Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (5 895m ASL) in Tanzania as an ostomate seems impossible, but colon cancer survivor Lerato Monyatsi is committed to the cause to raise funds for cancer and fellow ostomy patients.
39-Year-old Lerato Monyatsi, 39, left the country on the eve of 31 May 2022 and headed out to climb Kilimanjaro. Her Foundation – SkirtGirlHiker – will attempt to close the Care Gap by raising funds in aid of medical attention for Colorectal Cancer Patients and access to medical care and supplies for Ostomy patients in the form of Stomatherapists and medical supplies, and mental health support.
Individual acts of compassion have the greatest potential for transformation. Join us as we make a difference in the lives of stoma and cancer patients in South Africa. Skirtgirlhiker is moving mountains and hiking for a purpose to restore the dignity of South Africans, one community, one Cancer patient & one Ostomate at a time!
While many people’s lives were being upended by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Lerato, the creator of the SkirtGirlHiker Foundation, was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer. This entailed seeking immediate medical attention, undergoing many operations, as well as undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. She also became a permanent Ostomate on her journey after losing her intestines to cancer.
The prices of the medical attention obtained during her fight against colon cancer were high, and even after all treatment operations were completed, the Ostomy journey required medical attention and supplies. For many South Africans struggling with continuous costs, a lack of access to essential medical care has become a reality.
“It was around December 2019 when I first encountered discomfort in my abdomen. I was bloated and constipated so I went to see a doctor. I was prescribed medication to flush all the waste out and the doctor concluded that I had haemorrhoids and medicated as such,” she says.
“A month or two later, the same scenario played out, though this time with more pain, blood in stool, fatigue, and both diarrhoea and constipation which resulted in me visiting the bathroom about eight times a day. Again, I was told the cause was haemorrhoids.”
Lerato saw a disparity between how she felt and what she was being treated for. This prompted the single mother to do her own investigation. As hospital visits were prohibited owing to the COVID outbreak last March, Google and YouTube became her go-to research archives. Her fears were confirmed when the studies revealed a high risk of colon cancer.
Undergoing a laparotomy and colostomy operation
Unfortunately, Lerato landed up in casualty. This time, she was urged to see a surgeon right away. She was in the operating room three days later for a colonoscopy and gastroscopy. Lerato was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer in July 2020, not long after the operations.
“My entire world came crumbling down around me. I wanted to pray but couldn’t find the right words. My mother and sister came right away and stayed with me, while I called my work and informed my manager of my diagnosis.”
Lerato spoke with two oncologists, who suggested that surgery and chemo-radiation would be the best options.
Lerato was left with a permanent colostomy bag as a result of the laparotomy and colostomy operation. This has been the most difficult obstacle for her to overcome. She subsequently endured six cycles of chemotherapy over six months and 25 daily radiation sessions for five weeks.
Standing on the shoulders of giants and prayer warriors
Lerato recalls that the first two months following her colon cancer diagnosis were the most difficult.
“Between my family and I, we cried a lot,” she says. “We attempted to encourage each other with God’s word, but it became heavier and heavier. One morning, I texted my pastor’s wife and decided to go public with my request for prayer from the church. Since then, I’ve felt like we’ve been standing on the shoulders of giants, prayer warriors, and incredibly supportive extended relatives and friends. I felt lighter as I spoke more. I could now walk into my inner chamber alone and communicate to God, knowing and trusting that everything was fine with me.”
“I’m an ardent hiker, and some of the mountains I’ve climbed have really battered me down and scourged me, but I always come out on top. During my most vulnerable period as I faced my diagnosis, I recalled all those experiences of challenging periods on mountains, believing I didn’t have enough strength to continue but persevering with tremendous encouragement from fellow hikers as we cheered each other on. My colon cancer diagnosis is yet another obstacle I must face. This war will be won!”
Lerato admits that it was quite difficult to accept that she was an ostomate, and that, for the rest of her life, she will have to use a stoma bag.
Lerato says there was some information on ostomates, but she wanted more. She also believes the financial expense of being an ostomate is exorbitant (she receives private healthcare), so how can people in the public sector cope? She’s heard horror stories about colon cancer patients glueing plastic grocery bags to their stomas.
As a result, she joined forces with a newly founded organisation, The South African Society of Stomates (SASS). It is a non-profit organisation founded by ostomates from around Southern Africa to support an approach to ostomy patient care by bridging the gap between the private and public sectors and campaigning for the rights of fellow ostomates across the country.
Follow Lerato’s journey, here.
This piece was written by Vera SA: a leading supplier of ostomy underwear for men and women.
Contact VERA SA at 082-833-9200, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or log onto https://www.verasa.store/ for more information.
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