Winning the battle against cancer

Charity Ruzvidzo —
Grace Mvududu (67), who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, is living testimony of a woman who has fought a winning battle against the non-communicable disease.
Hers is a story of a victor, a ray of hope.
Breast cancer is a cancerous tumour which occurs in the breast(s). It is cancer originating from breast tissue, most commonly from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. The nightmare for Mvududu began when she realised she had a lump in her right breast which hurt severely during the night. She went to her doctor who advised her to go for a mammogram, an X-ray picture of the breast.

“The mammogram confirmed a cancerous lump on my right breast and a non cancerous lump on my left breast. My oncologist advised me to undergo surgery to remove the lump on the right breast as it was malignant. It was then that my wars and troubles began. I was booked into a radiotherapy centre where I underwent treatment for 25 days. The pain was unbearable, it was just too much. I thought I was going to die,” said the soft-spoken Mvududu.

She said after 10 months, another lump started in her right breast and she feared the worst.

“I went back to the oncologist who again advised that I go for another mammogram. Before that I prayed to God. I poured out my heart and soul to God, the one who heals,” she said.

Mvududu prayed for a miracle.

“The mammogram results were disappointing as they confirmed that the cancerous cells were spreading on my breast. This time, it had to be removed.”

Mvududu said she was informed that the only solution was to remove the breast. The mastectomy was draining both emotionally and physically. Mvududu and her husband were not blessed with children and her mother could also not provide support as she had dementia. She said Island Hospice employees were very supportive during this period.

Island Hospice and Health Care provides assistance for people suffering from life limiting illnesses and their families. Its services include pain management, treatment of symptoms, counselling and bereavement therapy and training for care giving.

“The sisters encouraged me to pray and to be strong when I was at Island Hospice. They encouraged me to fight and be brave. I was given morphine, a narcotic drug used medicinally to relieve pain. I had to drink it every 6 hours in those days. I was fortunate enough that I had a medical aid so the expenses were covered,” she explained.

Mvududu, who was diagnosed at 43, said she had to leave her teaching career due to the illness.

“I was on morphine for five years after my breast removal. I thought I was going to live for two years. The morphine is a pain reliever but it is very difficult to continuously drink it. I also had to go for a bone scan every year to get my bones checked,” she said.

Mvududu urged women to undergo cancer screening so that they can be assisted as soon as possible.

“It’s been 23 years now since that fateful day I was told I had breast cancer. I thank the Almighty for healing me. My journey was not a walk in the park, it was difficult. However, my story can also be someone else’s story if they are determined to fight the disease,” she said.

The most common cancers among black women are cervical cancer (32,2 percent), breast (12), Kaposi sarcoma (8,3), eye (five), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (4,3), oesophagus (3,4 percent), non-melanoma of skin (3,3), ovarian (2,6), stomach (2,1) and corpus uteri (two), according to the Zimbabwe Cancer Registry.

Island Hospice resource mobilisation officer Yatina Katunga urged women to be actively concerned about their health. Katunga said lives could be saved if cancer was detected early, but fear of positive diagnoses and traditional beliefs prevented many people from going for screening.

“Once diagnosed, one may be hesitant to follow the course of treatment due to traditional beliefs. An example of this is when patients express that they do not want radiotherapy which to some people is the cause of death and not the actual cancer,” said Katunga.

She said some people would rather consult spiritual healers and traditional healers when faced with illness.

“In such cases, Island Hospice neither encourages nor discourages these approaches. Our palliative care practitioners acknowledges the needs of the individual and encourages them to combine those approaches with professional medical opinion and treatment,” she said.

Katunga pointed out that non-adherence to treatment was a major challenge, especially considering the side effects of various therapies ranging from mildly to severely undesirable.

“Society needs to become aware of the various cancers and act in the interest of their health by getting screened regularly whether you have a history of cancer in your lineage or not.”

Sister Franciscah Tsikai, a palliative care practitioner at Island Hospice, highlighted the issue of access to treatment as a major challenge. She pointed out that at the moment cancer is mainly screened in Bulawayo and Harare, and drugs availability was limited. Sr Tsikai urged society to stop stigmatising and discriminating against people diagnosed with cancer, and instead offer them support.

The Zimbabwe Cancer Registry says the rate of cancer among Zimbabweans is rising with prevalence several times higher than it was 20 years ago. — Zimpapers Syndication.

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