Lucky to be alive after smoke-induced cancer
David Mkefa, a 57 year-old Soweto resident started smoking like many young people would. For many years Mkefa was addicted to smoking and he could smoke up to 15 cigarettes a day, unwittingly oblivious to the detrimental consequences to his health. Today has damaged vocal chords. This has caused him to have his current hoarse voice.
“I started smoking as an experiment, not knowing that I would be addicted to it. I started smoking as a moderate smoker, but as I grew up my habit grew as well. I was smoking about 15 cigarettes a day” he says.
Mkefa smoked cigarettes for 32 years and never once thought of quitting this socially acceptable habit. He says he had developed an unbreakable pattern of smoking when he was still addicted to cigarettes.
“To me, after eating I must have a cigarette. When I go to the toilet I had a cigarette. I was dependent on smoking and I couldn’t concentrate without a cigarette. Thirty-two years of my life was wasted on smoking” says Mkefa, recalling his smoking days.
It was only in 2008 when the then 54 year-old Mkefa got a huge wake-up call. He was diagnosed with bronchitis at his local clinic.
“This thing started as a normal bout of flu. I experienced problems with my chest… my chest was wheezing when I was asleep. And then my voice was hoarse... you couldn’t hear me talking”. But, “I’m much better now”, he says.
The alarm bells grew louder as Mkefa realised that the medication from his local clinic was not helping him. But a life-changing incident was yet to occur.
“There was a coincidence and, maybe, I would say God was working in my favour”, Mkefa says.
“I came across a Sunday Times magazine dated 2002 - and this was now in 2008. I instinctively picked up the magazine and inside there was an article about smoking and its effects. And as I read along, it mentioned rewards of smoking, which is cancer. And it also spoke of symptoms. Number one was chronic bronchitis - of which was the diagnosis from the clinic. It talked of a hoarse voice. Then I realised that this magazine was diagnosing me of cancer”.
Upon realising from an old health news article that he might have cancer, Mkefa sought further medical help at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, where more tests were made. He was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx.
“I was angry, shocked and frightened. I was angry at myself and no one else. I had friends who died because of smoking and I thought I would be the next”, he says.
At the time of his diagnosis, Mkefa was unable to speak as he had damaged his vocal chords because of smoking. Ill and weak to do much for himself, he didn’t even have a voice to ask for any help.
“It was frustrating because when I had to call someone from my family I had to use a bell. They bought me a special bell... that if I am in need of anything, I must ring a bell”, says Mkefa.
Mkefa had to undergo radiation therapy. His doctors told him that he had to quit smoking before they could start with his therapy. Quitting cigarettes was a huge challenge for him, but he knew very well that it was a challenge he could not afford to lose as his life depended on it.
“I was inspired by something. At the time, the soccer World Cup was coming to our country. So, I thought, maybe, if I can die after watching the World Cup. The prize of watching the World Cup was for me to stop smoking because if ever I continued, I would not have been here today”, he says.
Quitting smoking was just one challenge. Mkefa had to go through the gruelling radiation therapy.
“I was put on radiation therapy for seven weeks, that is, I was going to the hospital everyday from Monday to Friday. There was a time where I was weak, I couldn’t do anything”, says Mkefa, recalling a testing time in his life.
Fortunately for him, he was declared cancer-free after seven weeks of radiation therapy. But the cancer had already done some damage. His doctors informed him that only one of his vocal chords would recover.
“As of right now I am using my left vocal chord. My right vocal chord was damaged by cancer”, he says.
“But I actually like this voice because people now call me Barry White or Mahlathini”, he adds with a smile.
The 57 year-old Soweto resident Mkefa now spends his days telling people in his community about his fight with cancer in the hope that one of them will be inspired and quit smoking.
“I never thought I was going to have cancer because of smoking, but I did! That was a turning point for me to change my life-style. To people who are still smoking... for the sake of your health and your loved ones... you might not be as fortunate as I was.
You might have to undergo a major surgery. It’s not too late to stop. You can only beat cigarette cravings if you really want to”, concludes Mkefa.
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