By Michele C Madzudzo / Joanna Masiku
SINCE the COVID-19 pandemic started sending shockwaves through Zimbabwe and the local national healthcare system, we have been immensely proud of ourselves as radiation therapists, who have stepped up to provide the best possible care for cancer patients during one of the most anxious and uncertain times in our history.
Yet, despite these best efforts, the impact of the coronavirus on people living with cancer, both on their survival chances and experience of care, has been hugely significant. This problem will not go away soon.
There has been a substantial drop in people visiting their general practitioner with symptoms and being referred for cancer tests during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, as well as major disruption to screening, we are sure a lot of people across the country missed a cancer diagnosis they would otherwise have received.
We must remember that everyday, those people who might be unknowingly living with a disease can reduce their lifespan the longer it goes undiagnosed.
It is also essential that the huge drop in referrals for suspected cancer tests during the first wave of the pandemic does not recur — it must be made clear that “stay at home” doesn’t mean “don’t seek help”.
We would encourage anyone in Zimbabwe who is experiencing a change or symptom that could be cancer to prioritise contacting their general practitioner. While the health system is under huge pressure, it is still open to those that need it.
Across Zimbabwe, we’ve made some progress in cancer over the last decade, but we must act decisively and rapidly to ensure that cancer awareness, screening, diagnosis and care are maintained, and indeed enhanced, as we move forward.
Otherwise, the progress made in the last 10 years will be reversed in less than 20 months.
All parts of the cancer pathway were affected by COVID-19, while cancer awareness programmes came to a standstill. Cancer must never be the “Forgotten C” in the fight against COVID-19.
The impact of the pandemic on cancer has made the Talk Cancer Zim Trust work more harder.
As radiation therapists making strides against cancer, we’ve being doing whatever it takes to adapt to this ever-evolving situation and ensure the continuation of our awareness activities during this challenging time.
As we move further into the COVID-19 third wave, let’s raise awareness of cancer everyday and throughout the year by use of the cancer ribbons, an international symbol meant to show support or raise consciousness for a cancer cause.
Different colours are associated with different cancers. This section of the article seeks to spread know-how on the various ribbons one can wear in spreading awareness on cancer and make sure that cancer is not the forgotten C of the COVID crisis.
A light purple or lavender ribbon represents all cancers and can be worn anytime of the year. Because every month is dedicated to a certain type of cancer, it is plausible for one to have a ribbon dedicated for each cancer month.
We start the year by commemorating cervical cancer awareness month with a teal and white ribbon.
February is deemed national cancer prevention month, where we urge individuals to take control of their health to minimise risk of cancer.
In March, you have a variety of choices when it comes to ribbons, as three cancers are commemorated in one month.
You can have an option of orange for kidney cancers, burgundy for multiple myeloma and a dark blue ribbon for colon cancers.
In April, we will be commemorating testicular cancers represented by a light purple ribbon, cancer of oesophagus is represented by a light purple ribbon, while white and burgundy is for head and neck cancers.
It should be noted that head and neck cancers incorporate a range of different cancers including cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, nasal cavity, sinuses, and salivary glands.
Commemoration of brain, and skin cancers is set for May. A black ribbon depicts skin cancers. A gray ribbon, therefore, represents brain cancers.
June is cancer survivors month, where we honour those who have survived cancer post treatment. A burgundy ribbon represents the noble cause.
Bone and bladder cancers are commemorated in July. A yellow ribbon is for bone cancers while bladder cancer is denoted by a colourful ribbon of navy blue, yellow and purple, all on one ribbon.
August is not entitled to any cancer, therefore, a lavender ribbon, which represents all cancers can be used this month.
September is quite a busy month as we commemorate all childhood cancers with a gold ribbon, all gynaecological cancers with a purple ribbon, Hodgkin’s lymphoma with a violet ribbon, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with a lime green ribbon, leukaemia with an orange ribbon, prostate cancer with light blue ribbon, as well as thyroid cancers with a teal, blue and pink ribbon.
October is known as the breast cancer month commemorated with the famous pink ribbon. However, liver cancer is also commemorated the same month with an emerald or jade blue worn in honour of liver cancer.
November is dedicated for the commemoration of lung, pancreatic, stomach, carcinoid and neuro-endocrine cancers. It is also the caregivers month, where we commemorate health workers who are making strides in taking care and treating cancer patients.
December, like August is dedicated to no cancer, a lavender ribbon can be worn again this month in commemoration of all cancers.
It is quite pleasing to note that you do not have to have a new ribbon every month, but some can be used interchangeably.
Wearing a ribbon can help keep the public informed about cancer.
Let us all play our part in cancer awareness and fight for a cancer aware generation, this way, cancer cannot be the forgotten C in a COVID-19 pandemic.
- Michele C Madzudzo is a radiation therapist and Talk Cancer Zim founder and president.
- Joanna Masikuis a radiation therapist by profession.