Woman's strike chemo hell

2010-09-05 23:30

Durban - A cancer patient says she's been "through hell" because of the strike by public servants because it's made it impossible for her to have chemo and she's living in fear of what will become of her child if the worst were to happen to her.

"I can't sleep because I'm constantly worried about what will happen to my 12-year-old son if I should die."

This is the plight of Charlie Butterworth, 42, an unemployed single mother from Margate on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast.

She is halfway through a course of six chemotherapy sessions after having a mastectomy due to breast cancer in April.

As a result of the strikes she hasn't had chemotherapy in more than five weeks, and she is living in fear that the cancer cells now have the opportunity to multiply.

A specialist oncologist who spoke to Beeld on condition of anonymity said the interruption of chemotherapy at state hospitals could hold "catastrophic consequences" for patients in the long run.

All three state hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal where chemotherapy is offered - the Addington and Inkosi Albert Luthuli hospitals in Durban, as well as the Grey Hospital in Pietermaritzburg - have been affected by the strike.

'Up to six months'

The oncologist warned that they are expecting a flood of cancer patients after the end of the strike, and it could take up to six months to catch up on the backlog.

"At the moment it's almost only doctors on duty, while chemotherapy relies on nurses' support," said the oncologist.

"As doctors, we're frustrated. We want to give patients a chance to overcome cancer, but the nurses are critically important and without them, our hands are tied," he said.

Cancer treatment after the operation to remove the tumour - which consists of chemotherapy and radiation - is just as important as the operation itself, according to him.

According to the specialist, radiation is not being affected by the strike.

Butterworth said the last time she had chemotherapy was on July 28. Three weeks later her white blood cell count was too low and she had to wait a week. That's when the strike started.

The first week they were told over the phone by a receptionist that all services had been suspended at the hospital. An appointment for last week was twice confirmed telephonically, but doctors only treated three patients before sending her and six other people away.

"He was very nice. He explained that a patient would have to be admitted to hospital should something go wrong with the treatment, and that there are no available beds," said Butterworth.

She was retrenched before being diagnosed with breast cancer in January. Since then she has no income and is dependent on her mother, Pam Adams.

Hospital staff recommended she apply for a disability grant due to the cancer, but because of the strike she wasn't even able to do this.

"You see the police and soldiers with firearms outside the hospital and you worry if you're going to be safe when you sit there for three or four hours while the chemotherapy is administered," she said.

"What happened to ubuntu? Why doesn't the state offer chemotherapy at private hospitals," Adams wanted to know.

According to F G Zondi, chief executive of the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital, cancer patients were only shown away on the first day of the strike, and all chemotherapy patients who have shown up since then have been treated.