It is astonishing, just how drastically a person’s life can change in 30 seconds. In June 2013, a mere 30-second phone call blew everything I knew about life out of the water and altered the course of my life forever. It is said that male breast cancer accounts for only 1% of all breast cancers, and that it is a hundred times more common in women than in men, (CANSA, 2020). And in just 30 seconds, I became a part of that 1%.
I had been studying in Sweden at the time and while I was there, around April/May, I discovered a pimple on my body and it just wouldn’t go away. My assumption was that it was a boil so I treated it with an over-the-counter ointment. It still wouldn’t go away, so upon my return to South Africa, on June 17, I had it checked out at the Linksfield hospital despite not feeling ill or being in pain. The doctor took one look at it and said this doesn’t look very good.
And so, we did a biopsy on the 19th, it was at this time, that the doctor asked me if I had my paperwork in order and whether I had a good support system in place. And that’s when I knew something wasn’t right. So, on the 21st of June 2013 at 10am, in a 30-second phone call, the doctor confirmed that it was breast cancer. I was dumbfounded and shocked into silence. Just like that, I began the hardest 10-month journey of my life.
Over the 10 months, I had surgery to remove the tumour followed by radiotherapy and then chemotherapy. In a very short space of time, I had to sort out my insurance, make sure that I had a file put together with all my financial information, and had made arrangements should I pass away, all while grappling with this sudden change in my life. But I actually wasn’t thinking about myself so much as my sons and my wife and how this would affect them.
Needless to say, they took the news very badly and the effects of it are still felt today, 8 years later. This is how it is; it impacts on the family in a big way.
What made things even tougher, was that male breast cancer is so rare, that my oncologist and her colleagues weren’t sure what the best course of treatment would be. My tumour was then sent to California where further tests would be done so that they could determine whether chemotherapy would be beneficial to me. In the meantime, the cancer had grown quite rapidly and my chances of survival were not very high. Fortunately, the team in California established that chemo would work for me, and I began the fight of my life. I fought hard despite the fact that my prognosis wasn’t very good and while I went into it prepared to fight a physical fight for my body, I soon realised that the real fight was a mental one, that’s where you have to win this battle.
In the beginning, I didn’t want to speak about it openly because of the stigma attached to it. it is deemed to be a “woman’s disease”, so you try to pretend that you don’t have it and you operate at an undercover level. You also get challenged by people wondering what is wrong with you, that men “don’t have breasts”, but that’s where they’re wrong, everybody has breasts. But in certain communities it is still a taboo, like it does not exist.
This was before I joined my support group as a volunteer and later took over the organisation, that’s when I realized that there are other men in the world going through it. But the survival rate is very low, that’s the reason why you don’t find many men talking about surviving breast cancer. One of the biggest challenges for me during this journey was realising just how little knowledge and information there was out there for people in my position. I knew that not doing anything out of embarrassment would be a disservice to my journey but also a wasted opportunity at helping someone else. One thing to always keep in mind is that irrespective of where you are on your cancer journey, it is prudent to empower yourself with professionals and partners that have the knowledge to assist and experience to support you.  This is why when Momentum approached me and requested that I be part of their Momentum Force, it was a no brainer. Access to relevant and reliable information could easily be the difference between life and death.
While they may not claim to have the cure for Cancer, through their Whatsapp Bot they’re able to reach far more people in far reaching spaces – providing support to even the remotest of places.
When I was going through my journey, the one thing I had that changed the trajectory of my illness was the support I got from my friends and family.  Even in our support group, we have WhatsApp groups, social media, email, as well as telephone platforms for people to reach out to us and for us to reach back to them. Creating the bot creates a presence that an organisation or a company like Momentum recognises and commits itself to education and advocacy in saving people’s lives. If you can detect your cancer early, especially breast cancer, your chances of survival are very, very high. Momentum is a big brand and if you’ve got that kind of brand muscle behind the work that you are trying to do, it makes it that much easier for the messages to go through.
I am now in remission for 8 years and am so grateful for the support I received from my family, colleagues and my support group, Wings of Hope Cancer Support which supported me. As I recovered, I joined them as a volunteer and I now head up the organisation. Since taking over, we’ve opened up a footprint in Cape Town and in Durban, but we support anywhere.
I have dedicated my time to educating communities, societies, and other groups on not only general cancers, but especially male breast cancers, that this is real.
I now celebrate 2 birthdays; my biological birthday in July, and then my second life birthday on 21 June. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance in life and that’s why I tell people, to live their best lives. You cannot give up; you have to have hope. My life changed in 30 seconds, and it changed forever. Now that I’ve overcome the treatment, my message to everybody is to always live your best life every day, just live your best life. Don’t put off things because you just never know. Live your best life everyday with no regret.
Nersan Govender is chair of the Wings of Hope Cancer Support Group and a member of the Momentum Force, a group of experts geared toward giving people #AdviceForSuccess to successfully navigate their cancer journey and know that they are not alone.
With the right advice and partnerships that Momentum provides through the Momentum Force, South Africans will have the right partner to help them navigate their cancer journey. Momentum advises everyone to take action and get tested because early detection saves lives.
*Follow the #AdviceForSuccess conversation for more information on the Whatsapp Bot. opt in using

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