Breaking Taboos with Motorcycles
In just a few days a motorcycle gang of 25 riders will take control of the highways and roads of eastern South Africa. These leather-clad bikers are some of the toughest people on the planet and are not to be messed with. Instead of hardened men sporting beards and tattoos, though, they are a smiling group of women and men, complete with jackets featuring bright pink logos.
They've all shown their strength by fighting hard and beating one of the toughest adversaries out there: cancer.
These riders are part of a charity organization named Cancervive, which organizes annual motorcycle rides through rural parts of South Africa to raise cancer awareness. From September 25th to October 4th this group will travel 2300 km through four provinces, stopping at villages along the way and educating locals on the risks of cancer.
One of these participants, Angele van der Wiel, who cruised through last year’s ride on a Triumph Thunderbird 1600, was able to sit down for an interview and tell me about this unique group of motorcycle enthusiasts.
Her story dates back to September 2010, when she noticed a lump in her breast and, after having it examined by a doctor, was diagnosed with cancer. After a series of surgeries and eventual mastectomy, she was finally declared cancer-free.
Angele described how when she “got the call” from the doctor and received the news she became determined not to let it beat her. When asked what thoughts crossed her mind after receiving such a blow, she boldly stated, “There was never a moment I thought I was going to die.”
She attributes part of her survival to this determination and staying positive.
Between surgeries she traveled from her home in the Netherlands to South Africa. A friend there introduced her to Cancervive, which educates people on the so called “shy cancers”, those that people find most difficult to talk about, such as breast, testicular, cervical, and prostate cancer.
Angele admits that her cancer treatment was relatively mild compared to the months or years of radiation and chemo that many cancer patients have to endure. But she knows that she is living proof that early detection saves lives, making her an ideal spokesperson for Cancervive, which focuses on early detection.
This year will be Angele’s second Cancervive ride, and she went on to describe the experience. Each day has a packed schedule, with up to three shows that feature music, dance, laughter, and are all organized by approximately 40 additional volunteers. At each show they discuss the importance of early detection, how to recognize the signs, and how to seek proper treatment. She said that the entertainment and the sight of so many motorcycles allows their messages to really hit home.
Between shows they talk with locals and discuss their experiences with the disease. They also ride to hospitals and schools for disabled children, arriving in a single column of roaring motorcycles, to the cheers of children whose spirits are lifted for a day.
During last year's ride, Angele met some amazing people along the way and you could write an entire book with the stories she is able to tell.
She was able to comfort a young boy in a hospital waiting room who was about to receive chemo treatment. At a church service the Cancervive group brought joy to a man who was in the terminal phase of his illness, and ended up dying later that day.
Angele was also approached by a woman who confided in her that she had a lump in her breast. When Angele asked why she hadn’t gone to a hospital, the woman stated that she didn’t want to have a doctor see her naked, let alone examine her. In these parts of Africa cultural taboos and stigmas run rife. Angele explained that if a villager loses a breast or testicle to cancer, they are often shunned and banished.
She adds that this keeps people from coming forward when they first recognize the symptoms. “People either don’t go to the doctor and die, or they go to the doctor too late and die because they didn’t receive treatment in time.”
Cancervive is fighting these stigmas by instigating discussion and breaking down barriers.
Lilian Dube , a famous South African actress and breast cancer survivor, also lent a hand in this fight when she arrived at a show last year wearing a T-shirt that read, “Early detection saved my life. YES, they’re fake! The real ones tried to kill me!”
Angele promised that this year will be just as memorable. Last year they toured the western part of the country, but this year they will hit new territory. Starting in Johannesburg they will cruise through remote villages before passing through Durban and then making their way back to Johannesburg.
When asked about any future involvement with Cancervive, she happily declared, “I plan to join next year’s ride as well. We really make a difference”. And with a big smile she closed with,“Who knows, maybe one day I can bring this ride to Europe.”