As the Cancer Month draws to a close, STAFF WRITER ONTAMETSE SUGAR visits the Cancer Association of Botswana offices and discovers that cancer ravages the young and old, rich and poor, male or female, beautiful and the ugly with equal measure.
Many of us get scared whenever the word 'Cancer' is mentioned because we have always referred to it as the deadly silent killer. Despite the fear, I braced myself with courage and took time to visit the cancer patients at the Cancer Association of Botswana. I was very scared in the first place to go there because I did not know what to say to the first patient I would meet. I got there and I waited for a while with my heart pounding. Just by the entrance of where patients are housed a combi was loading people in, and I was told they were some of the patients were being taken to their radiation treatments at Gaborone Private Hospital.
I waited for the nurse to usher me in. When I got inside, the first people I noticed were two young ladies. I had seen the other young lady outside and had taken her to be a visitor just like me. I still thought they were visiting but the nurse said there are no visitors, declaring that all people I have been seeing were patients. I began to panic, and the nurse told them who I was and where I was coming from. She then asked me to introduce myself to them. You could see in their faces that they were reluctant and wondering why exactly I was there.
After I told them that I have a close family member who has gone through the same journey as them, they relaxed a bit because they realised they can relate with me. I started talking with the young lady that I had seen first. I struggled to put questions to her in a way that won't offend her, and then she just began to tell her story. She then told me her name and that she was just 19 years old, and I wasn't surprised about her age but as to why she had to be there in the first place when she was so young. It made me realise that it can happen to anyone. She then told me she had a mastectomy (removal of breast) and is currently on radiation.
*Onalenna Tau said that she was just in school when she began to realise that something was wrong with her other breast. It was growing bigger than the other one, and she began to get concerned and was then taken to the hospital. As young as she was it definitely caused sudden uncontrollable fear and anxiety to her and to people around her. She comes from Tonota and after going up and down she was told that she had cancer and that it was already at a later stage. "I was told that my breast cancer was at a very bad stage so I had to remove the breast as soon as possible, and that is exactly what I did," she said.
She confidently said she has accepted her condition and very glad that she found help, but above all just wants to finish her radiation treatment and go back to Tonota to continue with her studies which will be in form 4 next year.
Next to her was a pretty young lady. When sharing her story *Katlego Toby said she is on treatment for is cervical cancer. I was also amazed by how good she looked, and she even said that it is just how she has been. Nobody could see that there was something eating her inside. She said it started with bleeding from her private parts even on days when she was not having her monthly periods, and that was around May this year. She visited a clinic and got the medication that stopped the bleeding without getting further into it. It then began to be unbearably painful to the extent that she could not even have sexual intercourse since it hurt even more. "I began to bleed even more and that was when tests were conducted and I was diagnosed with cervical cancer," she said. She has also been responding well to the treatment as she is also going under the radiation programme. She referred to the cancer treatment as the most painful thing ever. "We might look as if we are okay but being under those machines everyday it’s excruciating," she reiterated.
Then I got to meet the other patients, who in this instance are older people. What I noticed about the four of them was that they have also done their mastectomies because from their tops you could easily see that they had one breast. They all told me their names and expressed gratitude that I decided to just check on them. They began to share their stories. They went to see doctors every day before tests were conducted on them. One of them said she had a painful breast for a long time but it took long for it to be discovered that it was cancer. "We all come from different places around the country, and we get our treatment in Gaborone but we are coping very well as you can see us. It shows that the treatments that we get ate worthwhile," one of them said.
From their stories I got to realise that cancer is not a death sentence, but rather it is up to us to make sure that we get help whenever we are not well. This is one disease that when it affects someone, it does not only affect you alone but rather the whole family and even the community around you.
Botswana Cancer Association’s (BCA) Sharon Munyoro said the theme for this month is ‘Itse Mabele a Gago’ (Know your breasts). Sharon said people should wear pink on Fridays in support of breast cancer which is themed pink Fridays. They are partners with Ministry of Health (MOH) and Journey of Hope where she said many stakeholders should come on board and find a way that they can help sensitise the public. The popular stiletto walk in support of raising cancer awareness will take place on the 31st of October from Rail Park mall in Gaborone while in Francistown it will be at Galo mall.