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Cancer patients face stigma from loved ones

by Ropafadzo Mapimhidze and Dr Masimba Mavaza
08 Apr 2021 at 11:09hrs | Views
HARARE - Nobody gets nearer to her. She has become a loner, with the television turning into her only friend yet 60-year-old Tendai Makuwana is a cancer survivor.

For Makuwana, pounded with cancer over the past years, anger has taken centre stage in her life.

Mingling with other people has turned into pain for Makuwana, whom she accuses of perceiving her cancer condition as contagious.

"There are instances when I go to nearby tuck-shops to buy provisions, but the reaction from people there just puts me off and hence the reason why I am confined to my home," says Makuwana who lives in Chitungwiza.

With all her four children based abroad, Makuwana only has her church mates to visit her, together with some few relatives and a part time nurse who daily pitches up to nurse her.

With many cancer patients like Makuwana battling stigma, Lovemore Makurirofa of the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe has said 'stigmatisation and discrimination against cancer survivors is no different to what also happens to people living with HIV/Aids.'

Makurirofa explained that there is need for a sustained media awareness campaign about this disease because some patients go to a hospital when it's too late to save them.

He (Makurirofa) said for cancer, early detection and treatment are on the rise, however with many people still reporting that they are uninformed when it comes to cancer.

Apparently singing from the same hymn with Makumbirofa, Brendon Mapuranga, a nurse oncologist who said 'there is need for greater understanding of the disease as some patients are complaining about stigmatisation in and around their communities.'

Addressing about 30 traditional healers under their umbrella body known as the Zimbabwe National Practitioners Association recently, Mapuranga said negative attitudes towards cancer patients have resulted in severe depression which may result in mental illness.

A breast cancer survivor Laina George from Marondera said she has heard from other survivors on a whatsapp platform for cancer survivors that have experienced stigma from their spouses who end up sleeping in separate bedrooms.

"I am lucky in the sense that my husband and family were very supportive because a foreigner from Europe came to my rescue and told us how she had fought breast cancer through chemotherapy treatment.

"This woman, who is a breast cancer survivor, and her husband actually paid for all my treatments including op to remove my breast. I am so grateful because we could never have raised the amounts doctors were asking for and that is when I realised that cancer may just spell doom for most people because treatments are way beyond affordability."

These factors result in cancer patients avoiding hospitals and instead start seeking help from traditional healers for help by consulting ancestral spirits or administration of various herbs to relieve pain.

But the deputy chief medical officer for non-communicable diseases in the health ministry of health and child welfare, Dr Justice Mudavanhu, urged traditional healers to work closely with the health ministry, adding that at least 80 percent of sick people first consult traditional healers and prophets and only seek medical attention at hospitals when it is almost impossible to render assistance.

"Traditional healers should always consult the ministry because, while we do appreciate the work they are doing, there is need to refer some patients as quickly as possible to avert a situation where patients deteriorate until they are too weak to withstand any treatment.

Eric Chokunonga, director of the Cancer Registry at Parirenyatwa Hospital, which is under the Ministry of Health, said cancer is on the rise in Zimbabwe, and that more and more people are anticipated to get treatment for the disease given the yearly rise in cancer patients.

A prominent oncologist Dr Anne Nyakabau estimates that more than 7 000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year and noted that the most common cancers that affect the human body include breast, uterine, prostate, colon, stomach and many other cancers.

Nyakabau encouraged people to eat indigenous foods and a balanced diet, punctuated by regular exercises so as to avoid contracting the disease. She also advised those that have had family members that have succumbed to cancer to ensure regular check-ups because cancer is a hereditary disease which will strike at any given time.

"The stigma experienced by cancer patients stems from the association of cancer with death, as cancer is the most feared disease worldwide, especially among cancer patients and their families. The stigma regarding breast cancer screening behaviour has not been critically evaluated and is poorly understood."

Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer death among women worldwide. Additionally, the incidence of breast cancer is ranked second among all cancers, representing 1.4 million new cases around the globe.

According to the World Health Organization (2014), of all non-communicable disease deaths are caused by cancer. More importantly, breast cancer when first diagnosed in women is often at an advanced stage. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer can be successfully treated if diagnosed early and the patient makes lifestyle changes.

Source - Ropafadzo Mapimhidze and Dr Masimba Mavaza