Breast cancer scourge: When religion seems futile


For most women who would have reached menopause, life is presumably expected to be characterised by happy moments with achievements of their last children together with grandchildren, but for 45-year-old Netsai Femberai Moyo of Mhandamabwe in Chibi district, Masvingo, life became a bitter pill to swallow when breast cancer drew dagger on her and she is on the verge of losing her second breast to cancer, ultimately wanting to take her life since she was diagnosed in 2020.

In the last two years she has undergone countless operations that have taken a toll on her health, traumatising her to the core. She already has a medical bill running n to thousands of dollars and had to sell some of her assets.

With the October being the breast cancer awareness month “Pink October”, in 2020 unexpected health complication slowed her down as she realised that the lump she had neglected on her right breast was growing in size causing her increased discomfort.

“I was diagnosed with cancer in December 2020 on my right breast, but the lump was there since 2019,” Moyo said.

“I used to feel it but always paid little attention to it because it was small.”

She also said due to her religious conviction, she attributed her situation to witchcraft and generational curses since her older sister also died due to same worrisome condition a decade ago.

“I consulted different white garment churches and even shaved my long black natural hair and became a full covert and a devotee of the Johanne Masowe sect, all in hope that my predicament will get better,” she said.

“Unfortunately such efforts hit a brick wall as my condition continue to deteriorating without any improvement.”

Moyo said that when her siblings and family members realised that her condition was deteriorating despite the prayers and special rituals she received from prophets, they decided to try other options.

“After six months of excruciating pain, I was taken from Mhandamabwe business centre to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals where l got diagnosed with breast cancer and they said it is in third stage meaning I had to start chemotherapy as soon as possible even though they said it was a bit too late,” she said.

Being on the third stage meant the cancer cell had spread widely and at its advanced stage meaning the suggested medical treatment would only contribute a 20 percent chance of recovery.

Moyo said her family, however, went ahead with the treatment and hoped that one day she would become a hero who survived cancer even thou the doctors had said it was on the third stage chances of surviving are bit slim.

“I am a hero, I believe I will be completely get better even thou I now have one breast. I feel like am dying thou I opted to live without my breast,” she said.

Her only ray of hope at the moment is continuing with the Tamoxifen medication, which has helped others who were once in her similar situation.

Although she was undergoing chemotherapy, the cancer had spread to her left side other breast meaning she has to be removed another breast before the situation continue to deteriorate.

“After I had removed one breast on my right side, I left some pain in my left breast and the doctors confirmed that I had to be removed the other breast as soon as possible before the situation gets worse,” Moyo said.

“As soon as my family raise some money l have to go again and removed the other breast.”

Advanced cancer requires more expensive and toxic multimodality treatments and Zimbabwe has struggled with radiotherapy machines, which are only found at the Oncoly Unit in Harare.

According to the 2017 Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry annual report thee total number of new cancer cases recorded among Zimbabweans of all races (including non-melanoma skin cancer) in 2017 was 7 659 comprising 3 270 (42,7%) males and 4 389 (57,3%) females.

The most frequently occurring cancers among Zimbabweans of all races in 2017 were cervix uteri (20%), prostate (10%), breast (8%), Kaposi sarcoma (KS) (5%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) (5%), esophagus (5%), colo-rectal (4%), stomach (4%) and liver (3%). The other cancers accounted for 36% of the registered malignancies.

Public health expert and medical doctor Johannes Marisa said there was need to educate people about the risks associated with breast cancer.

“They are risk factors which associated with breast cancer which include smoking, alcohol use, being female though one percent of those with cancer is made up of men and there is need to educate people about the risk factors about breast cancer, symptoms, signs the simple diagnostic of breast cancer, scanning,” he said.

“Breast cancer can be treated early when it is still early but once you allow it may spread and can be dangerous, so early diagnosis treatment is the best solution.

“In Zimbabwe we have close to 1 000 people who die of breast cancer in one year and worldwide over 700 000 people and more than two million cases are diagnosed in breast cancer in one year.

“Many people default in treatment and that becomes very dangerous.”

Breast cancer contributes to over 25% of deaths of women in Zimbabwe according to statistics released by the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe in 2017.

In Zimbabwe, over 5 000 new cancer diagnoses and over 1 000 cancer-related deaths recorded every year.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as many cancers are not captured by the National Health Information System because the patients do not present themselves for treatment as most think they had been witched or some deaths are not registered.

However, for a country whose majority lives in rural areas and most are women who are at high risk of being diagnosed with cancer, these awareness are not enough as the majority do not have a chance to learn more on the disease and some are ignorant to the symptoms.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), 58% of breast cancer deaths happen in developing countries.

This is because often resources are inadequate to oversee breast cancer’s total treatment, which is achieved through an expensive process.

Recently prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono posted on Twitter that in Zimbabwe they are five cancer machines in all its public hospitals and none of the cancer machines is working.

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