This is a blog about me and the things that make me laugh, smile, hurt or cry!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Breast Cancer is Curable, Early Treatment is Key - So Says My Mum

All over the world, we mark October as Breast Cancer awareness month. In January 2011, this campaign became very real for me when my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and immediately had to undergo a mastectomy.

Mrs Gertrude Kuvangu Mushipi Mutenda - My Mum

This week, on Thursday 17th October 2013, my mum was featured in the Zambia Daily Mail talking about her experience. You can access the article link directly here. I have also reproduced the text below (the accompanying picture is the one above) and then added my own thoughts at the end:

Women should check for cancer – Mutenda

“WHEN two lumps were removed from my daughter`s breast, nothing about breast cancer crossed my mind. My niece also had a lump removed from her breast but their lumps were not cancerous.
Unfortunately for me, the lump that was discovered in my breast was cancerous; I did not think one could survive cancer, until it happened to me.
I remember the doctor telling me that at least I was aware of what was going to cause my death,” says Getrude Mushipi Mutenda of Chingola who has survived breast cancer.
Ms Mutenda, 55, a trained English and Art teacher from Nkrumah Teachers Training College says breast cancer screening is vital for survival and prevention of the tumour spreading to other parts of the body.
A mother of four, Ms Mutenda is concerned that more women could be suffering from cancer in silence due to lack of knowledge and myths that may surround the illness.
“In the past, breast cancer was sometimes linked to witchcraft due to lack of knowledge, she says.
She points out that now that people have knowledge about breast cancer it is important to take screening, diagnosis and treatment seriously to avoid losing body parts and lives.
Ms Mutenda who is also chairperson for Young Women Christian Association in Chingola first discovered a lump in her right breast in December 2010.
She did not experience any pain and there was nothing peculiar about the breast that could have compelled her to seek medical attention early enough.
The fact that her niece and daughter had their lumps removed from their breasts without any side effects, she thought having lumps in the breasts was probably normal.
Meanwhile, the persistence painless lump prompted the energetic woman to seek medical attention.
Medical experts told her she had to have the lump in her breast removed.
In 2011, Ms Mutenda was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, the cancer had spread to other parts of the body.
Following the diagnosis of stage two breast cancer she was subsequently put on medication.
“I did not have so much fear because I thought the lump was just a thick tissue in my breast,”
“I left everything to God,” she said.
She recalls that the doctor gave her two options to choose between mastectomy (removal of breast) or start chemotherapy.
She chose mastectomy because she feared that in case of failure to respond to chemotherapy, the breast was still going to be removed.
A successful operation was conducted on Ms Mutenda to have her right breast removed in March 2011.
And that was the first time she ever experienced pain from the wound and her upper right hand.
After the operation, it was revealed that the cancer had already spread to the lymph nodes and the liver.
Some medical personnel suggested palliative care as the possibilities of her survival were minimal.
Palliative care is medical care provided by physicians, nurses and social workers that specializes in the relief of the pain, symptoms and stress of serious illness.
Meanwhile, several medical examinations at Cancer Diseases Hospital (CDH) in Lusaka were conducted on Ms Mutenda which revealed that she was eligible to undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments.
She underwent chemotherapy at CDH and was later put on radiation. Her after-effects with chemotherapy like other patients included nausea, loss of hair and loss of appetite, while with radiation she experienced none.
She says cancer treatment at CDH was administered for free expect for a few things such as of testing blood at the laboratory which she says did not cost a lot of money.
“Before I started treatment at CDH there were speculations that I will not manage because it is expensive, but with what I experienced, one would say  it costs nearly nothing and even vulnerable women with low or no income are managing to receive treatment,” she says.
She has called on Government to expedite the expansion programme for the CDH phase II which will be admitting patients.
This, she said will help cut costs on those who have to travel to and from outside Lusaka to receive treatment.
As a breast cancer survival Ms Mutenda has called on women movements to encompass breast cancer awareness campaigns in the activities to sensitize women about the disease across the country.
She says breast cancer is curable and does not spread if diagnosed early with the right treatment.
She has urged women to avoid traditional medication to address the problem of cancer, adding that traditional remedies only end up prolonging the problem.


There is a lot wrong with this country and with our health system, but as she mentions in this article, my mum has spent almost nothing in the fight to beat this disease. People come all the way from Malawi and Tanzania to get treatment at the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka. It is nowhere near adequate and they could do a lot better, but boy oh boy are we grateful that this facility even exists.

What is inspiring about my Mum is how she has taken this cancer personally, grabbing it by the horns and taking it on. These last few years I have understood what they say that beating cancer is a fight. It is so much more than health, but an emotional and mental exercise as well. My mum has fought this one tenaciously, refusing to accept death without a fight, while exercising deep faith and spiritual maturity in the knowledge that while God is able to heal us, it is His will to choose not to and we still praise and glorify Him for His sovereignty. Like the righteous and upright Job, we accept all that God gives and takes away, whether it is good or bad.

My mother is a stage two breast cancer survivor who has undergone a mastectomy, radiotherapy and two bouts of chemotherapy after the cancer later spread to her lungs. By God's grace, the cancer is in now remission and we pray it stays that way. Next review is on 11th December 2013.

To God be the Glory!

Every woman aged 35 years and above should have a mammogram annually. And let us not forget cervical cancer - the biggest killer of women in this country. Every adult woman should get a pap smear regularly.