Durban: at the age of 33, Dr. Nokwanda Zuma has become the second black African oncologist in KwaZulu-Natal.
He graduated last month after completing his training at the Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town and is now based at Addington Hospital, where he is in charge of radiotherapy.
Last week, he treated the first patient since the restoration of oncology services on June 6, 2018.
This process to restore oncology services at Addington Hospital has involved the repair of an oncology machine and the installation of a new one. , which will be ready for use in July, which will give the hospital capacity to treat between 40 and 50 patients per day.
In this frank interview, Dr. Zuma reflects, in his own words, on his long and arduous journey to becoming a medical specialist; the enormous personal sacrifices he had to make along the way; and your hopes and dreams for people who need cancer treatment in KwaZulu-Natal.
& # 39; I was born and raised in Pietermaritzburg. I was a very active child, therefore, my father called me Philile (the one who is full of life) when I was born.
I am the second daughter of Mbali and Christopher Zuma, a deputy director and retired manager in the Department of Education respectively.
My older sister is a collegiate accountant and my younger sister is a financial administrator, and we are very close.
I grew up in the municipality of Imbali, where my best memories are of us playing in the streets from dawn to dusk.
My parents are kind, ambitious and hard-working people, and those qualities that I also inherited.
However, they were very strict. They encouraged us to study and create the life we wanted to live to be happy.
My parents have supported me a lot in my career. I think I surprised them a little when I said that I wanted to specialize in Radiation Oncology.
They have always supported me, even making financial sacrifices just to be able to study medicine. I want to make them feel proud.
They did not fully understand at that time what radiological oncology implied.
But the more they saw their friends and family members being diagnosed and dying of cancer, the more they understood the need and importance of doctors who could treat cancer.
So, my parents are my biggest influencers.
I also admire Mrs. Judy Dlamini, who is a qualified doctor, business woman, mother and wife. She does everything with delicacy. She has also overcome discrimination of class, race and gender, which is something that black women face every day.
I enrolled at the Girls' High School in Pietermaritzburg, where I was prefect and vice-captain of the house.
He was a nerd in high school, studying all the time. I knew then that I wanted to become a doctor and that the only way I would come was through discipline and study.
When you're a doctor, you always study or call and when you specialize, the workload makes it difficult to have a social life.
So I was that person who always apologized for not arriving or leaving early in a family or social event.
I decided in 2012 that I wanted to be an oncologist.
A year later, my stepmother Peggy Zuma, a former nurse midwife at Edendale Hospital, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma.
Oncology has always been my destiny, but my stepmother simply eliminated any doubt about anything else.
I was working at Grays Hospital Oncology at that time. She opted to be treated at a public hospital instead of going to a private hospital because her granddaughter was there.
My maternal grandmother Eustacia Gumbi was an orthopedic nurse at King Edward and Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital.
Both had a great influence and support through my study.
My father's biological mother was also diagnosed with cervical cancer and was treated at the Addington hospital for 20 years and is still alive.
That's why it's important for me to see that the oncology department at Addington Hospital works well.
The oncology is unique since it is the medical part and then the radiotherapy part.
As an oncologist, I have to tell a patient that they have cancer and the immediate thought for them is that I'm going to die. & # 39;
You need a doctor with empathy and soft skills to be able to reassure you that I'll be with you throughout this trip and I'll do the best I can, regardless of the outcome. & # 39;
I have trained for 9 years in total. I did my undergraduate studies at the UKZN medical school, which I completed in 5 years, then I spent 4 years specializing.
I did my internship at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital and my community service in Krugersdorp, West Rand Health department.
I really enjoy treating patients, interacting with their families and the technical part of radiotherapy.
We use advanced machines and software to provide the best treatment for patients.
The biggest challenge in oncology is to accept that the disease is sometimes stronger, stronger than a patient's willingness to fight … stronger than any chemotherapy or radiotherapy that you prescribe.
And eventually they will happen. My role as a doctor is to make them as comfortable as possible.
The most difficult part of my training was when my aunt died 2 weeks before my final exams and I could not attend the funeral in Durban from Cape Town. He was literally crying while studying.
What helped me get this far is my perseverance and knowing that the goal is to become a specialist.
I had a community to serve and the only way to do it is to become the best at what I do. My friends and family have also supported me a lot, especially when the studies became really difficult.
I am ambitious, focused, kind, hardworking, and I love to dance and laugh. I'm a fan of hip hop and R & B, so my top 5 artists would be Drake, Kwesta, Nasty C, Sjava and Amanda Zulu.
My philosophy in life is "Difficulties prepare the ordinary for the extraordinary" – that's what keeps me going.
There has been an increase in cancer incidence both in South Africa and elsewhere.
This is due to virus, immunosuppression, lifestyle choices and genetics.
A developing country like South Africa needs to raise awareness about cancer in the area of primary health care. We need to improve the way we diagnose our patients and I firmly believe that oncology should be included as part of undergraduate training for physicians.
I think we have only a few oncologists because cancer was not a common disease in the past.
But now more people are being diagnosed with cancer and with that, knowledge and technology advance accordingly.
More doctors are interested in learning and I think that if more centers are created to provide training to the registrars, there will be more oncologists.
My advice for people who want to follow my steps would be that nothing is impossible if it is your dream.
The road to becoming a specialist is long, but once you get there, it's definitely worth it.
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a patient smile or seeing how they cure cancer.
My passion for oncology is what keeps me going. I would like to improve the services we currently offer in KwaZulu-Natal. I would also like to continue studying and do my PhD in the next 5 years.
When the time is right, I plan to start a family. I love children, so I hope to have at least 2 children. I have seen the importance of having siblings and family members as I get older, and I definitely want to give them to my children. & # 39;