Shut up and listen: the true state of cancer treatment in Zimbabwe

The debate on the true state of cancer treatment in Zimbabwe rages on after journalist Hopewell Chin'ono delivered a damning report in Geneva.
Robert Mukondiwa, Opinion

‘So they say early detection saves lives? Not in Zimbabwe’

Exactly two years ago, I lost this awesome soul to breast cancer which had spread to the lungs. April 11 of 2020.

It was a particularly painful loss not because she is my best friend and mother but for so many other reasons. At the very top is the fact that we had a diagnosis that shocked doctors. Mum was living in the rurals but had self-diagnosed and the doctor said it was one of the earliest detections he had ever seen. And for a rural woman to frequently self-test impressed him.

So they say early detection saves lives? Not in Zimbabwe. We took her for a mastectomy and had the breast removed in little time. There was hardly equipment but I suppose my joy came from the doctors and Parirenyatwa Hospital staff who under tough conditions were ever pleasant, loving and helpful. Then she had to go for chemotherapy. That was painful as I could hardly afford it. But my workmates would always help. Then we needed radiotherapy. The cancer radiotherapy machines now came into play, or didn’t.

For the entire four years, she never got ONE single session. Not ONE. Mum would get the bus from Muzarabani and all the time she would have to cancel because every time the machine was down. She was then told to try going Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo. Yes; 206 kilometres from Muzarabani to Harare and an additional 450km give or take to Bulawayo. But we could squeeze that in because Bulawayo is home and we have family there. What about other Zimbabweans who couldn’t afford that?

Well anyway, the machine at Mpilo also broke down. So, we had to go for option three which was to get her to South Africa for sessions then bring her back home after that. She needed a passport. I don’t need to explain what that means to any Zimbabwean.

And so, a few years later the cancer returned and it was belligerently mad. And so began our three-month journey to losing her. In and out of Parirenyatwa. Having her look at her arms as they became thin and emaciated and say “Robby mwanangu, pachine hupenyu ipapa?” But I’d always tried to cheer her up.

Then one day I had her back at home and brought her a wheelchair as she could not walk easily. It was a Thursday. I had moved out as I was working and didn’t want to risk giving her other diseases since Covid had just set in. I told myself I didn’t want to see her like that again. I skipped visiting her on the Friday.

She wasn’t in pain but she was losing the battle. Then on the Saturday, I got the call. I broke down. I’ve never recovered. I’ve hardly ever written exactly what happened those weeks. And those four years. I’ve actually decided to write this without any emotion because had I put in the emotion, I’d have made a lot of enemies and called out a lot of idiots.

When you talk about cancer machines and treatment you are talking about statistics. I’m not. I’m talking about the woman in the ward opposite mum’s who died and we had to lie to mum that she had been transferred so I wouldn’t upset her.

That woman was 34. Or my workmate, the lovely Sihle Mkondo, who was my mum’s support system. Sihle died a year-and-a-half after mother. Or little Ernest. Aged 13. He was in the ward with my mum who he called gogo. He called me Robbie. I thought with my greying beard he would call me mukoma. No such luck. I was Robbie. He went on to die aged 14, a year after mum and a few months before Sihle.

So go ahead. Argue back and forth about the state of cancer equipment and treatment in Zimbabwe. I am not only praying for cancer radiotherapy machines in Zimbabwe. I am praying that even the mother of the fool who is playing with such issues never gets to get cancer and experience the pain I went through.

To my best friend. Senzeni. It has been two years. You are loved. By the way – nanhasi mushini wakafa mhamha. Up to this day, the cancer radiotherapy machine is dead!

RosGwen24 News
RosGwen24 News
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