Naniki Seboni is a Cancer Inspirational Speaker and Cancer Awareness Facilitator.
In this in-depth interview she takes us through her story on how she was teased at school for ‘wanting to be like a white girl’ because she used sunscreen and how at the age of 24, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 malignant melanoma. Read and Be Inspired!
Hi Naniki, tell us about yourself
My name is Naniki Seboni and I am a Cancer Inspirational Speaker and Cancer Awareness Facilitator, in short, I am a cancer advocate. At the age of 24, I was diagnosed with Stage III Malignant Melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer) and I have been in remission for 7-years and counting. I use the persona Cancer Unicorn when I speak, because I found myself diagnosed with a “white people” cancer when I didn’t fit many of the risk factors associated with the disease. My journey from pre-diagnosis to treatment has been a unique one and almost unheard of story. Thus, I chose “unicorn” to describe the mystery and intrigue of my cancer journey.
What are your takes on the African mentality toward cancer awareness?
To give a blanket approach answer for the entire African continent would be careless of me, so I will speak on the experience of the South Africans.
I am a member of a great cancer network which includes cancer advocates from around the world. The people in this network are brilliant, passionate and are always trying with everything in their power to make a change in their counties and communities. My African counterparts are some of the most passionate cancer advocates. Living in developing and under-developed countries gives us a unique opportunity with our battle with cancer. Treatments and technologies are so far ahead of how we even screen for cancer that I believe with the right access to treatments and scans, we could defeat cancer before it becomes an epidemic. Every country is doing as much as they with as little as they have to create cancer awareness, but the organisations of each country are the true heroes on the frontlines educating their fellow countrymen and women. We still have a way to go in understanding this disease, but don’t count out the African continent yet.
So many women do not want to speak up when going through their cancer challenges, why is this so?
-I meet more female survivors than I do males. Women are just incredible. If you want to see a die-hard spirit, look at the woman in the mirror or right next to you. Women are powerful advocates for change, they are unbreakable. When a woman battles cancer, she battles for the world that could be left without her immeasurable presence in it. If you find a woman that is possibly quiet about her battle, give her strength from one sister to another. Encourage her journey, not to speak out but to battle for victory over cancer. That’s all she needs to do. The rest will follow.
What are the major challenges you’ve faced in this industry?
There are over 200 types of cancers, we can’t educate on them with a blanket approach. Each cancer has it’s own signs and symptoms and possible treatment plans. Everyone thinks their cancer is worthy of the spotlight, but unfortunately, we have to work with what is affecting the majority of people the most. Then we find ourselves being swept away by pink campaigns every October and the other cancers only get a little spotlight. And this is when advocacy work plays an integral part in the education through awareness process. Those challenges of reaching people and creating support groups for those affected and their loved ones becomes just that much easier. But the foot soldiers of the cancer community of a great deal of work at their hands, and I trust they will be continue with their work tirelessly.
On a personal note; my greatest challenge was strangely enough other cancer survivors diminishing my cancer journey. Our cancer diagnosis and treatments are as unique as our finger prints. No two people will be given the same treatment for the same cancer and have the same results. So I found myself in a position where I was questioned my legitimacy as a cancer survivor because I didn’t receive the same type of treatment BC patients had received. Honestly, I started to doubt my own journey asking myself if I was truly worthy to be on stages around South Africa sharing my victory over cancer. Until I was reminded that what lives inside of me is so powerful that it beat cancer and that alone was worthy of my presence.
As Africans we don’t fully appreciate the cancer awareness programs that encompass us, what’s your take on that?
When a General goes to war, he sets up a battle plan. He researches the enemy to understand their strengths and weaknesses and acts accordingly on the battle field. Africans and the world are still trying to figure out what cancer really is. This is a disease that has been found in dinosaur bones before civilisation came to be.
So in 2023, if people are still finding themselves unfamiliar with cancer and the campaigns around it, I don’t believe it’s a strange thing. It’s an opportunity. And that lies with everyone from governments and their health sectors, to survivors and their loves one to have open dialogues without stigma or shame attached. When we empower people with knowledge people find their power. When you have some understanding of what cancer is, how it affects you, how to beat it, or what challenges and victories lie ahead, I can only assume that anyone would feel prepared to battle for their lives.
Tell us, what’s your drive for this awareness program?
I grew up in the most famous township on the African continent – Soweto. I saw people dying from the epidemic known as HIV/AIDS and vowed to take care of my health. Never did I think I would be diagnosed with cancer. Today, I’m living through the cancer world pandemic and trying to best educate on it. I’m trying to do my part. I want there to be a time when cancer isn’t thought of as a death sentence, but seen as something that can be beaten without the uphill battles traumatic stories that scare even the toughest people to shy away from seeking treatment. We should not be held hostage by the term “cancer”, we should be thriving to conquer it.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
If I was asked this in 2019, I would’ve listed many different wonderful career ventures, but the pandemic taught me, and I believe many of us, to restructure and learn to adapt quicker. The optimistic side of me wants the works. She is a big dreamer. I want to change the face of cancer. In my country I want to change the landscape of sun and skin cancer awareness at a schooling level. You start them young with great sun smart habits and they take them into adulthood. I want to live in my God-given purpose, and move away from ego and focus on service. Serving the cancer community with love, respect and compassion.“
So many young individuals look up to you, what’s your advice to them?
I stand where I am today not because I am a famous super star. I stand where I am because, I had to trust the process. When I was sixteen, I prayed what I call “the prayer of my life”. When I did that prayer, I was praying for the Naniki of today. The Naniki that has stood toe-to-toe with a deadly disease and came out victorious. The Naniki that gets to connect with people around the world simply because she refused to give up. I was praying for the Naniki that would still be praying and giving thanks for the joys of life after facing her own mortality. I wanted to do something really amazing with my life. I knew I wanted to be on mutliple stages across the globe connecting with people in unimagineable ways, but I didn’t know how. I knew I couldn’t sing like Beyoncé, but I believed I had something special within me.
“Remember, it takes 20-years to be 20-years, so trust in the journey of your life, especially on the tough days.”
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