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‘Cancer took away my boobs, not my life’

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Sun Health: What events led up to your diagnosis, or, how did you discover that you were suffering from cancer?

Mpho Kgaodi:
My journey with Breast cancer started in 2012. Around April I felt a lump on my right breast. It was not painful at all, just slightly itchy. It was on the upper part of my breast. I ignored it for about three days but it kept nagging me and then I decided to go see my doctor.

He also confirmed that there was a lump on my breast He sent me for mammogram that confirmed an abnormality on the structure of my right breast.

I then went to see him with the results and he informed me that there are two ways to test that lump – Biopsy, which meant that he will be taking a piece of that lump to send it to the laboratory for examination and the other option was to totally remove the lump, Lumpectomy.

I decided that he removes the whole lump, because I really didn’t want that Lump on my breast.

SH: We know that about 10% of all breast cancers are hereditary. Are there other women affected in your family?

MK: I don’t know of any other woman or even man in my family who has had cancer, though it is hereditary.

SH: What were your first thoughts when you received the diagnosis?

MK: I cried for a brief moment. I was overwhelmed with emotions, fear of death. I quickly recovered from that dreadful thought and remembered that I have a great husband and three boys. I felt that I had so much to live for.The doctor informed me about the options I had regarding treatment and he gave me time to think about it.

I drove back home to Lobatse and by the time I arrived at my house, I had already made up my mind that I am going for total removal of the breast. I broke the news to my family and they were just as shocked as I was when the doctor broke the news to me.

I explained to them my decision to go for surgery and they were very supportive. Few weeks later, I went for a mystectomy.

SH: How long were you in treatment

MK: The surgery was followed by Chemotherapy. The first time I walked into the oncology centre, I found so many people there already. I then realised that I am not the only person with cancer, it is so many of us. It gave me strength and courage.

I had heard that the side effects of chemo are brutal, seeing those people made me realise that if others can do it so can I. I decided to go for it as I had so much will and spirit to stay alive and raise my kids. After the second session of chemo, I started losing my hair, nail beds turned black.

I was never discouraged though, despite my aching body and the constant nausea after chemo. I had six cycles of it. In 2013 around April again, I experienced severe pain on my left breast, but with no Lump.

My doctor again recommended I go for a mammogram. It confirmed cancer which was still at stage 1. I then insisted that they remove the breast. I would lose both my breasts but I knew staying alive for my boys was more important.

Other people thought the pain was psychological, and I knew what I felt and my mind was made up. I had the second mastectomy and had to go through another cycle of chemo which I completed. I am now on oral medication. I take my tablet daily.

It is recommended that I take it for ten years. I have just started on my year 6 on the tablet. I do go for regular check ups, to establish if the cancer is not back.

SH: What helped keep your spirits up and gave you support during this period?

MK: A good friend of mine and colleague told me about Journey of Hope Botswana. He introduced me to them, and I had tremendous support from them. I also went to Cancer Association Botswana to introduce myself. My family has also been my backbone, supporting me through it all. I am so greatful.

On days that my spirits are low, I always take my mind to positive thoughts. I try to remind myself of the good times, sometimes I even find myself laughing out loud.

SH: How has this affected you at a psychological level?

MK: My life has not really changed for the worst. Like the saying “when life gives you lemons, make lemon aid out of them”. I lost my job after the second diagnosis of cancer. While this affected my family financially I never got discouraged, as this gave me time to take care of my family.

I am a full time stay home mom. I walk this journey with my family. My boys understand that I had Cancer but now I am okay. They sometimes check if I have taken my medication, and they would even ask about my next appointment. I am blessed to have them.

SH: Facing the diagnosis of breast cancer is one of the most feared experiences in our society. What has been your experience as you worked with communities through Cancer Association of Botswana (CAB)?

MK: Working with CAB has been eye opening. Through motivational talks and other actives like the annual stiletto walk, the message has been positively received. There is still a lot to be done though, especially to make people understand that breast cancer is NOT a death sentence. So many lives can be saved.

SH: Amongst raising awareness, cancer awareness month is about celebrating individuals like yourself and their triumphs over cancer. Is there anything you would like to say to the community of cancer survivors and women in general?

MK: I have learnt so much from being diagnosed with cancer. I appreciate life more. I never used go and see a doctor without any pains or any thing “wrong” with my body. Now I do it regularly and so far I always get a clean bill of health.

I encourage everybody to do regular self -breast examination. It is easy, convenient, cost-effective and can really help with early detection. I believe there is a lot to be done as far as breast cancer awareness. Remember men can also have breast cancer.

To all those who are going through cancer at the moment, remember you are not alone. Let’s walk this journey together. Let’s walk with Hope, Courage and Strength.

There is life after cancer. Cancer took away my boobs it did not take my life. As October is breast cancer awareness, let’s support those affected, honour the survivors and remember the fallen.
PINK RIBBON ALWAYS

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Forgiveness is a virtue

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It’s hard to get through life without experiencing some resentment. Executive Director – Phronesis International College (PIC) and Counselling and Psychotherapist, Peacebuilding and Life Skills Education Specialist Dr Thelma Kgakgamatso Tlhaselo-Majela discusses forgiveness and why letting go is good for you.

What forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a process that positions one on a healing path by choice in an attempt to resolve the psychological stress and trauma one could be experiencing. These pains and emotional injuries may stagnate one into feelings of anger, bitterness and resentment and in worse cases depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders. If left for long, protracted unresolved psychological distress and or trauma could deepen one more into multiple losses.

It may generate hatred and desire to cause harm on the other and this can throw one into revenge and or vengeance. Forgiveness then starts from the cognitive ability to choose letting go of the emotional and cognitive baggage thus granting the self or inner being power to constructively open portals of intrapersonal empowerment. Moreover, a well-integrated process of forgiveness could shift one into an empathetic and compassionate psychological space filled with virtue and psycho-sociological attributes of restoration that accentuate positive benefits of healing.

In your experience,what are the common issues that need forgiveness?
Life by nature is riddled with so many issues and challenges characterised by diversity and complexity hence appropriate understanding is very important. People are social beings that co-exist through healthy connectedness and this may happen at the physical, personal, socio-cultural, psychological, financial, spiritual; political level to mention a few.
We all need a deepened awareness on how the intra-personal (within self), inter-personal (with others), inter-group (within groups) and international (nation to nation) relational connections play out in life. These healthy relationships deserve to be developed, nurtured and protected lest they become dysfunctional and corrosive.

The common issues for forgiveness are varied and highly individualised. One person may look at what another is struggling with and may consciously or unconsciously belittle it because for them it appears an easy or small matter but people are unique and this deserves respect. The relational betrayals, emotional injuries, corrosive conflicts and intractable may result in residual emotions that can cause people to drift into anger and bitterness. In such accounts, people may find themselves responding through avoidance or seeking revenge which has the potential to cycle one back into deeper pain.

The complexity of forgiveness may originate from the nature and quality of the relationship one had, the nature of the wrong committed with the cognitive interpretations one ascribes to the event. This includes significant others such as spouses (couples), children, family relatives, colleagues, bosses and subordinates in the work place.

Sometimes, it may be people we do not know that have hurt us such as a murderer, rapist or an abuser and may not even acknowledge that they have done anything wrong to us. It may also be about the symbolic losses where the people and or situations to forgive do not physically exist such as a dead person or a geographic disconnection. In such cases, the existential reality of the phenomenon remains true, real and alive in the psyche of the emotionally injured person and requires a healing process.

Is it possible to forgive when one is still angry and can you forgive someone who does not think they have done anything wrong?
Forgiveness is a process that one does by choice for oneself and not for the perpetrator because one understands that the pain and suffering one is experiencing has a direct injurious effect on one’s life. Similarly, revenge and vengeance which for long has been one of the rudimentary human responses can only promote increased pain as it stagnates one into more hurt and pain.

It often cycles one back into psychological trauma hence one needs to perceive value addition in engaging in forgiveness because it can be logically and rationally incomprehensible when one is caught up in this quagmire. A bitter-angry person may grapple with cognitive dissonance which is an internal struggle to understand why they have to release someone who according to them deserves a punishment or better still refuses to acknowledge that they have done anything wrong.

But irrespective of the reason, holding on to anger, bitterness and resentfulness within the inner self can only grant one false gratification that they are holding the perpetrator to ransom. Needless to say, we have no control on how the other person thinks and feels and we may actually be subjecting ourselves to increased injury and punishment from the very issue we are contending with.

Seeking professional help will assist one to work through the psychological defence mechanisms such as denial, repression, rationalisation, reaction formation, regression to mention a few that may promote dysfunctional tendencies in un/forgiveness processes. Notwithstanding, people need to be assisted with respect for human dignity within them and never be forced and or coerced into forgiveness when they are not ready to do so. Given that anger will consume the person already holding the pain and hurt whether it is perceived or real, working on forgiveness can be a desirable option to open the healing process.

Can you discuss the rewards or benefits of forgiveness?
As can be seen, it often pays to work through forgiveness hence the concept of working it out because people respond to pain and trauma differently. The rewards and benefits shared in this context are not by any means exhaustive because there are several psycho-social models for assisting people to process forgiveness issues and this requires well trained service providers.

*People who are angry and bitter are often not desirable in social contexts because they may consciously or unconsciously spill this negative energy on other people and this tends to repel instead of attract social connections. At intra-personal level, we are likely not to find our inner life peaceful and enjoyable if we are ever stuck psychosocially on anger and bitterness because it may promote self-hate, poor self-concept and negative self-esteem. So it pays to be gentle to love yourself enough to desire good emotions about and towards other people for that will rub corrosively on your personal well-being. The benefits of forgiveness include enabling one to circumvent these psychological pains and trauma that can affect quality of life with self and others which may compound stress levels.

In extreme cases people may sink into depression and anxiety which could ripple into other areas of life such as sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, substance use and abuse, relational conflicts and psychosomatic illness. Forgiveness builds a healthy mindset and that attracts a healthy personality which consequently leads to healthy social and physical well-being. Forgiveness fills the inner space with good attributes and this is shared with others. We then by addressing forgiveness issues reduce on maladaptive tendencies and lift on psychosocial protection thus leading to safeguarding the intra-personal, familial, corporate and societal communities from effects such as divorce and relational stressors.

At corporate and industrial level, a socio-psychological space that is riddled with un/forgiveness is a breeding ground for visible and invisible costs. For instance, a huge cost can emanate from a collective environment that is unproductive because of collective stress and restlessness. A workplace where people are transparent and honest and regard others with respect to deserve forgiveness often tends to promote healing communities where others feel safe and do not fear hence they can work to the optimum level of their potential.

We also benefit as a nation when we are characterised by forgiveness because we have a strategic desire to promote a knowledge-based community as the foundation for transformational change. Botswana considers people as a reservoir for knowledge and wisdom to lead as change agents and if we are a community that is unable to work through issues of forgiveness, we may create or nurture a psycho-sociological space that disempowers collective construct for healing communities.

A Motswana who is able to forgive is likely to live with people from other backgrounds and has a healthy and broader capacity of dealing with diversity and differences with virtue and competencies for the 21st century to advance the nation at local, regional and international level.

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Rabiya Mahomed-McGeoff: Talking Marriage and Family Therapy

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Increased mental health awareness is leading to demand for therapists to serve couples and families. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Lead Clinician, Rabiya Mahomed-McGeoff talks to SunHealth about being one of the most important confidants a person or family can have.

What is a Marriage and family Therapist?
A Marriage and Family Therapist is a mental health professional trained in psychotherapy and family system, and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couple and family system. A Marriage and Family Therapist treats a wide range of serious clinical problems including adult schizophrenia, depression, marital problems, anxiety, individual psychological problems and child parent problems.

How did you become a couple and family therapist?
When I did my undergraduate studies in Psychology, one of my professors was a Marriage and Family Therapist.
He introduced systems theories and they made sense to me. So I decided to pursue marriage and family therapy.I did my Bachelors in Psychology with a minor in Women Studies at University of Massachusetts. I did my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy at Alliant International University in the US. After completing my Masters, I did clinical experience for two years, completing 3000 hours of direct client contact (which is a requirement in the State of California before one can seat for the licensing exams.)
I sat for the two exams and passed. I got licensed as Marriage and Family Therapist in California, USA.

What do you most enjoy about your work?
Giving clients hope, a voice, walking them through transitions and seasons in their lives and seeing them gain insight on their issues.

What is the most challenging thing about marriage and family counseling work?
The most challenging thing is when I work with teenagers where parents don’t want to get involved.
They just drop their children and expect me to fix their children. In most situations you find that parents are the ones with problems and are the ones who need therapy not the children.

What is the biggest myth about therapy?
That you only go to therapy when you have problems. That is not the case; therapy empowers and helps to facilitate personal growth in one’s life. For couples, therapy helps with tune in and awareness of issues before there is a problem.
It strengthens the family and the marriage bond. And also the assumption that therapy is free. I still get amazed by my educated friends who get shocked that therapy is a paid profession.

In general, what do specialists in this practice offer?
We offer couples therapy, individual therapy, child therapy, and group therapy on different issues; grieve therapy, premarital counseling, divorce mediation and recovery.
We consult for organisations on different issues including restructuring, retrenchment and workplace communication.

How do you stay detached from your counselling work? Is it even possible?
I have been practicing for more that 10 years now, throughout the years I have created some rituals that help me to transition from work to family life.
I have learned to set clear boundaries. At the end of my work day I put my phone on a silent mode for 30 minutes. I write down things that I have accomplished on that day and one thing that I am thankful for. I do basic breathing exercises. When I close my office door that’s the end of work – when I get in the car I listen to music until I get home.

What experiences are most useful for people becoming counsellors?
You need to be passionate, enjoy working with people and be willing to learn from your clients.

What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
Not taking responsibility for the choices one has made over the years.

Mental health problems seem to be skyrocketing in our society lately? What are the reasons for this and what can be done about it?
I don’t think mental health issues are skyrocketing. Mental health issues have always been there. It is only that in our culture when we don’t understand something we find a way to label it. Mental health was often labeled as “botsenwa, mopakwane or boloi.”
There was a stigma for a person suffering mental health problem and their family. Often times they were ridiculed and treated as outcasts and shame to their families. Now people are beginning to be open about mental illness and it seems like it is skyrocketing because of the increased awareness.
We need to educate people more about mental health so that they can be aware and be sensitised on mental health issues.
That is a step to destigmatising mental health and learning the importance of early intervention, which can make a difference in one’s life.

If there is one thing you wished your clients or patients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?
Mental health is a real illness. It’s not a character defect and it is okay to live with mental illness.
I have heard that after a couple has a child, which is notably one of the happiest times in anyone’s life that the satisfaction and overall happiness in the marriage can dramatically decrease. Is this true, and why is this? What can couples do to sustain their marital happiness after children?
Having a child is a transitional time in a couple’s life. The reason why it feels like a couple’s happiness has decreased is that the couple did not prepare for the transitional period and therefore they don’t know how to behave, or support each other with the introduction of this new person in their lives.
It is important for the couple to prepare for this period. This is another time in a couple’s life where couple’s therapy is necessary to help process and explore different ways of preparing for the anticipated additional member of the family.
The challenging thing in this transitional stage is that one partner takes a back seat while the other one is the driver of all things baby.
It is a normal transitional challenge and with preparation and awareness it can be handled better to ensure that the fire keeps burning.

What do you do to personally cope with stress in your life?
I pray, read, exercise, spend time with the people I love, balance family life and work life.

If you had your schooling and career choice to do all over again, would you choose the same professional path? If not, what would you do differently and why?
I will do it all over again. I feel honoured and humbled when people come to my office and choose to trust me with their inner fears. It often gives me joy to see them walking away with a smile.
As a therapist I make a difference in people’s lives.

What is the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?
Be true to who you are as a person.

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