South African afro-soul artist and songwriter Candy Tsamandebele had the world in the palm in her hand. A successful music career and platinum-selling album, a family, great health and a bright future that appeared already set in stone. Then, in the blink of an eye, her picture-perfect life came crashing around her.
Ask any parent and they’ll tell you the loss of a child is something you never recover from and for Candy, that became a tragic reality in August 2011 when her eldest son died in a car accident. He was only 24 years old and a proud daddy to a five-month-old daughter. Just months after Candy laid her son to rest, she was hit with more devastating news. While running errands at a mall she collapsed and was rushed to hospital. After several tests doctor diagnosed Candy with diabetes type 2. Type 2 diabetes is a specific type of diabetes. It is a condition of insulin resistance and progressive lack of insulin. By the time a person is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, they have probably had the condition for seven to 10 years. In the early stages, there are no symptoms, so it is usually not picked until your health has deteriorated.
There is still a cloud of misperception around Type 2 diabetes with many still believing it isn’t a serious, chronic disease. Sadly, two out of three people with diabetes will die from cardiovascular-related episodes, such as a heart attack or stroke. Other complications of diabetes include heart and blood vessel disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), kidney damage, eye damage and blindness, slow healing, hearing impairment, skin conditions, sleep apnoea and the increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Speaking to us from her home in Kempton Park, Candy says she knew from knee-high that she wanted to be a musician. “I was born in a musical family at Ga- Sedibeng village, Bolobedu, a village under the revered Rain Queen Modjadji’s leadership in the Limpopo Province. My musical career started after I was initiated into my mother’s traditional music group known as Khekhapa (Khekhapa was created in the region to serve as a platform to teach and instil cultural values through song and dance) in Bolobedu,” she says. “Throughout my life, music has always been there, through good and bad times. One can find messages of hope, happiness and more. Its ability to change one’s mood or encourage a certain reaction on the spot, are really some of the reasons I am so passionate about this career field.”
At the age of just 17, Candy fell pregnant with her first child, a son she named Phetole Lesley Mokwena. The two shared an amazing relationship. “We were incredibly close. Our relationship was loving, encouraging and definitely amazing. He knew exactly what to do not only as my son by as an older brother to his younger brother. I loved that caring spirit he carried.”
Candy explains her son had gone home to Limpopo to visit his grandmother who he loved dearly. While there he drove out to run some errands. He did not make it back alive. “It was a really bad accident,” she says. “I remember feeling in a state of complete shock when I heard the news. I was literally numb from shock. I thought I was losing my mind.”
Shortly after she laid her son to rest, Candy was diagnosed with diabetes. “At the time I didn’t really know much about the condition. No one else in my family had it. To say it is an easy process would be lying. Diabetes is a difficult condition and requires one to be patient and trust the process. For me, music is all I know – I voice out what I feel in studio (my latest album Hupenyu Unenge Viri has songs created through that process), and it helps me together with a strong support group of friends and family, doctors at a medical facility I use, prescribed medication and diets. What I eat has become a focus point of my life. My food choices have changed. Now I eat healthy and stick to a diet and I no longer view my stage performances as just that but as an exercising platform too. At first it was difficult as you can imagine, old habits for new ones. But I had to soldier on for the sake of my health.”
What advice can Candice give to others who have diabetes? “This disease can kill you. It takes the lives of thousands of people every year. Listen to your medical facilities doctors and nurses – they are trained to take care of us, take your medication on time and stick to a healthy diet.”
Pay It Forward
Diabetes South Africa is a non-profit organisation, founded in 1969 to be a support and an advocate for all people with diabetes in South Africa. 2019 marks Diabetes South Africa’s 50th anniversary and to celebrate Candy is asking readers to pay it forward by helping share facilities that help diabetes sufferers, tips on how to care for yourself and the dangers of not eating the right food for your condition. For more information on diabetes or if you need help or advice, contact Diabetes SA on 086 111 3913, or email [email protected]