut down on a lot of things such as sugar and red meat,” he says.

It’s been a year since he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

“I felt sick on Women’s Day last year. It was a sunny day, but I felt so tired and cold, and I was sweating. I didn’t know what was wrong with me,” he says.

He was so ill that the station manager suggested he take some time off. When he consulted his general practitioner, he was told he had a viral infection.

But when the medication he was prescribed didn’t make him any better, his wife, Peggy-Sue, suggested she drive him to the Morningside Clinic.

When they arrived, he was running a 40-degree temperature.

“I was taken for a computed tomography scan. While the radiographer was busy with the CT scan, she was making jokes and it was all fun. Suddenly her mood changed. She told me she had discovered something but she was not allowed tell me.

She then called in her senior, who broke the news to me that I had cancer,” he says.

“I did not immediately comprehend the implications. The questions I asked myself were: ‘What kind of cancer do I have? How advanced is this cancer?’”

His oncologist explained that the cancer was at an advanced stage, had spread to other organs and parts of his body, and had progressed from the colon to the liver.

They started him on a course of aggressive chemotherapy. “I needed emergency surgery to take the cancer from the colon,” he says. “It was at stage 4 – it almost killed me.”

Four further procedures and 12 rounds of chemotherapy followed. “The medical costs are very expensive. If I wasn’t getting half of my salary from 702, I wouldn’t have been able to pay my medical bills. I was lucky that I had that ability. Imagine how many people can’t afford to pay for medical aid?” he asks.

“My last operation was in June this year, where the part of my liver that had most of the cancer was removed,” he says, showing us pictures of the diseased organ.

He admits that although his wife was a pillar of strength, breaking the news to her was hard.

“I remember when I told her, she cried hysterically, but she immediately understood what it meant. She understood it before I did,” he said.

Gwala says the support from his wife, family and friends kept him going. His father was badly affected by his son’s diagnosis and suffered a stroke. “My dad is in a wheelchair now.

“Not even a single day I felt like giving up. I remember every time when I was doing my lengthy chemotherapy, my friends would accompany me to the hospital, fill the room to capacity and laugh through the entire session. It’s their laughs and jokes that gave me strength.”

Like Peggy-Sue, his older children didn’t take the news of his cancer well and “it was hard for them”.

Now his biggest fear is that his children have a chance of inheriting from him whichever of his genes allowed the cancer to develop.

He’s not the only one in his family who has had cancer. His 97-year-old grandfather, who passed away four years ago, died of the disease.

“But the doctors discount this because they say he was old. As far as I know I am the only young one in the family who has cancer,” he says.

Family members, especially his siblings, have now been undergoing screenings.

Asked what is next for him, Gwala says: “Let’s wait until I am cured completely. It’s too early to say I am cancer free. It takes about five to 10 years to be cancer free.”

Written by PH

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