‘The thokolosi sucked my breast’

‘The thokolosi sucked my breast’

Overturning superstitions in battle against cancer…………….

MASERU – ’Maatang Chaka has a piece of life-saving advice for women: “Stop claiming that the thokolosi sucked your breast. Just go to your nearest clinic.’’
She should know. The 55-year-old is a breast cancer survivor. In a country where superstition is rife, many women rush to the sangoma when signs of breast cancer appear.

Chaka first felt the symptoms six years ago. One of her breasts felt “full” as if she was lactating. Yet she was not breastfeeding. Neither was she pregnant.
As a diamond mine worker at Mothae Mine, she thought she was just tired and decided to sleep. But the pain was so much that she could hardly catch any sleep.
At the local clinic the following morning, a nurse prescribed pain killers saying she could not ascertain what was wrong with Chaka’s breast but the pain only got worse, forcing her to approach Makoanyane Military Hospital for a more thorough check up.

Chaka is entitled to medical assistance at military hospitals because her husband is a retired soldier.
At the hospital, the doctor told her that she had a lump and immediately referred her to Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital, the country’s only referral hospital.
There the doctor told her that the lump could be cancerous.

This was in May 2012, barely two months after the first experience with the painful breast.
In December of the same year, she went back to Queen ’Mamohato to collect the results.
“The results revealed that I had breast cancer,” Chaka says.

“And the worst part was I was informed in technical terms I barely understood,” she says.
She recalls being told that it was “a 5×5 mass and length notes’’, language that appeared foreign to her.
“I thought I was going to be counseled first for me to understand, especially because my results were positive. It was unfortunate that did not happen,’’ she adds.
‘‘I was with the doctor only and we went to the reception where the doctor made a call to Bloemfontein.’’

To her shock, she learnt that the doctor was booking her an appointment at a Bloemfontein hospital in South Africa.
She was told: “Your breast needs to be operated on right away or else you will have a serious problem.”
In January 2013, doctors performed an operation on her in Bloemfontein.

After the operation she thought the treatment was over, unaware that she would have to spend the next five years under constant medication.
“I was clueless of what was to happen,’’ she says.

‘‘I did not have any problem with having one of my breasts removed, although I had no idea how I was going to look with only one breast.’’
And then she had to undergo six chemotherapy sessions.
‘‘I got surprised even more because the consequences of chemotherapy were never explained to me. But since I was willing to be treated, I did as required,’’ she says, adding that she also had to eat healthy foods.

‘‘It was very painful. I got burnt and it felt like I was struck by lightning. The burning started from the neck to the operation area and I was later bandaged.’’
‘‘Numerous blisters appeared and after being discharged, I was told of a five-year treatment programme which entailed taking pills daily. I will have my last pill at the end of October this year,” says Chaka.

Chaka is one of the people affected by cancer who took part in a cancer conference held in Maseru on Monday ahead of the 12th Stop Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancer in Africa Conference (SCCA). The 12th SCCA, spearheaded by a forum of the continent’s First Ladies, will be held in Lesotho on July 22 to 25 and participants from several African countries are expected to attend.
Chaka says she finds the conference very helpful.

‘‘I am super excited that the First Lady thought of us as Basotho to host this conference. People are very afraid to go to the clinics just to check whether they have cancer or not,’’ she says.
She says it is high time people, especially those in rural areas, stop believing myths regarding cancer.
“A piece of advice to all people with the myths, especially those in rural areas; once you start seeing or feeling the signs, stop claiming that the thokolosi sucked your breast or that your baby belched while suckling,” she says.

“Just go to your nearest clinic for you to be on the safe side.’’ It is common in Lesotho that when a woman’s breasts develop some symptoms, relatives immediately point to a thokolosi.
Others who don’t want to associate the illness with witchcraft will claim the baby belched on the nipple while suckling.
‘‘If I have survived it, you can as well,” she says.

The Director of Disease Prevention and Control in the Ministry of Health, ’Mabatho Thatho, says the conference aims to educate Basotho on types of cancers as the rate of this non-communicable disease is highly increasing. Thatho says participants will also be tested for other non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure and sugar diabetes.
‘‘We are not just implementing but we are also giving people an opportunity to be examined so as to see their status regarding this non-communicable diseases, ’’ Thatho says.
She says causes of cancer vary.

‘‘Both cervical and prostate cancer can be caused by the Human Papilam Virus (HPV) which is a virus transmitted through sexual intercourse which occurs at the very young age especially if he or she has sex with numerous people,’’ she says.
Additionally, this virus can stay for a very long time without one noticing that he or she has it.
Its signs can appear at a late age.

‘‘The importance of being examined before displaying any signs, any changes around the cervical, can easily be stopped from forming cancer,’’ Thatho says.
‘‘Other than that, 10 percent of cancer on different parts of the body can be caused by the kind of food we eat. We are not supposed to eat very oily, sugary and salty foods – these kinds of foods expose people to any non-communicable diseases,” she says.

Since these non-communicable diseases do not show signs right away, ‘‘we always appeal to people to go for a check-up once a year. Prevention is better than cure.’’
Thatho clarified that cancer can be cured only if its signs are noticed earlier.
‘‘And to children also, it can be treated if it is detected at an early stage,’’ she says.

The Deputy Minister of Health, ’Manthabiseng Phohleli says cervical, prostate and breast cancer appear to be the major challenge in the country.
‘‘I am happy because as the Ministry of Health, we will be helped as we always transfer people to Bloemfontein for treatment since we do not have testing and treatment equipment,’’ she says.
‘‘The process is very expensive, even the medication is costly. Bloemfontein hospitals prioritise their patients hence they always help them first before assisting us,’’ she says.
Parliament Social Cluster Chairman, Fako Moshoeshoe, describes the initiative as “very good” considering that cancer is killing a lot of women.

“This initiative comes at the right time especially now that oncology is going to be established,” Moshoeshoe says, adding that “we lose a lot of money and many lives to cancer”.
The conference comes at a time when Lesotho is sending eight cancer patients to India for treatment this year.
The first batch of cancer patients left for India on Sunday to get treatment at Apollo Hospital, Phohleli says at a press conference.

She stated that the government signed an agreement with India to help Basotho patients in 2016.
Health Director General Dr ’Nyane Letsie says the patients who are leaving have been assessed by an Apollo specialist who came to Lesotho some time back.
Phohleli says the cancer patients will be followed by four renal patients.

A group of local doctors and nurses are also travelling to India to be capacitated on renal and cancer treatment.
“Once they are capacitated we will be able to have our chemotherapy centre in the country,” Phohleli says.
She says nurses and doctors who are leaving will be trained by Apollo hospital experts.

She says sending patients to India does not mean the government will stop utilising South African facilities
“We will still work with South Africa,” she says.

Mapule Motsopa & ’Makhotso Rakotsoane

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