“AT one point during my illness after being discharged from hospital, with my condition still critical, I summoned all my children and my husband. I instructed them on what to do with the little that I called mine and how to navigate their lives after my death. I thought I had lost the battle and death was imminent.
“I went on to instruct them to call my Parish Priest to conduct my last service. My kids refused to listen to that. My husband would also have none of it.”
These were the words of 42-year-old Mrs Annah Chingonzoh-Kadzere, a breast cancer survivor, as she narrated what she went through after being diagnosed with the dreaded illness.
As she fought breast cancer, she also had to deal with a Covid-19 infection.
Life turned upside down in 2020 when Mrs Kadzere was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I woke up one morning and felt a lump in one of my breasts. My husband — Mr Richard Chengetai Kadzere — took me to our General Practitioner (GP) who requested for a scan and it showed nothing.
“We went for a biopsy at Lancet Laboratories and the doctor told us that I had breast cancer. It was heartbreaking. The doctor tried to counsel us, but he was actually talking to himself. Together with my husband, we drove off and stopped at a nearby supermarket and started crying. Yes, both of us just broke down.
“I told my husband that my dreams had been shattered. Knowing cancer as I did, especially after my father had succumbed to cancer of the colon, I had no hope for survival,” narrated Mrs Kadzere.
The fear that she had after being diagnosed of cancer would not let her divulge anything to her children, her close relatives and friends.
Mrs Kadzere discovered that she had breast cancer when it was on Stage Two.
“From what I learnt, it is important to detect the disease early. It means easier treatment. Thereafter it is also important to then adhere to instructions to the letter,” she said.
It was not an easy thing for Mrs Kadzere and her husband to share with anyone about her condition.
She said: “It was only after two weeks that I somehow found the courage to divulge it to a workmate and friend whom I kept calling and inviting to my place. I remember it was on a Saturday when she drove together with her husband who remained in the car as she came to my bedroom.
“I was tearful as I explained everything to her. After two months, I also had to tell my sisters, but instructed them not to inform my mother as I did not want her to be stressed about it.”
However, it is this courage to disclose her condition to her close confidantes and relatives that ended up earning her the support that she badly needed in her trying times.
The importance of moral and social support can never be underestimated when one is diagnosed with breast cancer or any kind of life-threatening illness, for that matter.
For Mrs Kadzere, it was the same script.
“I am really thankful to all those who stood by me during those trying times. I would not have been alive today without their support. I can hardly exhaust the list.
“My friend and workmate I talked about is one person who walked with me through this journey. My neighbour, Mrs Dzimba, was my pillar of strength. The support I got from my husband was something I can never explain with words.
“My eldest daughter, Danai, was also my biggest supporter. She was supposed to start her university studies, but shelved everything as she wanted to see my recovery first. In fact, all my children were there for me day and night,” she said.
Mrs Kadzere also had the privilege of sharing her experiences with a breast cancer survivor whom she had been introduced to by a workmate and the survivor was, not only very supportive, but also a source of knowledge about the disease.
Being discriminated against in society and communities after one is diagnosed with breast cancer, especially when the signs and symptoms are visible, is almost a norm.
Mrs Kadzere was not spared either.
“There is a lady who passed by my place and saw me with a bald head and wasted as I was, she instantly said to me, ‘Why do you put your husband to shame by keeping a bald head? Get a better hairstyle.’ I really felt hurt. I could not even respond to her.
“After a few days, I saw the lady again and I called out to her and asked her to come close. I told her I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that is why I was in that condition. She felt bad and apologised. I instantly forgave her,” she said.
Mrs Kadzere said she could not even wear a wig as it was extremely uncomfortable given her skin texture during that period.
She said she developed a thick skin to cushion herself from the derogatory words that were being directed towards her due to her condition.
Unfortunately, medical care costs for cancer patients costs an arm and a leg.
Whether you are supposed to go for surgery, or whether you are going to have an investigation done, or even blood analysis or oncology care, you won’t access it without money.
For Mrs Kadzere, her employer made life easier for her.
“I had an injection that cost US$650 that I needed after every three weeks. It was US$650 in Harare and here in Mutare, it cost around US$750 to US$800.
“I had no idea where I would get that kind of money. Even if I had to sell the assets that I had, it would have meant being left with nothing, yet without any guarantee for survival.
“It was all made easier for me after my employer agreed to meet those costs. I was relieved,” she said.
Drug side effects
Those in the medical care industry will tell you that for every drug, there is a side effect and Mrs Kadzere experienced this.
The initial eight months of chemotherapy sessions saw her losing hair, vomiting, losing appetite and feeling exhausted all the time.
She also had diarrhoea and was nauseous.
“I remember I spent much of my time sleeping. I would only wake up to bath and eat, then go back to bed due to the endless fatigue,” she said.
Covid-19 made things worse
Mrs Kadzere said: “In December 2020, I was due for chemotherapy and we were required to undergo Covid-19 PCR tests first. I tested positive for Covid-19.
“Even though I had no Covid-19 symptoms at that moment, it was a difficult period for me because the pandemic was killing people like flies.
“It was a difficult time but somehow I gathered my courage and never allowed myself to panic. I went into isolation together with my Grade Two daughter who had also tested positive when a follow-up test was done at our home.
“We used to have food placed at our doorstep and we would wash our plates with Jik (bleach) after eating in my bedroom. We would place the plates by the doorstep. This went on for two weeks until we tested negative,” she said.
Mrs Kadzere said her husband also found it difficult to accept that she had Covid-19.
“He would enter our room and insist that he wanted to use the en suite bathroom, but I knew he only wanted to get close to me,” she said.
When nursing breast cancer, one needs to adhere to their medication.
Several theories on alternative sources of medication will always be proffered by close ones, and the same happened to Mrs Kadzere.
“I remember close relatives suggesting to me that I should seek alternative medication from traditional healers, especially when the situation got worse.
“For some reason, my husband would have none of that and insisted on medically prescribed medication only. It was easy for me to understand because I also come from a Christian background,” she said.
“Each time I looked at my children, I felt some renewed strength to fight on,” said Mrs Kadzere.
“It was a difficult moment, but somehow my husband and kids gave me a reason to fight for dear life.”
She narrated how even medical practitioners at a Harare hospital, where her husband once took her after one of the many instances her health deteriorated, appeared to have lost hope on her.
Hope is the last thing to lose, as they say!
Today, she is only taking Tamoxifen, one pill a day, after she went for a check-up early this year and was told by the oncologist that the CT Scan, mammogram and blood check for cancer revealed that she no longer had the disease.
While she is aware of the possibility of a recurrence that can happen even after 10 to 15 years, Mrs Kadzere remains vigilant in getting medical check-ups.
In fact, while it was a hotly debated issue within her family on whether she should have her breast removed to avoid recurrence, finally they have found common ground and accepted that for the good of her health, she has to have the breast removed.
And soon, she will.
This is the long and short of a story of hope and pain for a breast cancer survivor called Mrs Annah Chingonzoh-Kadzere.
Background of breast cancer
Between 2009 and 2018, cancer cases in Zimbabwe almost doubled, according to the Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organisation, a total of 16 083 new cancer cases were recorded in Zimbabwe in 2020, with the most frequently occurring cancer among Zimbabwean women being cervical cancer at 29,4 percent, followed by breast cancer at 17,9 percent.
No wonder October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month — an annual global campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer. The disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. – Manica Post