Author and activist Zoleka Mandela, who is also the granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, previously battled breast cancer (after being diagnosed at the age of 32), but thought she had beaten it five years ago.
However, the 36-year-old announced earlier this year that it had returned.
Since then Zoleka has bravely used Instagram to chronicle her fight, and to offer support to other sufferers by showing the real side effects of her treatment. On her feed she has posted matter-of-fact photos of her hair falling out, her chemotherapy sessions and her arms fitted with drips or injections—in addition to a few happy moments with family and friends.
While the disease can sometimes take a toll on survivors’ moods—Zoleka is determined to see the light at the end of the tunnel by sharing her photos with optimistic and witty captions.
On one photo taken as her hair started to fall out, she writes: “There goes my already non-existing eyebrows too!!! Thank Heavens I won’t have to worry about waxing my beard every few weeks, when I don’t… I look like a catfish! I have a slight moustache but I kinda like it so I don’t touch/mess with it at all.”
She also gets real about the daily struggle the disease brings—including early menopause.
“I’m 36 years old and menopausing for the third time, some medication in chemotherapy causes damage to the ovaries which results in menopause,” she wrote. “It’s strange, you’ll lose the hair on your head but gain hair on your face and never mind the hot flushes, mood swings, low sex drive, insomnia, vaginal dryness, sleeping problems, losing control of the bladder, depression, urinary tract infections, skin changes which are all symptoms of menopause.”
In 2013, the wife and mother of four established the Zoleka Mandela Foundation to educate young people about breast cancer—and stresses the importance of raising awareness beyond the month of October.
“Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer are on the increase and are the most common cancers that affect us South African women, Cervical Cancer being the leading cause of death in our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts and daughters in developing countries like ours,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “At least 1 in 29 women will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer in their life time. My journey with breast cancer and my now recurrence after 3yrs of remission is to highlight the importance of early detection and how it keeps saving my life.”
Follow Zoleka’s journey on Instagram at @zolekamandela.