Phumzile van Damme inspired by Chadwick Boseman's silent fight, reveals her own neurological condition

Phumzile van Damme has opened up about her struggle with functional neurological disorder.
Phumzile van Damme has opened up about her struggle with functional neurological disorder.
Image: Esa Alexander

DA MP and shadow minister of communications Phumzile van Damme has drawn inspiration from US actor Chadwick Boseman's silent fight against cancer, opening up about her own diagnosis with a neurological condition.

Boseman's family announced his death on Friday via a statement on Twitter. They said he was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer in 2016 which had progressed to stage five at the time of his death. Many praised him for his contribution to the arts while silently fighting for his life.

In a lengthy Twitter thread, Van Damme urged people to be kind to one another as “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about”.

She shared that she often felt sick while travelling during the election campaign last year but dismissed it as being tired because “there was work to be done”. 

“It was so bad that one day I woke up and I could barely walk. I forced myself up, I leant against the walls, showered and went to a march. I was tired but work needed to be done so I worked. It was a march, I walked it, flew home, rested and flew back out the next day,” she wrote.

Van Damme said at one point, she wore a neck brace and her voice was hoarse.

“I went to see an ENT specialist and he found nothing wrong. I pushed myself and I continued to work. I did my job, all while fighting political battles ..." she wrote.

It wasn't until she travelled to the US in September last year that she fell ill again and an MRI scan revealed that she had spots on her brain. She said her initial assumption was that she was “dying” and had multiple sclerosis.

“So anyway, I finally got an appointment with a neurologist, I was so scared that my husband had to come with me. I was ready to receive news that I was dying but didn't let him see this and I put on a brave face.

“He did some tests and the diagnosis was functional neurological disorder ... there is no cure in the conventional sense, you live with it and learn how to. It can go into remission,” she wrote.

Rare Diseases SA says functional neurological disorder or FND “is a medical condition in which there is a problem with the functioning of the nervous system and how the body sends and or receives signals, rather than a structural disease process such as multiple sclerosis or stroke”. 

The organisation says there are ongoing studies and research into the causes of FND. It says some patients have pre-existing conditions which heighten the risk of getting FND. They include pre-existing neurological conditions, fatigue or stress and experiencing chronic pain.

Van Damme said she is grateful that her condition is not severe and says her family supports her.

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