Monday, 13 June 2022 21:54

Vanessa Perumal who traded her vocal cords to survive a life-threatening Cancer.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

In the space of two short but turbulent years Vanessa Perumal, Managing Director of JT Communication Solutions, has gone from losing her voice to a rare cancer and full laryngectomy to finding it once more as a speaker.

Vanessa has been invited to address the 70th annual meeting of the International Association of Laryngectomees in Charlotte, North Carolina. She attends the conference in her own right and as ambassador of Afya Rekod, an African-developed healthtech platform. She will deliver her address on Youth Day, 16 June 2022, commemorating the 46th anniversary of South Africa's youth uprising.

Over the last 25 years Perumal has established herself as a social entrepreneur, social justice activist, innovator, feminist and strategist.

She is the founder and Managing Director of JT Communication Solutions – a pan-African media, communications Agency.

Whether as a 'struggle" journalist or communications strategist, Vanessa has strived to drive social change in South Africa and on the continent by focusing on how narratives of change are structured. She believes in exploring the power of digital technology and transforming the way we produce and distribute content about Africa. She has successfully scaled her business from a traditional PR, publicity and communications agency to embrace digital technologies and social media platforms.

Previously recognised in the 2014 Mbokodo Awards in the Promotion of Arts in Media category and a finalist in the 2016 Businesswomen's Association of SA Awards, she was a participant in the 2016 Graca Machel Trust's Women Advancing Africa Roundtable, and honoured at the 2017 2nd Biennial Backing Vocalists and Session Musicians (BVSM) Awards for her work in promoting music and arts in the media.

Perumal's voice is her tool. Over the years she has sold a powerful story but in 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, she faced the cruelest of ironies: a chondrosarcoma diagnosis, a rare laryngeal cancer. The vocal cord palsy Perumal experienced had her ear, nose and throat surgeon Dr Khaleel Ismail searching for answers, while hospital delays due to COVID stalled the immediate implementation of a therapy.

By May of the same year, when the tumour presented itself, Perumal was faced with the heart-breaking decision to lose her voice-box in order to save her life.

Dr Ismail, based at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, assembled a team of highly skilled medical experts to take on the case that included an oncologist, vocal oncologist, speech therapist and physiotherapist. Following a successful operation Perumal spent 24 days in intensive and then high care.

She has spent the last two years rediscovering her voice through intensive rehabilitation, speech- and physiotherapy, artificial speaking devices and her renowned iron-clad will. Her recovery fed her determination to change the African narrative, and highlight the excellence and innovation of the medical professionals and healthcare workers she encountered on her journey to recovery. Many of them had not before encountered a cancer such as hers.

Despite the challenges of a 'new' voice and slow recovery, including follow up operations, she has not slowed down and has returned to her passion, once again making herself heard in entrepreneurial and innovation spaces, and continuing her communication work across the continent.

She has developed powerful partnerships with various stakeholders to forge technology-driven solutions to Africa's development challenges. "Now that I have a seat at a global table in this, my second chance, I recognise how important it is as Africans that we innovate our spaces to be more inclusive," she propounds. "Collaborating with Afya Rekod founder John Kamara and his team of innovators is a conscious decision to demonstrate that Africans can advance solutions made for a global ecosystem."

Perumal is about to embark on a new chapter as a motivational speaker, starting with the annual IAJ event. Her peers throughout the industry on the continent consider her resilience and determination awe-inspiring; she is admired by all those who come in contact with her and her will to communicate an empowering African narrative that now even stronger than before she lost her voice.

Follow @VanessaPerumal and her blog #MiraculousMoments on Facebook