The Sunday Mail
Yatina Katunga —
*Josephine is an Island Hospice caregiver and patient, this is her account of her journey and interaction with Island Hospice & Healthcare.
*Josephine is a pseudonym applied to protect our patients.
My name is Josephine, I am not formally employed. I have been an Island patient since 2003 after being referred by the Red Cross during the time I had tuberculosis. I was bedridden and couldn’t talk, my friends and family didn’t see how I could make it and started making funeral arrangements.
It was difficult to cope with being HIV+ and having TB, getting on to ARV treatment was such a gruelling process. When I was finally able to talk, I asked the doctor, “Will I make it, I’m HIV+ and have TB as well?” The doctor reassured me telling me that my TB could be cured and I could be put on ARV treatment and that there was nothing to be afraid of. This gave me hope.
While I was in hospital the Red Cross staff visited me and told me about Island Hospice & Healthcare, located close to Parirenyatwa. At Island they told me they would be able to help me, my referral forms were signed and I was given medication.
Island Hospice played a very important part in my journey to recovery from TB. Back then, when times were not as hard, Island provided me with a duvet and a mattress to sleep on. They even gave me food hampers, when and if people had donated and contributed some to Island. I could easily get my medication from Island on a weekly basis. And because of all this, it became easier for me to beat TB.
The nurses would visit my home, counsel me and check if I was taking my medication. I was and still am absolutely convinced that the care Island provides is of the best quality because my family was preparing to bury me but I am still here and healthier than I was then.
Through the counselling within the palliative care I received, I was able to talk about my fears with nurses and social workers, they also spoke to my family about how to treat me as a person and how to show they still care for me even though I was HIV+.
When you’re sick people say, “She’s sick, can’t you see she has Aids?” Palliative care is from the point of diagnosis regardless of the outcome, it addresses physical, psycho-social and spiritual pain during the illness through to death of the patient by offering bereavement services to the loved ones of the deceased. My family didn’t have to get bereavement care because I didn’t die and I’m thankful for that!
I decided to become a caregiver because as a cancer patient, I knew I had to do something to help others going through the same thing. Island has workshops and refresher courses for community home-based caregivers providing home-based care as well as primary caregivers, these are the family members of the patient who are constantly caring for their loved one.
In the workshops they address issues around lots of illnesses like TB, malaria and not just cancer while the refresher courses ensure we still have accurate information at our finger tips. When we visit people in our communities we are able to tell them about how to care for themselves and their loved ones during an illness and highlight the importance of seeking professional medical assistance.
These days people have blind faith in spiritual healers and think once they have seen them they don’t have to go to the doctor or take their prescription of conventional medication anymore, we don’t discourage them from seeking alternative therapy but we do suggest that while exploring this alternative they continue to pay their doctor regular visits and not to stop taking their prescribed treatment.
I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014, women are encouraged to get screened once every year. Free screening is a way of encouraging women to get screened and take responsibility for their health. When I was first told that I had cancer, I was shocked and afraid, it was something I never expected would happen to me.
When I told my family that I had cervical cancer, they didn’t really seem afraid because of the advice from the nurses when I had TB, instead they encouraged me to visit the doctor regularly. In my case, the cryotherapy was a once-off procedure because the cancer was in its early stages, they told me that if after cryotherapy, the cancer did not respond they would try alternative ways of tackling it.
After cryotherapy the discharge became constant and I developed a rash, which I was assured is normal for a week to two weeks after the treatment.
Seeing these changes in my body made me worry that the cancer would spread. I was already an Island caregiver so I took the chance to speak about the things that were worrying me most about my health every time I would see the nurses and social workers.
I started encouraging ladies in the area to get screened. Before I went for the VIAC, I never once thought that I could possibly have cancer because there were no signs or discomfort, I was living a normal life or so I thought. Now I have a review scheduled once every year on the same date I received by cryotherapy two years ago. The review checks the progression of the cancer, even if I feel fine and think it’s not necessary.
I have had cervical cancer for the past two years and I receive my treatment at regular intervals, the cancer is responding well to treatment because I was diagnosed early. I don’t want the cancer to spread or progress so I make sure I pay attention to the details of my treatment regimen and all the advice the doctor gives me. At this stage I only take my pain medication when it is necessary.
I always encourage ladies to go and get screened using the VIAC method. Even if you aren’t married, it is good to know the status of your health at all times. If, like myself, you have already been diagnosed with cervical cancer, go for regular reviews, some will get radiotherapy, while some will get the cancer removed, all this depends on how advanced the cancer is and where the cancer is located.
Early detection is key, when detected late, the medical health professionals will still assist but it will only be through pain management medication because the cancer will be too advanced. Ever since I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, I always keep in mind that I have to make the best decisions with regards to my health even though I have no glaring symptoms of the cancer.
From time to time I do worry about whether I will be told that the cancer is progressing the next time I go for a review. Island assists everyone, adults, children, those with life-limiting illnesses and their families. My daughter is a primary caregiver and she has gone through the workshops and regularly does a refresher course so she can always provide the best care not just for me but others she may come across.