The cruelty of cancer

2011-07-01 00:00

A 28-YEAR-OLD Mooi River woman has been living with acute pain caused by breast cancer for more than four years.

Both Thandi Hlongwane’s breasts ruptured within a matter of months because of the cancer. She has had little help from local clinics and government hospitals and has been told she will have to live for the rest of her life with open, suppurating sores.

She is unable to dress or bath herself or care for her 18-month-old child because of her condition.

She allegedly receives no help from Mpofana Clinic in Mooi River, a stone’s throw away from her home. She relies on neighbours, relatives and Bruntville Clinic nurses to help clean her breast wounds.

Bruntville Clinic nurses visit her three times a week to dress her sores, but only after she had laid a complaint about the ill-treatment she received from nurses at Mpofana Clinic. She said they chased her away, allegedly because she “disgusted them”.

Hlongwane’s plight began with a lump in her breast for which she promptly sought medical advice. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 after tests conducted by Mpofana Clinic.

She was referred to Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg and spent six months travelling there for chemotherapy. After the chemotherapy she was sent home with painkillers.

The cancer spread quickly and in 2008 she started chemotherapy again. “

I didn’t understand why it was getting worse as I was taking all the medication the doctors said I should,” said Hlongwane. Other medication she was prescribed made her nauseous and weak.

In 2009 she was sent to King Edward Hospital in Durban to undergo a bone scan to check the progression of the cancer. She said she was told it had progressed to her bones.

“When I was in hospital I found out that I was pregnant,” Hlongwane said. She gave birth to a baby prematurely in March 2010 and underwent Caesarean section while her breast wounds were suppurating. She said the child is well and lives with the father.

Hlongwane said the doctors told her that if they removed her breasts now she would die. “I cried when the doctors told me that the cancer is incurable.” The cancer has spread to her bone marrow and she said that she has sores on her back.

Her brother, Stanley Hlongwane, who looks after her, said “Why didn’t the doctors remove her breasts when they first diagnosed her?”

Stanley is unemployed and relies mostly on odd jobs, but he feels he cannot leave Thandi home alone to go and find work. “She is very weak. She can hardly take two steps without being helped.”

Thandi said she cries every night because the pain is so bad and the stench from the wounds on her breasts is sometimes unbearable.

Every time she goes to the hospital all she gets is a slip to go to the chemist and collect tablets that make her feel sick.

She said she has not given up hope. She dropped out of high school in grade 11 but still dreams of being a television presenter. “I dream of being a normal human being, who can have a job and take care of my child.”

When The Witness visited her on Wednesday, Hlongwane had had a morphine injection, which she said is the only way she can get to sleep. “I usually wake up at 2 am and sit and cry.”

One of Hlongwane’s neighbours, Gladys Mlaba, said: “I come every day to help her. I make soft porridge to warm her up in the morning before I bath her. I do her laundry and help her with anything else she needs.”

The spokesperson for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, Chris Maxon, said the Department is willing to help Hlongwane.

Breast cancer: early detection is key to recovery

ONE in 29 women in South Africa will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

The good news is that if it’s detected early there is an excellent chance of recovery.

Every woman should look at and feel her breasts regularly. That way you will get to know what is normal for you and make it easier to notice any new or unusual changes.

Talk to your doctor without delay if you notice any of the following:

• a lump, lumpiness or thickening in your breast or armpit

• changes in the skin — dimpling, puckering or redness

• changes to your nipple — its size or shape

• an unusual discharge from your nipple

• unusual persistent pain

It doesn’t matter how old you are. Even if you’re having regular mammograms, you still need to be aware of any changes in your breasts.

If you have these symptoms go to a health professional without delay.

Many breast lumps are harmless, but they must all be checked.

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