ONE of the most frequently asked question is: Can one survive cancer after diagnosis in Zimbabwe?
A cancer survivor is often referred to as someone who previously had cancer but no longer has any signs of cancer after finishing treatment. However, it can as well refer to an individual living with, through and beyond cancer. This means cancer survivorship begins from the point one is diagnosed with cancer. This June, which is Cancer Survivors Month, you are being reminded that cancer is not so black as it is often painted. There are people who go through the cancer trajectory and survive in Zimbabwe.
Cancer has been so much associated with pain, psychological trauma and in the worst scenario, 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 treatment modalities that we use in Zimbabwe to manage and treat cancer. I believe in the old maxim: Early detection and treatment save 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, but at this stage they will be easy to manage. The common treatment modalities in the cancer management in Zimbabwe are:
- Radiotherapy and
These methods are used to treat cancer, individually or in conjunction with each other in order to produce the best result possible.
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This is the surgical removal of the affected part of the body, commonly known as an “operation”, performed in an operating theatre. It is done to remove the bulk of the disease to eradicate the disease completely and in some cases for symptom relief.
It can be done at our main government hospitals, mission hospitals and private centres. However, there is still lack of standardisation of procedures for various cancers and there is no stand-alone surgical oncology unit in the country, something worth considering in the near future.
This is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is given to either cure or shrink the growth of the cancer, or to increase the effectiveness of surgery (by killing possible remaining cancerous cells). It is given as an injection in most cases, or as pills or tablets. It is frequently given in courses with rest between periods to allow normal cells to recover. Chemotherapy can be offered at Parirenyatwa and Mpilo hospitals radiotherapy departments and in some private facilities.
Decentralisation of chemotherapy services to provincial and district hospitals should be implemented to improve accessibility of the service to those residing in rural areas and small towns.
The main challenge with chemotherapy is the hefty cost and erratic supply of some drugs.
However, a lot of strides have been made by organisations such as Kidzcan in providing chemotherapy drugs to all children with cancer in the country for free. We hope for the same for the adult cancer patients who usually meet their own costs.
This treatment uses high energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells. The patient is treated by very big machines called linear accelerators. The treatment is given daily with breaks during the course (to allow normal cells to recover) until the treatment is finished.
In Zimbabwe, radiotherapy is offered at three specialised centres on an outpatient basis. Late presentation is the order of the day, 80% of patients still present with advanced stage diseases. It is worrisome since this greatly reduces the patient’s prognosis with a significant margin. Early detection and treatment save lives, there is need to set in motion cancer awareness programmes to encourage early detection and seeking treatment early.
Each step of treatment can be so traumatising since the treatment can be so radical and burdensome to an already stressed patient. Cancer diagnosis 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.
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 a sedentary lifestyle. Eating of healthy balanced foods and exercises can boost will power in battling the disease.
Also, an assessment of lifestyle behaviours and provision of appropriate counselling is vital for achieving cancer survivorship care quality.
It’s important to put forward measures with quality assurance programmes being implemented so as to monitor and improve the care that all cancer survivors receive.
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 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 experiencing such a tough journey. It is those testimonies from cancer survivors that are giving everyone hope and help to answer with a big YES the question: Can one survive after cancer diagnosis?