Ignorance far from bliss

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Lack of knowledge and fear compound cancer threat

Pascalinah Kabi

FOR ‘Makhethang Tsolo, pain has become an unbearable but unavoidable fact of life that even painkillers cannot soothe.

Ms Tsolo was diagnosed with vulvar cancer last month, and much like most Basotho, she only became aware of the disease after enduring months of excruciating pain.

Vulvar cancer is a type of cancer that occurs on the outer surface area of the female genitalia. The vulva is the area of skin that surrounds the urethra and vagina, including the clitoris and labia.

Vulvar cancer commonly forms as a lump or sore on the vulva that often causes itching. Though it can occur at any age, vulvar cancer is most commonly diagnosed in older women.

While vulvar cancer is highly curable if detected at an early stage, for Ms Tsolo the suffering continues as she is only due for treatment in Bloemfontein, South Africa on 17 November this year.

“Usually, I only sleep for one hour at night because of the constant and severe pain,” Ms Tsolo said, while trying to hold back tears.

She was narrating her ordeal during the Cancer Awareness Walk held last Saturday at Bambatha Tsita Sports Arena to create awareness about the disease.

Held under the theme “I Walk All Night Because Cancer Does Not Sleep”, the all-night event was organised by Earth Lovers Hiking Club to show support to cancer patients and survivors.

In addition to encouraging caregivers and giving hope to people who lost their loved ones to the scourge, the walk was also meant to gather toiletries earmarked for Basotho cancer patients in South African hospitals.

Ms Tsolo said she was diagnosed by doctors at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH), popularly known as Tšepong.

However, like most Basotho cancer patients, Ms Tsolo was referred to Bloemfontein for advanced treatment which includes chemotherapy, radiation-therapy and surgery.

“I have been in constant severe pain for many months now, and I can’t even stand up to join the walk,” she said.

“When I was diagnosed with vulvar cancer, the doctors told me there was nothing they could do to help me besides sending me to Bloemfontein for treatment.

“I was given painkiller prescriptions and told to get the medicine from the clinic. However, all the clinics I have gone to have run out of stock and I don’t have money to buy the painkillers from pharmacies. So the only way I feel better when the pain attacks me is crying.”

Ms Tsolo said the 17 November treatment date seemed like an eternity since she was “going through hell on earth”.

Throat cancer survivor, ‘Makhotso Leanya, said an unshakable faith in God kept her alive through the radiation treatment she underwent in Bloemfontein.

Throat cancer refers to cancerous tumors that develop in the throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx) or tonsils.

It may be difficult to identify in its early stages, which was the case for Ms Leanya.

“It all started with excruciating back pain in 2014 for which I went from one doctor to another until I was referred to Tšepong,” she said.

“I underwent an MRA (magnetic resonance angiogram) scan which revealed that I had throat cancer. The cancer cells had also spread to my lungs and back, hence the constant back pain.

“The doctor further told me that 80 percent of my lungs had cancer cells and I was horrified to see my lungs being full of cancerous cells.”

Despite being scared and lonely in Bloemfontein, Ms Leanya said she refused to take the doctor’s prognosis that she had less than a year to live.

“I told him that I believed and trusted everything he was saying, but I knew fully well that he was not God and didn’t know the day I would die.

“I told him I was going to live for a long time and share my story to others. I also believed that the radiation had worked and indeed, I reacted well to the treatment,” she said, adding she is scheduled to go back to Bloemfontein next month for a back operation.

In his remarks at the same event, Assistant Commissioner of Police Mofokeng Kolo said support for cancer patients was important because the disease affected everyone in one way or another.

“Cancer is among the diseases by which we are either infected or affected. It affects us all whether we like it or not, and we need to make a difference,” he said, adding that some battles could be won if people supported each other in their time of need.

Echoing the sentiment, Lehlohonolo Tlhakeli, who took care of his uncle during his battle with the disease, said caregivers also needed support to cope with the challenge.

“It broke my heart seeing my uncle’s health deteriorate and ultimately die. I can tell you that no matter how strong you may be, being a caregiver is as good as being a patient yourself,” said Mr Tlhakeli.

“That’s how tough it is to nurse your loved ones fighting cancer.”

He said ignorance was fuelling late detection and treatment for many cancer patients.

“We are dying because of ignorance and I think it is high time we took charge of our lives. We cannot continue to live as if the situation is normal when it is not. Awareness campaigns are not enough; it is our collective responsibility to go for cancer tests,” Mr Tlhakeli added.

For his part, Earth Lovers Hiking Club member and Cancer Awareness Walk organiser Khotso Mabolloane said the event was meant to alleviate the plight of Basotho cancer patients transferred to Bloemfontein for treatment.

“We appreciate the fact that most of our Basotho cancer patients are transferred to Bloemfontein without being made aware of the duration of their stay in South Africa,” he said.

“Some would be thinking they are going in and out of the hospital when they are admitted. They won’t even have basic toiletries and this is why we are gathering such toiletries.”

Mr Mabolloane said the toiletries – which consisted of bath soaps, toothpaste and toothbrushes, lotions, face towels and sanitary pads would go a long way in easing the patients’ burden when undergoing treatment.

In a separate interview with the Lesotho Times, Health Minister Dr ‘Molotsi Monyamane commended the initiative saying it showed that health issues were not just the prerogative of the ministry.

“As the ministry, we appreciate the fact that health issues are not ours alone. They affect each and every person so we must all make a conscious decision to play our role one way or the other,” Dr Monyamane said.

“The donated toiletries will go a long way in addressing some of our patients’ needs. It is also very disturbing to hear reports that some of these patients are put on the floor when they are admitted in Bloemfontein.”

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