South African Success Story: Siya


In 2010, LIVESTRONG initiated a pilot campaign in South Africa and Mexico that will seek to raise awareness of the global cancer burden and reduce the stigma associated with cancer through culturally relevant and targeted messaging. Please consider helping us continue our work by making a donation during the Break the Silence campaign from now through the end of June.

Everyone must know that they can’t run away from it, they must face it. I’ve been there,? Siya says, ?so I want to share my story with everyone.?Siya’s story? He is 22 years old and a cancer survivor.

Siya is drawing upon his personal victory over cancer to fight cancer stigma through the door-to-door campaign run by the Cancer Anti-Stigma Initiative, presented by LIVESTRONG and implemented by John Snow Inc (JSI).

Siya was diagnosed with Leukemia as an infant. And as an infant, he and his mother were affected by stigma through unsupportive fiends and relatives, some who assumed the infant was HIV positive. This stigma forced Siya’s mother to run away from her family. Shortly thereafter Siya had to be permanently admitted into a hospital where he spent the next 10 years of his life. Before things could get better for Siya, they took a turn for the worse when his mother abandoned him during this tough period of his childhood. As he recounts his story, Siya is emotional when he remembers his only source of support. His granny, as he calls his grandmother, came back into his life pulled by her sense of endearment for her grandchild. ?She came looking for me at the hospital. And she was there for me when no one else was.?

Then in 1999, Granny passed away. Siya remembers this time as a turning point for him; change begun when he learned to walk; just so he could attend Granny’s funeral. This was also the time when he decided he would be strong for her by taking on cancer and not letting cancer take over him.

Twelve years later Siya is reaping the benefits of his positive attitude. His cancer is in remission and he is living a healthy and vibrant life. Most excitingly, he is sharing his positive attitude with his community in Soweto through the Initiative’s door-to-door campaign. The Cancer Anti-Stigma Initiative works to reduce cancer-related stigma through culturally-relevant and targeted messaging that raises awareness of the global cancer burden. By collaborating with local cancer organizations and encouraging survivors to tell their stories, the Initiative disseminates knowledge and awareness messages needed to successfully confront fears and misconceptions about stigma in the South African public.

Siya speaking at the Patient Empowerment Forum: Photo by Wilson Waggoner

The door to door campaign is a key aspect of the Initiative’s efforts as it brings home, through a very personalized method, the anti-stigma messages that are being broadcast across South Africa through television and radio. As a door-to-door campaign volunteer, Siya is taking advantage of an opportunity to raise awareness about cancer and to share his upbeat “cancer can be beaten? attitude with his community. He recognizes the power of his message and the influence he has when he shares his story; as Siya put it, he leads by example not just with words. Siya reveals that it is not always easy to share his story; there is still a great amount of stigma that he faces when he tells his story. Too many people laugh and tell him he will die while others are scared. But Siya carries on, he shows strength by sharing the facts about what cancer is and is not. And sometimes, by the end of his time in a household, the person who was previously joking about death, thanks him and wishes for him to live a long life.

Like many of the volunteers in the communities where the Cancer Anti Stigma Initiative works, Siya feels that the door-to-door campaign must go on for a little while longer. ?People are just starting the get interested and they want to know more.?

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