The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
It is an annual international health campaign celebrated world wide.
It is also known as the pink month and efforts are made to educate people concerned about the disease, including early identification and signs and symptoms associated with breast cancer.
It is a month long initiative which ends on 31 October. Cancer is a deadly disease which usually results in negative consequences for the affected. A cancer diagnosis can affect the emotional health of patients, families, and caregivers. Common feelings during this life-changing experience include anxiety, distress, and depression. Roles at home, school, and work can be affected.
To celebrate the end of this important month, Review and Mail reporter Phillipa Jaja (PJ) spoke with a breast cancer survivor, Millicent Moyo (MM) who shed light on her battle and survival with breast cancer in an effort to help the affected know they are not suffering alone.
PJ: Tell us a brief background of your diagnosis as a cancer patient
MM: My name is Millicent Mpofu. I am 51 years old. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2019. I had gone for a routine check-up at PSMAS clinic. I had noticed a lump on my right breast a few days before the check up and so was praying to be diagnosed by a female doctor. I was lucky to be treated by one and afterwards asked that she look at it. She asked me whether it was sore to which I replied it was not. However I could feel it with my thumb. She recommended that I get tested first as it could be a cyst or a cancerous pimple. Therefore, she requested I get a mammogram done. (A mammogram is an X-ray picture taken to look for early signs of cancer).
I had it done after two days and the doctor in charge requested I have a CT scan and my suspicions rose during the procedure as there were three doctors there looking at it, murmuring. Afterwards I was advised to go back to the clinic the next day. So I immediately went back there and was told that they suspected I had cancer and it was in its early stages. And so I was referred to a specialist whom I saw the following week. They were very casual about the whole affair. His name is Mr Mukosi and he did a biopsy, to ascertain what the lump was. However, I was not worried and merely thought it was routine. I also had no knowledge of anyone in our family suffering from it. After a week, my results were ready. I was told that I had stage 1 breast cancer. The type of cancer was a rapid one which would spread at a mere prick. I was told that I had to do the operation as soon as possible perhaps a week after.
PJ: How did it feel to be told that you had cancer and what was your family’s reaction to the news
MM: I froze. I was numb, I kept on thinking that I had been diagnosed with cancer. I cried all the way from West End to PSMAS clinic. I called my sisters and we did a conference call. My sister went right to do internet searches on the illness and I told her that I would do no such thing as it would depress me further.
PJ: What happened next?
MM: I went to PSMAS clinic where I met an amazing lady. She comforted me as I broke down crying and helped call my workplace to notify them that I had been diagnosed with cancer. She became a friend and still is. However, the workplace was a different story for my boss had told everyone I had cancer. After going back, I found everyone in tears. One of my bosses had lost a mother and a sister to it and so could not even bear to look at me.
PJ: I assume operations and treatment followed thereafter. Would you briefly describe them please?
MM: Before treatment, I sought a second opinion which tallied with the first. The doctor advised that they remove the whole breast so that the cancer would not spread somewhere else. 21st of June 2019, I had my mastectomy done which prepared me for the operation. It took three hours more than was necessary but it was a success. I went back to have the staples removed after six weeks. Afterwards, I was referred to the oncologist to get the chemotherapy done. (Chemotherapy was done so as to decrease chances of the cancer coming back after surgery). I went to Onco Care, Newlands and was treated by Dr Ndoro. It took me 12 sessions to have it done. It is very painful especially the third session when the medication is in your body. You grow bald, you grow thin and repeatedly throw up. It was horrendous.
PJ: Tell me about your support system. Did you have anyone holding your hand through all these procedures?
MM: Yes. I had my family and friends who provided moral and financial support even my colleagues at the workplace. I could never have afforded the whole treatment on my own as it was outrageously expensive. Before the operation, my friend Rutendo accompanied me to the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe to know more about the sickness.
PJ: Did the cancer ever come back?
MM: Yes, twice. After suffering side effects from a suppressant drug called tamoxifen. Then I had the third operation after some cancerous pimples developed on the scar I had after the second operation. The third time they cut open the scar and scraped the cancer on the skin wall. Ever since then I have been on another suppressant drug, anastrozole and it has successfully kept the cancer away. I also underwent radiation to kill the cancer cells.
PJ: What lifestyle changes have you adopted to continue living a cancer free life?
MM: A positive mind is key. Stress encourages cancer and so one needs a happy and positive attitude. Also a healthy eating lifestyle though I eat everything moderately. I also do routine check-ups after every three months at Parirenyatwa so as to assess whether the cancer has come back.
PJ: Any advice on cancer?
MM: Yes. Cancer affects anyone as a result prioritise health check-ups so you know if you have it or not. People do not want to be tested for cancer and so end up discovering it at later stages which are very fatal. Cancer has many forms. A mouth ulcer can be cancerous so never take anything for granted. Also go get treated at the clinic. Do not trust herbs. Many people are dying because they have faith in them. Cancer is medically treated and there is no other alternative way. For those that are struggling with raising funds for treatment, go to the Social Welfare Department at Parirenyatwa. They help in footing bills.