A retired prostate cancer survivor has a message for all men: get diagnosed BEFORE you start having symptoms – early detection will help you beat prostate cancer.
In 2014, Duke Mkhize (now 69) was running a consumer goods store in Lenasia where he lives. One day, while he was helping to offload crates from a delivery truck, he hurt his back. In a great deal of pain, he took himself to Lenmed Hospital, where they diagnosed him with sciatica – an injury to the nerve that runs from the spine to the legs – and bedrest was recommended.
The doctor said that since Duke was in the hospital anyway, he should have a full medical as well. Duke agreed, and the doctor examined him and ran some tests. He came back with the bad news: Duke had prostate cancer.
“I was so scared it was unbearable,” recalls Duke. “I immediately began preparing for my death. I asked them to let me go, so I could think about my diagnosis and talk to my family. I brought my three adult sons together and broke the news to them: ‘Your daddy is going to die.’”
After a few days of dwelling on the news, Duke wanted to know more, so he went back to the hospital to find out what would happen next. They told him that the tumour’s growth could be suppressed with medication, and that his diagnosis was probably not a life sentence.
Duke was elated. The medication turned out to be expensive at a private hospital, so he asked for a transfer to the Charlotte Maxeke Government Hospital, where he could receive more affordable treatment.
Unfortunately, because he was sick and receiving treatment, Duke had to stop working and close his business. However, at 65, he could retire, so he relieved himself from the pressures of entrepreneurship. But even though his story is one of endings, there were also new beginnings. With his frequent visits to Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, Duke slowly became friendly with one of the nurses, Florrie.
“I was just making friends like I usually do. I didn’t realise that one of them was going to have an interest that ran a little deeper. She started paying attention to me. And from that attention, something more developed.”
At the ripe old age of nearly 70, Duke is engaged to be married to Florrie.
He says it certainly helps to have a medical professional by his side. “I realised you feel much better when you talk. And it’s even better to talk to a person who understands the position you are in – otherwise it’s just like talking to yourself! Talking to her is educational – she comes up with great advice.”
Having experienced first-hand the relief that comes from sharing worries and receiving useful information, Duke has made it his mission to raise awareness about cancer in various communities. He runs support groups and speaks about the importance of early cancer diagnosis in community centres and churches in Lenasia and Soweto, and runs a support group for people with cancer at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.
“The first time we went to one of the churches, all the men wanted the mammas to go outside. They felt that the women shouldn’t see the photos of men’s parts. I told them it doesn’t make sense, because we are all adults and know what’s happening. Women need to know what their men are going through. If mamma doesn’t know how dangerous cancer can be, she won’t get the message across to her husband and children. It’s important for her to know what’s going on.”
In the end, the men agreed to let the women stay, and Duke is proud of the levels of awareness he is creating in the communities he visits.
“Men believe that they have to be sick to go to hospital. My point to them is don’t wait until you are sick. If you wait until you are sick, you might not return. Get tested for prostate cancer from when you are 40, so you can find out early and beat it. Even if it doesn’t raise its head, go and find out so you can suppress it or stop it in its tracks.”
For men who have received a prostate (or other) cancer diagnosis, he has a message of hope:
“You think that cancer means the end of your life. But I explain where I’ve come from and I show them the confidence I’ve got, the knowledge I now have, and it rubs off on them as well.”
Duke’s healthy lifestyle and positive outlook is a lesson to all men. Although he has had to deal with hearing the news that everyone dreads, he has emerged stronger and more motivated to live life to the fullest, while showing compassion and support for others in the same situation.