Naniki Seboni is a young cancer survivor who has decided to use her experience to educate others. She is a motivational speaker, actress, presenter, and skin cancer survivor. Born and bred in Soweto, as an only child born to two working-class parents, Naniki was raised in a family that supported her “big dreams”. It was while she was 25 when she was diagnosed with Stage III Skin Cancer: Malignant Melanoma.
“A normal mole should look normal. It should look like your skin tone, when it starts to change in colour or shape, you have a problem. I now know this. Most people don’t take these symptoms seriously. When I speak to people, I want them to be aware of their moles, their shape and symmetry,” she cautions.
“Skin cancer is still known to be a white disease, but here I was a young black girl with this disease. When my doctor said you’ve got skin cancer I said but I am black. I thought I was a smart girl, I went to the best schools, I could speak well. I was truly shocked, I was taken aback by the diagnosis, I knew that my life was going to change,” she says.
Naniki’s battle with cancer was not physical, but more mental. Her mind couldn’t grasp the fact that she had been diagnosed with the so-called “white people’s disease.” She was in denial.
“Some of the challenges that I faced were more internal than they were anything else. I dealt a lot with the mental and emotional implications of my journey. At end of the end, early detection is crucial. If you can have some basic knowledge of cancer you will be able to pinpoint it. Let’s start having empowering conversations in our households,” she concludes.
Naniki advises people to seek medical help before it’s too late: “I was a light skin girl playing on the street like any other kid, but I had issues with my skin. If I play for too long in the sun my skin would burn. How do you explain this to a mom or your dad?” She says she appreciates her parents for being proactive by buying her sunscreen. Her mother thought Naniki was more likely to continue playing outdoors, so getting her sunscreen was the best way to protect her skin. Unfortunately, her mole kept on growing until Naniki was later diagnosed with skin cancer.
“Because of all the sport that I was playing, I was constantly in the sun. If you are not educated about small things you tend to miss the bigger picture. When my skin kept on burning, I was told to apply Vaseline and I’ll be okay. But we now know that if you get about five severe sunburns as a child you have a risk of developing skin cancer when you are older. But all those years I was getting sunburned and not going to the dermatologist.”
When Naniki was at varsity when a second mole developed on her left leg. This one was slightly different to the first one. It was black, and excruciatingly painful even when it was still smaller. Then it started growing to become irregular and looked like a huge fly. As it was quite unsightly, Naniki was forced to stop wearing shorts.
“A big part of who I am is what redefined my cancer journey, but before that, I was doing a lot of stuff for radio, television, and acting. I think my background has given me the confidence to be able to stand and speak without withering on stage,” she tells Rise N Shine.
Naniki’s journey as a cancer survivor started when she developed a mole on her hand; she was only 6 years old at the time. “You know black people have developed moles before and we don’t think much about them. Kids can tease you and make you feel embarrassed about it. All I knew was I had something weird on my skin that other kids didn’t have. The mole was grey in colour and irregular in shape and had a very rough texture, it looked like a colourless jelly tot.”