Lebogang Ramafoko celebrated 10 years in remission after overcoming T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer; the CHOC Foundation shared the inspiring story of everything she went through to be here today.
South Africa (20 January 2023) – Cancer survivors have the most inspiring stories because they went through the very worst battle one can fight, and came out victorious. The fight is a gruelling, painful one. Lebogang Ramafoko was diagnosed with cancer just as she was preparing for her exams. She shifted her focus to beat her cancer and today, celebrates 10 years in remission.
Lebogang has shared her story with the CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation, highlighting her experience and where she is today because of the support she got during treatment.
This is Lebogang’s story, in her own words.
My journey and victory over cancer
My name is Lebogang Ramafoko, a 27-year-old young woman who is currently 10 years in remission of a T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer. I was born and raised by my single mother in a small town in Mafikeng in the North-West province. I was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer on May 30th 2012, I was 17 years old at the time, and about to write my form 5 external exams for Cambridge. I discovered a lump, about the size of a green pea next to my left breast. When I told my mum, we immediately left for the doctor.
The doctor was at first not worried about it, he thought it was just a minor lymphatic infection that just required antibiotics and, in his words, “you are too young to have cancer, it’s for old people. This lump should shrink, if not come back in 7 days.” I was sent home with antibiotics and painkillers. I was in excruciating pain; the painkillers were not working. The lump had gone from the size of a pea to the size of a 20-cent coin in less than a week. My mother took me back to the doctor. The doctor decided to make an incision, remove the lump, and send the lump for testing. A week later I went back to get my stitches removed and hear the results that I had cancer.
I was alone, confused and shocked. As I left he said “hopefully you won’t die’’, that statement was ringing in my ears as I waited for my mum to come fetch me. I only started crying once I was in the car. Shocked, my mother went into the doctor’s room and when she came out, she also looked shocked. As I sat in the car waiting for mum to get back, I saw a car with the number plates “Oteng” which means “He is present”. I immediately stopped crying as I knew that was God telling me He is with me.
In June I went for all sorts of tests and scans from CT scans, x-rays, bone marrow biopsies and lumbar punctures. Thankfully, the cancer had not spread to my brain and could still be treated. During this process I lost a lot of people, friends, family, even my own father never came to see me once because people thought I would die and did not want to get attached, I knew the journey was about me and how God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. I started chemotherapy at Donald Gordon Medical Centre on July 3rd 2012.
My chemotherapy treatment plan alternated between a yellow chemo and a red one known as “The Red Devil”. My first chemo was terrible, it hit my bloodstream and I started burning, it was a cold winter day but I was undressed with open windows, I vomited so much that blood came out, I had terrible diarrhoea, it felt like the chemo would kill me instead of the cancer itself. I became depressed and wondered what I did so wrong to deserve such an experience, but I thank God that my mother had taught me faith in the Lord.
The next cycle of chemo was even worse than the first, my mouth burned even though I rinsed with my mouthwash four times daily as prescribed, my jaw got locked and I couldn’t open my mouth to even fit a spoon. I bled so much from just brushing my teeth that I ended up needing a blood transfusion. I had lost so much weight I could count my ribs just looking in the mirror. I wanted to give up many times, just quit the chemo and go home but I don’t like losing, so I soldiered through the pain.
I had to drop out of school because I spent a full week on chemo and two more weeks recovering at CHOC House, but I never stopped studying even with all the fatigue and memory loss. I passed all my exams that year, even got distinctions.
I don’t know how my mother and I would have survived that situation all those months without CHOC. CHOC gave me a place to call home in a city that was foreign to my family and me. It helped a single mother keep working so she could pay for costly medical expenses while knowing that her sick daughter was in a safe place, always had meals provided for, a bed and hot water as well as transport to and from the hospital.
We will always be grateful to CHOC and its donors for that. CHOC staff became second parents to me during that time. I was there until 12 December 2012, my last chemo was on the 30th of November 2012. A year later, after monthly check ups, I had my port removed and was told I was officially in remission; I can confidently say that was and is still one of the happiest days of my life.
Today I am 10 years cancer-free and in good health and it can only be God’s favour upon my life and His grace. Yes, I still deal the side effects of chemo but they are minor compared to those who have not been as blessed as I have to have a second chance at life. Through the adversity of cancer, I was recently able to start my own business, I manufacture 100% hair and skin care brand with a cause, called Inala Naturals, Inala means abundance in Zulu. I chose that name as it just means so much to me as I have been given life in abundance and the hair that fell out due to the chemo I got back in abundance too. The logo of the brand is a phoenix which represents rising from the ashes, rebirth and strength, and the body of the bird is a gold ribbon that represents childhood cancer. A portion of the profits from my business will be going towards initiatives that support kids who suffer from cancer.