Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Xolani Hlongwane – Embracing change

June 1, 2020 Word for Word Media 0Comment

From being a successful group HR administrator to now working as a donor recruiter and education specialist at The Sunflower Fund, Xolani Hlongwane tells us how his life changed after surviving Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Xolani Hlongwane (36) lives in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal with his partner of two years.

Growing up in the township of Lamontville, Xolani is the eldest of four children. He became the first person in his family to attend university; an achievement his parents are extremely proud of. 

Xolani paid for his education by waiting on tables and completed it by sheer determination, not only to make a success of himself but to make his close-knit family proud.

For 12 years, Xolani worked hard and climbed the corporate ladder. “I loved my job: ensuring proper administration of policies and procedures were upheld, training of staff and the smooth enforcement of employment equity and transformation. I found my passion and could safely say the world was at my feet,” Xolani says.

My-Story-Xolani-Hlongwane-OB-MJ2020The start of change

While on a business trip, Xolani noticed a lump was forming on his neck. He let it be as his work schedule was priority. Though, once back home, his mother, a nurse, told him to go see a doctor immediately. Three weeks later, Xolani’s mother’s plea still fell on deaf ears. She then gave her son an ultimatum, he either goes to the doctor or she will drag him there. 

After Xolani consulted with a doctor, he was admitted to hospital for tests, much to his dismay. 

“I felt I was getting left behind with my work. I wanted to take my laptop but my boss wouldn’t allow me.”

After several tests, a biopsy was done on the 5mm lump. In Xolani’s mind, the worst-case scenario was that the lump needed to be removed. He would undergo surgery and be back at work in no time.

Though March of 2017 would forever alter Xolani’s life. The doctor broke the news that he had Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That night proved difficult for Xolani to sleep, with hundreds of thoughts filling his mind and tears streaming down his face. The glorified career he was building was collapsing right in front of his eyes. How was he ever going to tell his parents he had cancer? Where did it come from? Why him? Did he really deserve this? Has his life come to an end? 

Xolani comments, “Life does indeed have a way of stopping you in your tracks and it did just that.”

Family reaction 

When asked how his family took the news, Xolani responds, “It was one of the most challenging times for my family. With my mom being a nurse, the diagnosis almost broke her as she was fully aware of how fast the disease can spread and the number of deaths. My father, a cultural Zulu man, would often want to seek alternative ways rather than me going for chemo. Most of my close family members didn’t really understand and found it hard to believe as I was the first in the family tree to be diagnosed.”


Xolani’s mother was by his side when his haematologist explained the treatment plan: eight hours of chemo, every 15 days for nine months.

The then 33-year-old was surrounded by his family for his first round of chemo. Unfortunately, he was admitted to hospital. “I started to vomit and my temperature spiked. I honestly thought that was the end of me,” Xolani says. 

With his family by his side, he persevered through treatment. He explains, “I was never allowed to be on my own. They encouraged me and made me believe that I could beat this disease. Mothers are the best; when all else failed, my mom was there to give me words of wisdom. The oncology sister also played a big role. She guided me on diet and what to expect in terms of side effects. A pep talk before and after chemo sessions was constant. She was like a mother to me. 

But, I also had to be positive. You can have the best support in the world, but if you don’t make the decision and the effort of self-belief and the ability to fight and never give up, there will be no progress.” 

Treatment took a toll on Xolani and he made the decision to resign and focus on his healing. “I had to resign and was placed on a disability fund. My boss was sad to lose me but truly understood that my health had to come first.


Meeting Khosi

A woman named Khosi played a paramount role in how Xolani’s life would change. “I was introduced to Khosi in 2013, by her brother who is my friend. I was doing HR training at a hospital and Khosi was admitted and later diagnosed with leukaemia. We would often call each other. I would offer her support, just to let her know she isn’t alone. Little did I know that years later, I was going to be diagnosed and she would become my pillar of strength. She had battled a life-threatening disease for years and never gave up and she had the right mentality and was always willing to give it all. Khosi became my support structure. She shared nutritional meals and juices that were good for the immune system. She was extremely positive and always beaming with a smile,” Xolani says.

It was Khosi who invited Xolani to a Sunflower Fund donor recruitment drive on Mandela Day 2017. “I found great interest in what they do and thought to myself I would love to make a difference in the lives of others and make a positive change.”

Sadly, Khosi passed away on 23 October 2017 which rattled Xolani. “I felt like there was nothing to live for. I was broken beyond measure, a part of me went with her. We would always share our milestones during treatment as we attended the same treating specialist. I was admitted to hospital after attending her funeral. I couldn’t help but think that I would soon follow. But what kept me going is a request from Khosi, ‘If I leave before you, promise to live for me.’”


The Sunflower Fund

In March 2018, the biggest change happened. Xolani saw there was a vacancy at The Sunflower Fund; he applied and he got it. Xolani had a new career path – helping other cancer patients.

Two years later he is the regional donor recruitment and education specialist for KZN. “I educate the public about blood diseases and blood stem cell donation and recruit potential and committed donors onto The Sunflower Fund Registry.”

His career change proves to bring much joy. He explains, “After every donor drive I’m most pleased as I know that I’ve tried to save a life of a patient in need of a life-saving blood stem cell transplant, by growing the numbers of donors on the Registry.”

When asked if it was hard to leave his HR ambitions behind him, the 36-year-old says, “Change is never easy for anyone. However, we need to embrace change to better our own lives. It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, as I am still dealing with people but just on a different platform. Though, I think the one challenging part of my job now is the emotional attachment that I have with patients and more so when we lose them. But, there is great joy when we (The Sunflower Fund) are able to assist the patients and they find healing.”

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MEET OUR EDITOR  – Laurelle Williams

Laurelle is the Editor at Word for Word Media and graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She have a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Write me: [email protected]

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