‘Diabetes is a silent killer. The more you can’t manage it, the more it will eat you inside ...”
These chilling words come from business-woman and motivational speaker Sophie Lichaba, who is determined to fight the stigma of the disease and prove that it doesn’t have to be a death sentence.
But the past few weeks haven’t been easy for the former Generations star, who is battling both Type 2 diabetes and a cruel backlash from social media trolls mocking her and speculating whether it really is diabetes that’s caused her dramatic loss of weight. On top of all this, she’s also had to deal with people creating fake Facebook accounts in her name.
Online trolls rose up and her fans began to panic after 5FM DJ and actress Thando Thabethe recently tweeted a photo of Lichaba after an interview.
As a mother of two, Lichaba (46), who was diagnosed with diabetes four years ago, has to put on a brave face and carry on with business as usual.
She refuses to let the negative comments dampen her spirit.
“Anginandaba nabantu [I don’t care about people]. They must go and educate themselves about diabetes.
"They should stop being immature and ignorant. If you think you are immune, I challenge you to go and test yourself,” Lichaba said this week during an interview with City Press.
“It is sad that, as entertainers, people abuse us because they feel they own us. I still don’t understand what people wanted to achieve when they were mocking that particular picture,” she said.
Wednesday was World Diabetes Day and Lichaba invited us to the Protea Fire & Ice Hotel in Melrose, Johannesburg, where she was one of the speakers at the annual Diabetes Frontier Africa event.
Lichaba, who has dropped from size 42 to 32, looked dazzling in a white blouse, white pants and pink stilettos.
Her face lit up with a smile and her arms opened for a hug as we entered the conference room, where healthcare professionals were getting ready to speak about diabetes – a disease that causes people to have too much glucose (sugar) in their blood, commonly leading to fatigue and weight loss.
Lichaba began to take notes as Dr Chibuzo Anaso talked about how diabetes could rob you of joy.
Every year, more than 400 million people were diagnosed with diabetes across the world, he said, adding that “it can limit your life. It affects you at work because, whatever you do, it is always there.”
He described diabetes as a monster and Lichaba nodded in agreement.
“Diabetes affects your lifestyle, family and job,” she said. “I am not the same Sophie I used to be. When I am stressed, I become more stressed. I am no longer as active.”
She has been hospitalised twice in four years, but says she’s one of the lucky ones because diabetes medication is expensive, and not everyone can afford medical aid or the cost of sticking to a strict, fibre-rich diet – lots of vegetables, nuts and seeds.
“Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to maintain the healthy diet and this may lead to depression,” she said.
Refusing to succumb
Lichaba says that support from her family has been crucial.
“I have recently taught my husband how to test my blood sugar because he has to know what to do when I collapse,” she said.
And there are more fans than trolls out there – the teachers, receptionists, cleaners and security guards who stop her wherever she is and show her love.
“This genuine support lifts my spirit when I am down,” she said.
Lichaba’s come a long way since her doctor broke the bad news.
“The world came to a standstill and only death came to my mind,” she said, tears in her eyes. But giving up is never an option for Lichaba, who is also a spiritual person.
“I was born for a purpose. God made me a star to use me as his vessel. Today I am a diabetes advocate raising awareness to give hope to the hopeless.”
Her biggest fear is that her children may get diabetes because it is caused by both genetic and environmental factors.
“My late parents were diabetic, so, as a mother, I have a huge responsibility to help my children prevent it.”
‘My blog will lessen the stigma’
Lichaba’s destiny is clear, she says. She wants to use her six-year-old Sophie Ndaba Foundation of Hope to educate people about the disease through a weekly blog, which she is planning to launch soon.
“I believe my blog will change the stigma around diabetes. Through it, I am planning to connect with my fans and change lives.
“If you want to live a happy and long life, the secret is in testing your blood sugar three times a day and always taking your medication. Prevention is always better than a cure,” she said.