'Early detection saved my life': Zoleka Mandela recovering after breast cancer surgery

By Kirstin Buick
13 August 2014

Zoleka Mandela is recovering well after undergoing surgery to reconstruct her breast following a double mastectomy.

Zoleka Mandela is recovering well after undergoing surgery to reconstruct her breast following a double mastectomy.

After the initial reconstruction two weeks ago, where her breast tissue expanders were replaced with breast implants, she had the stitches and drainage tubes removed in a "painful" procedure on Monday. The authoress thanked her grandmother for holding her hand during the procudure. PHOTO: facebook.com/zolekazobuhle.mandela The authoress thanked her grandmother for holding her hand during the procedure. PHOTO: facebook.com/zolekazobuhle.mandela "I thank my grandmother for holding my hand throughout this," she said on her Facebook page.

'I thank my grandmother for holding my hand throughout this'

"I will need to return to Milpark Hospital in three months to undergo the third stage of my surgery - nipple reconstruction where they will be removing skin from my stomach to make my new nipples."

Zoleka will have to take it easy for the next months while the implants settle and the wounds heal.

"Thanking my son (Zwelami) for the pictures he took and my life partner, Thierry for filming the procedure towards my upcoming documentary film on my journey with breast cancer. Early detection saved my life. Breast cancer changed my life for the better. Onwards and upwards, the journey continues."

Zoleka and her hunky man, Terry. She’s clearly in love and says Terry and her family helped her win her battle against cancer. PHOTO: Dino Codevilla Zoleka and her hunky man, Terry. She’s clearly in love and says Terry and her
family helped her win her battle against cancer. PHOTO: Dino Codevilla

After hearing she was cancer-free last year, Zoleka opened up to YOU about the life-changing experience.  (YOU June 2013)

Diagnosed with stage two breast cancer at the age of 32, she plunged into despair. “I didn’t want treatment. I wanted to die. I welcomed death.”

Cancer was the final blow for Zoleka, who was battling to come to terms with a double tragedy that had the nation reaching out to her – the death of two of her children. First her 13-year-old daughter, Zenani, was killed in a car accident after attending the opening ceremony of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Not long afterwards Zoleka fell pregnant and she and then-boyfriend, former 7de Laan actor Sekoati Tsubane, looked forward to welcoming a new baby to ease the heartache.

Zoleka says beating breast cancer has truly changed her life’s direction. PHOTO: Dino Codevilla Zoleka says beating breast cancer has
truly changed her life’s direction. PHOTO: Dino Codevilla

But tiny Zenawe was born three months premature, weighing just 836 grams. He wasn’t strong enough to fight for life and died two days after his birth, almost a year to the day his sister was killed.

After his death had to take medication to dry out the milk in her breasts. Soon afterwards she felt a lump on her left breast. Thinking it was a result of the medication, she ignored it – although when she discovered a second lump she knew it was the big C. A trip to doctor confirmed she had been living with cancer for eight months.

Zoleka updated fans and well-wishers with a series of photos documenting the procedure on Facebook. PHOTO: facebook.com/zolekazobuhle.mandela PHOTO: facebook.com/zolekazobuhle.mandela

After receiving the diagnosis she entered one of the darkest periods of her life. Withdrawing from those close to her, she was adamant she wouldn’t seek treatment. She couldn’t face a life of being sick, hospital visits and being too ill to be a good mom to her son, Zwelami (11) – now her only child.

Yet it was Zwelami who made Zoleka do a U-turn and face up to her condition. “He asked if I was going to

die. He was used to losing people he loved and I think he thought I was next. I made the decision there and then that he wouldn’t lose me too.”

Kirstin Buick

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