Not Without a Fight
Born and bred in Soweto Thando and her two sisters boarded at a high school in Durban and then she went on to the University of the North in Limpopo. At the tender age of 20, with a law degree under her belt, she served her articles in Benoni, where she met her husband. Today she lives in Boksburg with her husband and their two children aged 14 and 10.
In 2007 Thando was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “I was provisionally diagnosed in the middle of 2007, but could not get myself to believe it. The doctor said it was OK, and that I should come back in six months time. I went for a brain scan and my condition was confirmed in December of that year.”
Her symptoms began years before. “I would lose sensation in my hands and feet. For example I would not be able to grip a glass. In 1999 I was not able to walk. I would crawl to the bathroom. I would take painkillers to make it go away without knowing what was causing it.” Two years later it happened again and she also suffered with fatigue. “I would be very active and then extremely tired. I could not understand why. I would take power naps and that would help. After sleeping for 20 minutes it would feel like I had slept for three hours.”
The fatigue, she says is the worst. “I still take power naps to help me – I bought a couch for my office in fact. I avoid traffic or anything that will make me stressed and tired. This year I have not had a relapse as I have previous years when I would then have to go into hospital and received physiotherapy and cortisone. This year I have only had my normal GP checkups.”
With her diagnosis came depression. “I had never heard of this condition and I did not know anyone who had it. I called it a thing.” 2008 was a dark year for Thando. “I was so depressed that before I began the treatment for MS, I was treated for depression. I lost my memory for most of that year - it was so bad.” She went to see both a psychologist and a psychiatrist which helped.
Her doctor explained that, although not life-threatening, her MS would require management. “I would have to change my lifestyle and understand my condition. While it was not curable, it could be treated.” Her treatment began in the middle of 2008. “I was shown how to inject myself. It took time to get use to it, but today is it second nature.” They also helped her to understand her condition and to deal with her anxiety and fear around it. “The treatment for MS is selfinjected – much like for people who have diabetes. However I was not happy about this and did not want anything to do with needles. I could not understand why I could not just take a tablet. It was explained to me that self-injecting was the best method of treatment.”
It was hard for Thando’s family. “My husband was shocked but was very supportive from the beginning as are my children. My baby girl reminds to take my medicine. When I was diagnosed my children were so young that we did not know how to tell them. We explained to them that mom was sick, but did not go into detail.”
Today Thando looks anything but sick. She eats healthy foods and tries to exercise. “I am super healthy. MS is a life commitment and if you manage it properly most people don’t even know you have the condition. It is all about living healthy. I am also very sensitive to stress which can also cause me to panic and then I don’t sleep at night.”
Thando has always been sensitive to the needs of others and likes to help but the MS requires that she be strict with herself. “My mom and sisters depend on me a lot but this caused a lot of stress for me. I had to sit down with them and explain my condition to them and that - because of it - I would not be able to be there for them as I had been previously. I love helping others so it has been hard for me, but it has been better for my health.”
“Most people don’t appreciate what they have. They should be grateful that they do not have MS. I had to change my lifestyle – I am responsible for my life and I cannot afford to do anyone any favours. I have to do it for my children. I want to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible.”
She says it is all about acceptance. “I think I suffered from depression after my diagnosis because of my lack of understanding of what MS is. My MS nurse, Ania, (who still checks on me every month) used to call me often in the beginning because of my weak emotional state. My faith also helps me every day. I believe with all my heart that God will not give you something you cannot carry. He knows you have the strength.”
Her nature is one of a fighter and gogetter and this can clearly be seen in her career. “When I was two my Grandfather looked at me and said: ‘This one is going to be a lawyer’ and, oddly enough, that is what I have always wanted to be. I have not thought of anything else – there has never been any other option. I have always been argumentive and don’t quit, until I win or lose and if I do lose, it must be for a valid reason.” On top of running her business she is studying her Masters this year and would like to do her MBA after that.
“My dream is to be a judge or, alternatively, to head up a legal department for a large corporate. I always want to continue studying and I have always been ambitious, but prepared to work hard to get where I would like to be. I don’t expect things to come to me; I go get them. I am a dreamer and an achiever. Once you stop dreaming then you die.” MS has even helped her to focus.
“It was a serious setback, but in the end it helped me to evaluate what I want from my life. Today I deal with my condition and it has not stopped me from achieving what I want to.”
Her journey has not been free of discrimination. “While there is no stigma attached to MS, as there is with HIV/AIDS, I have experience some discrimination. I have been declined for life-cover by insurance companies. It is strange really when you consider that these same companies will provide cover for people suffering from HIV/AIDS.” Over and above her studies Thando is going to take up her own case against that company which turned her down for life insurance. “I have contributed to this fund since I started working. Then in 2009 I lapsed in my payments for two to three months because of my condition. When I tried to reinstate my membership, while disclosing my condition, I was refused. I will be taking this on this year."