Forty-year-old Muropa says many women are “not even aware” of the common symptoms of cancer. Others are “clueless” about where to find medical help.
She was one of the lucky ones. She had support from family and friends and was able to cover her medical expenses. But she warns that treatment can also entail hidden costs, because “sometimes you are required to bring double scans and x-rays”.
Muropa is quick to challenge the myth that radiation treatment is painful. “You are not burnt, and you do not even feel any heat. It’s just that your skin gets darker,” she explains.
She is grateful for the “level of professionalism” she experienced from doctors, and for the support she received from the Cancer Centre, where “you are assured of motivation to soldier on”.
The centre’s knowledge manager, Tafadzwa Chigariro, says cancer is on the rise in Zimbabwe, and “the existing health delivery system is not coping”. Although government is trying to improve accessibility to treatment facilities, “the situation remains dire,” he adds.
The cost of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy is beyond the reach of most Zimbabweans. Radiation is offered at only two institutions: Parirenyatwa hospital in Harare, and Mpilo in Bulawayo.
Chigariro said the Cancer Centre acts as an “information bridge”, while lobbying government for policy change.
He agrees that education is the best form of prevention, and adds that “counselling and complementary therapy is offered to patients and survivors, because the disease is an emotionally daunting experience”.
In special circumstances the centre offers cancer patients free medication, though lack of resources limits such initiatives.
But women living with cancer remain determined to beat the disease – and to support those who are still battling it.
Angela Mutangagavi-Makuvire has survived ovarian cancer but has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour. Like Muropa she is eager to speak out about her experiences.
“I want everyone who reads this story to emulate me, and walk the path I have walked. To life!” she says. Mutangagavi-Makuvire is adamant that women “should not be intimidated by cancer because, when detected early, it can be cured”.
But she laments that “if you are not financially stable, you fight a losing battle” when it comes to accessing quality treatment.
Dr Anna Nyakabawo, an oncologist at the Parirenyatwa group of hospitals, agrees. She feels that rural women are particularly affected because “their lives are shrouded with competing priorities” and they often lack access to information, early diagnosis and treatment.
Nyakabawo believes it is vital to “up-scale political commitment” so that pap smears are available to every woman. She points out that 30% of cancer-related deaths are due to cervical cancer, and there are more than 600 000 deaths worldwide every year. Research shows that 60% of cancer-related illnesses are also HIV-related, she said.
Increasingly, medical practitioners like Nyakabawo are calling for the establishment of more cancer detection centres. Such centres, they say, would ultimately save the government money. “It costs between $300 – $400 to remove a breast lump, but it costs at least $5000 to remove a breast,” Nyakabawo explains.
One in eight women develops breast cancer during their lifetime, but a proper examination helps detect 90% of all breast lumps.
If Sheila Muropa was minister of health she knows exactly what she would do to help cover cancer-related costs. “Government should introduce a cancer levy,” she says, “just like they did for HIV & Aids.”Post published in: News