“I Had No Idea My Son’s Eye Colour Meant He Had Cancer”
Photography supplied by Phumeza Mdabe
“It was hell watching our son go through so much pain”
When actress and tv personality, Phumeza Mdabe’s son Mpilo was diagnosed with cancer, her world came to a standstill. “The word cancer never even crossed our minds,” she says.
Mpilo was born with abnormally dark pupils, but Phumeza and her husband, musician Mnqobi ‘Shota’ Mdabe assumed his eye colour would change overtime. As the months went by they realized Mpilo couldn’t see properly. Mpilo’s eyes became squint and his eyes would have a white glow whenever he was underneath light. By the time Mpilo was one, his sight had become even worse. “We never thought or wanted to imagine it was anything serious,” Phumeza says.
They were referred to a specialist in December 2014, who diagnosed Mpilo with Bilateral Retinoblastoma – a cancer of the eye. By the end of December Mpilo had started his first cycle of chemo, and underwent bone marrow tests and several other tests to double check that the cancer had not spread. The tests showed that it was contained in his eyes. Doctors, however, were concerned that the cancer would eventually spread to his brain.
In January 2015, Mpilo had his first operation to have his right eye removed. “We had to learn about prosthetic eyes. The thought of having to take it out to clean it and put it back was horrifying,” Phumeza says. Mpilo also had a port inserted for chemo treatment as the nurse struggled to find a vein to put a drip in. “It was hell watching our son go through so much pain,” says Phumeza.
After six cyles of chemo, the cancer was still not responding to treatment. They were then referred to a specialist in Cape Town, where Mpilo would undergo radiation therapy. Despite numerous treatments, the cancer didn’t respond as the doctors expected. Phumeza and Shota had no choice but to have Mpilo’s left eye removed as the tumour would soon spread to his brain.
In October 2016, Mpilo was officially cleared and is now in remission. Phumeza says they feel incredibly blessed to still have Mpilo in their lives. “He’s very naughty and amazes us with his hearing. Looks like we have an upcoming musician on our hands,” jokes Pumeza.
Pumeza says the biggest lesson she learnt was not take anything for granted. “We need to pay more attention to our kids even if it looks like a small thing,” she explains. Phumeza is now an ambassador for and will be travelling throughout the country during to raise awareness about the importance of early diagnosis of cancer.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Purchase a Gold Beaded Ribbon from the or one of their regional offices. Wear it throughout the month to show your support to children with cancer. Be Bold. Go Gold.