By Michelle Madzudzo / Mcntosh Chigumira
A CANCER survivor is often referred to as someone who previously had cancer but has no signs of cancer after finishing treatment.
However, inclusively, it can as well refer to an individual living with cancer. This means cancer survivorship begins from the point one is diagnosed with cancer. This June, Cancer Survivors Month, you are being reminded that there are people who go through the cancer trajectory and survive.
Cancer has been so much associated with pain, psychological trauma and in worst scenarios, death. However, the big question still remains: can one survive the severity of this most dreaded disease? In exploring those possibilities, there are quite a number of factors which are intertwined to define the fate of the victim. Having a clear understanding of this disease on how it begins, how it grows attacking body organs and also when exactly it gets out of control becomes very key.
The following key elements are important in cancer survivorship:
- Cancer awareness: There are symptoms which have been noted to be common among individuals during the onset of cancer from clinical studies and observations. This formulates the basis of what information one must have about cancer and it becomes the push factor to quickly seek medical attention for further clarification and diagnosis. Knowledge is power and that is the reason why advocacy on cancer literate Zimbabweans is on the rise.
When cancer is diagnosed at its early stages, it becomes easy for its management or even eradication and this will determine one’s survival.
Many regional and local organisations, and trusts including Talk Cancer Zim are tirelessly pushing the agenda to save the nation through imparting the necessary information to the populace. It is very crucial that this agenda be driven especially at this point and time where focus has shifted towards the COVID-19 pandemic. The public must as well be watchful and alert not only for the symptoms of COVID-19, but also of this complex disease.
- Early treatment: I believe in the old maxim, early detection and treatment saves lives. The secret behind one’s survival after cancer diagnosis is seeking treatment earlier. Though some cancers can be so complex even at their early stages, at least they will be easier to manage. The common treatment modalities in cancer management in Zimbabwe are:
- Radiotherapy and
All of these modalities can be used to complement each other for an effective treatment outcome. Each step of treatment can be so traumatising since these treatments can be so radical and burdensome to an already stressed cancer patient. Apart from the stress of being diagnosed with cancer, failure to get treatment in time for a number of reasons can destroy a patient’s spirit of survival. For example, many people in the country cannot afford the amount of money required for surgery and the disease progresses, forcing individuals to try alternative medicine.
Though radiotherapy can be affordable at government’s radiotherapy centres, 80% of patients still present with advanced stage diseases. It is worrisome since this greatly reduces the patient’s prognosis with a significant margin. This prognosis can as well be exacerbated by the down time of the radiotherapy machines at local centres and during this time the disease will be advancing. All things being equal, when one receives radiotherapy concurrently with chemotherapy, it vastly improves chances of survival.
Diagnosis with cancer marks the beginning of one of the toughest journeys of life. However, the good thing is that there are some patients who have stood up and fought hard at every step and up to now they are still surviving. For someone currently battling breast cancer, the following are some but not limited to these experiences which most cancer survivors have gone through;
- Psychological trauma
- Reduced social connections
- Follow up: The quality of life after cancer diagnosis and throughout the treatment is one of the most important prognostic factors. This is because cancer survivors are at risk of recurrence of the primary cancer and the development of new cancers. Therefore, eating and lifestyle habits should be monitored, including smoking, alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyle. Eating healthy, balanced food and exercises can boost the will-power to battle the disease.
Also, an assessment of lifestyle behaviours and provision of appropriate counselling becomes vital for achieving cancer survivorship care quality. In support, the Health ministry can put forward measures through public or private partnerships with quality assurance programmes being implemented so as to monitor and improve the care that all cancer survivors receive.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs of cancer survivors should not be thrown under the bus. They need to stay safe and comfortable in every respect, healthy and making sure they have quick and affordable health checks if need arises especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
Though cancer survivors are relieved that they have fought cancer vigilantly and remained standing, they still have the society which can be discriminative, leading to reduced social networking and support.
It is, therefore, everyone’s duty with the support of government to simplify the life of a cancer patient in every way possible; materially, financially or psychologically if that cancer patient is to give a testimony one day that will be a healing song for whoever is also on such a tough journey. It is those testimonies from cancer survivors that are giving everyone hope to answer the question with a big yes!
- Michelle C Madzudzo is Talk Cancer Zim founder and president. She is also a radiation therapist.
- Mcntosh Chigumira is a radiation therapist.