How Charlene Motshegwe Fought Cancer, Debilitating Pain as a Teen

Photo provided by Charlene Motshegwe

Charlene Nadine Motshegwe is a 24-year-old Motswana woman who is currently studying events management at Limkokwing University in Botswana and is set to finish next year. She told The Weight She Carries that her background was a fair one. She had a normal childhood expect for having to deal with her parents losing their jobs, which resulted in family and friends helping with food and other necessities.

Charlene said that in 2013, when she was 16 years old, a table fell on her legs at school, and she started swelling up.

“I could not walk and was in endless pain,” she said. “Then I went to the doctor a year later and was diagnosed with GCT.”

The National Cancer Institution defines GCT (giant cell tumour) as “a rare tumour that usually forms in bone, but may also form in cartilage, muscle, fat, blood vessels, or other supportive tissue in the body. Most GCTs occur at the ends of the long bones of the arms and legs, near a joint (such as the knee, wrist, hip, or shoulder). Most are benign (not cancerous), but some are malignant (cancerous). GCTs usually occur in young and middle-aged adults.”

At 16, Charlene’s GCT was at stage 2. By the time she was 17, it had advanced to stage 4.

“When I was told my world froze. Things happened so fast I didn’t have time to process everything, so I felt nothing.”

“I was numb and I slipped into a silent depression that lead to [me] having suicidal thoughts and self harming to feel pain and let go of the things I was going through.”

There were many days Charlene feared the worst and didn’t think she would survive.

“My dark days were really dark because I would have to listen to my thoughts and not know how to handle the voices in my head,” she said. I would sit in my room in the dark and cry but I still wouldn’t feel anything so I turned to cutting and burning myself. When I did those, I would feel enough and see the blood and realize I’m still alive.”

Charlene lost most of her friends due to her cancer and distanced herself from people because she didn’t want her death to be too painful for them.

“I stopped going out and stayed at home 24/7. I fell back a lot on things teenagers do like learning to drive and partying.”

Managing the pain impacted her everyday life.

“I would wake up in the morning and put my legs on the floor first to stretch my legs,” she said. “Then I would grab my crutch and walk around the room so that my leg would relax. [If I didn’t] I would be very uncomfortable throughout the day. After this short exercise, I would then walk out and go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and clean up.”

Charlene began oral chemotherapy, which is a cancer-fighting drug given by mouth in tablet, capsule, or liquid form. This was prescribed by her doctor instead of traditional chemotherapy because the doctors said it was the most favourable.

Today Charlene has been cancer-free for six years. Even though the medication helped her, one of the side-effects slowed her progress and development.

“I would have completed my university studies, [be] driving and probably working too, but because of the diagnosis, I have fallen two years behind,” she said.

When asked about how a day of treatment was like, Charlene said, “I would be at the hospital, and they would run routine tests like blood pressure, blood tests. Then I would do scans such as MRI and CT scans and chest x-rays to check on any progress or changes.”

Through this whole process, Charlene explained that her support system has always been her parents, family, friends and partner – but mostly God.

“I overcame by believing I would live through the cancer and by putting my faith in God,” she said. “My book is titled You Will Not Define Me, which emanated from the entries that I kept when I was battling the cancer. I decided to turn it into a book so people get to see first-hand what goes through a teenager’s mind when fighting cancer.”

Her key achievements have been beating cancer, publishing her first book and being a part of Pan African Game Changers, Botswana Chapter.

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