Nomsa Tshingowe is the founder of Cancer 0 Thirty 5, a non-profit organisation which provides support to childhood and youth cancer survivors and their families so that they can enjoy quality life in spite of their diagnosis.
Founded in 2016, the organisation provides information on cancer and counselling to those affected.
Cancer 0 Thirty 5 was established in response to the needs of cancer survivors and their families. In addition to awareness-raising initiatives, Cancer 0 Thirty 5 collects non-perishable food, toiletries and clothes to distribute to families affected by cancer in Limpopo, South Africa.
It also has an annual childhood cancer survivors’ celebration in September, which is childhood cancer awareness month. Cancer 0 Thirty 5’s main beneficiaries are children and youth cancer survivors under the age of 35 years. The project’s aim is to build strength and resilience in cancer survivors, particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds.
Nomsa sees herself as a healer because she provides emotional, psychological and, at times, financial support to those affected by cancer. She says once one family member is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family system is disrupted. There are transport costs to get to hospitals for medical consultations and check-ups, made worse by factors such as unemployment and poverty that may hinder the family’s ability to provide adequate support to their relative.
Nomsa, a social worker by profession, provides free counselling to the patient and their family or refers them to other professionals who are able to help.
A cancer survivor herself, Nomsa knows all too well the life-changing effects such a diagnosis can bring, especially when you are young and in the prime of your life. In 2013, at the age of 23 she was diagnosed with Stage 3 osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Initially there was swelling in her right knee, but over time her mobility was affected.
For a year, her treatment consisted of pain medication from the local clinic until she realised that she couldn’t continue and demanded that the clinic refer her to the hospital. She says her life came to a standstill when she was diagnosed with cancer. She had landed a permanent job, but now had to attend regular chemotherapy sessions and undergo surgery.
The side effects of the chemotherapy were so bad that she remembers asking the doctor to stop giving her the treatment so she could end her suffering. Thankfully with the support of her family, friends, colleagues and skilled doctors, she was able to make a full recovery and start an organisation to help others in a similar position.
She believes a lack of information is largely to blame for the many cancer-related deaths in the country. Through the organisation, she advocates for early detection, adherence to treatment and psycho-social support for young cancer patients.
Because cancer is a taboo subject in many parts of South Africa, Nomsa says there are many people who still try to dissuade her from speaking publicly about cancer. This, however, does not deter her from spreading a positive message of hope and from encouraging people to visit the nearest health facility to check up on any irregularities in their bodies.
Nomsa’s work has garnered a great deal of media attention. She was selected as an ambassador for SA Run 4 Cancer Marathon and has been invited to attend the Budget Speech Vote by the Deputy Minister of Women, Youth and Persons living with disabilities.
In the next five years Nomsa would like to continue her pivotal role in changing the negative stigma that cancer patients are faced with on a daily basis.
After learning about TYI Top 100 from social media, she was moved by the past winners and what their projects sought to achieve. She was able to identify herself in their stories and decided to share her own in the hopes of inspiring other young people.