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12 April 2019
Brain tumour couldn’t stop mom from obtaining her Masters in Social Science

(Published - 12 April 2019)

She wanted to answer the nagging question in the back of her head: What is stopping parents from getting involved in their children’s after-school activities?

It prompted Yolandi Afrika to study towards a Master’s degree in social work, and nothing would get in her way - not even a brain tumour which confined her to a wheelchair.

Afrika, aged 52, from Vredenburg on the West Coast, registered as a Master’s student in Social Science in 2016 at the University of the Western Cape. She was 49-years-old at the time and worked full-time as a social worker.

But 2017 brought along an unpleasant surprise. What began as moderate headaches, became more frequent and severe and she could no longer ignore them. “I consulted various doctors - one even treated me for an ear infection - little did I know that I actually had a sizeable brain tumour,” she said.

On 20 October 2017 doctors at Tygerberg hospital confirmed this diagnosis. At times she was unable to walk and had to use a wheelchair.

Afrika recalls an extremely emotional gathering a few days later when she and her husband shared the devastating news with the family. “I was facing possible death, and being on a waiting list at the hospital meant that if I was fortunate enough, I could only have my operation performed in the next few months,” she said.

But her case was so severe that hospital staff called and decided to operate on her the very next day.

“Here, I can only thank God for the miracles He performed,” said Afrika.

“Before the operation, the three doctors explained what was to be done during the procedure and took us through all the possible risk factors. The pros out-weighed the cons, and so I went into theatre the next morning to undergo an eight hour operation.”

“The tumour was removed successfully even though doctors warned that the chances for success were slim. However, they told me there is a factor that shouldn’t be ignored - faith.”

Her operation was a success; she had no side-effects from the operation and she continued her studies. She is grateful for the support of Professor Catherina Schenck - the “most patient and loyal academic I have ever encountered”.

“Throughout my 28 years working as a social worker, I had this inner longing to fully understand factors that hinder parental involvement, especially when it comes to parents with children with high risk behaviour. The studies helped me find answers to these questions and I’m happy to be able to share my knowledge on this topic with others today,” she said.

Afrika graduated this month - a “great moment” for her and her family.

“I was able to complete what I have started despite the health challenges. I am extremely grateful for the huge amount of support I received from my mentor. I can only thank God,” says Yolandi.