The Sunday Mail
Very few people are able to win a duel with death, and the few who actually manage the improbable feat have an incredible story to tell.
Forty-eight-year-old Gladys Bvunzanai is one such fortunate warrior and she has the scars to prove it.
It all started with a seemingly harmless but stubborn skin lesion more than a decade ago.
“When I was breastfeeding, I developed a skin lesion on my breast, but I just thought it was an ordinary lesion that would later on disappear.
“After some years, I developed a sore on my nipple but in my mind I thought it was something minor which was going to heal with time,” she recounted to The Sunday Mail last week.
As the wound continued to fester, anxiety naturally set in and she was told to seek medical assistance.
Those who suspected that her sore could be malignant advised her to seek help from the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe (CAZ), which is a non-profit making organisation that was established in 1961 to raise awareness on the disease and support patients after diagnosis.
Later on in 2010, she mustered the courage to confront her illness.
At CAZ she was first counselled before being referred to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals for diagnosis.
“After my screening, the doctors told me to go to Parirenyatwa for a biopsy. Unfortunately, the results confirmed that I had breast cancer and the lump had to be removed by way of removing the breast,” she said.
“At first it was not easy to accept it because there was no history of anyone who was diagnosed with cancer in my family before.
“I cried several times, asking God why he had decided to choose me of all the people, but there was no answer.”
The thought of death overcame her.
She was distressed for days and months on end.
However, with the counselling she had received, she slowly gained the courage to fight the disease.
In 2011, her diseased breast was removed and she began the tough regimen of chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions.
It was physically, emotionally and financially draining for her, especially given the inherent onerous expenses associated with the treatment.
Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs that have powerful chemicals capable of killing fast-growing cells that are associated with cancer.
It often results in short-term side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and hair loss.
On the other hand, radiation therapy — commonly called radiotherapy — is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours.
“I underwent my eight sessions of chemotherapy and 28 days of radiotherapy, but the journey was not easy because at times I would collapse in town after treatment as I could not be admitted owing to shortage of funds.
“The medication needed for my treatment was expensive and I was unemployed. My husband was not receiving his salary for a period of four years, so it was very difficult for us,” she said.
As her financial situation deteriorated, family relations were equally strained.
“Close relatives went underground in fear that we would ask for money from them.”
Some cynics from her community who discovered that she had one of her breasts removed started to make fun of her.
However, her family came through for her.
“But the support I got from my husband and children kept me going. Through the help I got from a medical institution which paid for my hospital bills and the support I received from the association, I managed to conquer the disease.”
The mother of two is now one of the leading advocates for using scientific interventions rather than untested traditional herbs to treat the disease.
Having undergone this emotionally taxing ordeal, she is now determined to support women who become unfortunate enough to be affected by the dis- ease.
“I survived breast cancer through medication, and the reason why most people are dying is because they lack knowledge.
“You find that when one is diagnosed with the disease, family members or people from the community advise that person to use traditional herbs instead of seeking medical assistance.
“They only seek medical attention when they realise the person is critical. Most probably the cancer would have spread.”
Mrs Bvunzanai now works as a voluntary community health worker.
Cancer Association of Zimbabwe sister-in charge Mrs Cordilia Marekera encouraged people to go for screening once a month.
“I urge people to get screened whenever they can because early detection saves
“Cancer is an overgrowth of cells and every human body is built by cells, which means that everyone is at risk of being affected by cancer,” she said.
Over the years, the number of cancer cases has been rising exponentially.
In 2018, there were 17 465 new cancer cases, of which 11 007 were women.
Breast cancer accounted for 1 886 (10,8 percent of the overall cases), cervical cancer 3 186, Kaposi sarcoma 1 566, prostrate cancer 1 299 and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 1 095.
Symptoms of breast cancer include a lump in the breast, bloody discharge from the nipple and changes in the shape or texture of the nipple or breast.
Government has since embarked on an aggressive campaign to encourage people to be screened.