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Fighting the cancer monster

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MASERU – WHEN Rakosi Hlehlethe, 43, speaks his voice betrays little emotion. But bottled inside are feelings of anxiety and depression caused by having to deal with foot cancer.
He said the problem started in 2017 when his big toe became sore and swollen.

“While still monitoring it, my toenail fell off,” Hlehlethe recalled.

He said he limped his way to Malealea Clinic in Mafeteng and was encouraged to sterilise his toe.
He said it affected the next toenail which also fell off.

“An open wound made its way from my foot,” he said, adding that “it was a sore that would heal and resurface.”

His third toe broke in his sleep and he only realised it in the morning.
Eight months later, the pain became unbearable as another wound formed.

“I have been treating something I didn’t know for the past two years,” he said.

He said it was only in July 2021 when a doctor in Mafeteng Hospital confirmed he had cancer and referred him to Motebang Hospital in Leribe, which re-transferred him to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Maseru.

There, he was only scrubbed and advised to keep cleaning the wound.

“Unfortunately, it got rotten and stinky.”

He has one toe hanging on his feet.

“The pain on my foot is unbearable,” he said, breaking down.

He said his foot had worms just last month.

“I am not really sure what happened as I followed my routine of cleansing it after every three days,” he said.

Hlehlethe wishes for amputation as he was diagnosed late for cancer.
Another cancer patient, ’Majakote Lejaha-Letebele, 54, was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2007 and since then she has visited many medical practitioners in search of a cure.

She saw a dimple like lump on her left breast and went to the Maloti Seventh-Day Adventist Hospital for a biopsy and got her results two weeks later.

“I had stage two breast cancer and I did mastectomy as advised by doctors citing it will prolong my life expectancy,” she said.

She said the tests confirmed she was pregnant, something she was unaware of. She also had five lymph nodes (litšoelesa) under her armpit.
She was referred to Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital and was booked to Bloemfontein, in South Africa, six months later for treatment.

During her check-ups at the local hospitals, results never showed that the cancer was spreading and she completed her nine months of pregnancy. She started six chemotherapy sessions four months later after giving birth.

She said she would vomit and poop at the same time, lost her hair, her nails became darker, her skin was very dry and she was weak and forgetful and she lost too much weight.
Afterwards, she started a six-week radiotherapy which led to a five-year pills (tamoxifen) treatment.

At last, cancer was arrested.
However, that was not the case as during her sixth year, she went for a check-up with a painful hip.

“The pain got deeper by weeks and in 2016, I went for consultation suspecting cancer but I was misdiagnosed as the doctor said it was arthritis,” she said.

“I was injected and the relief only lasted five hours,” she said, recalling her return with a painful hip, again, a week later.

“The doctor still maintained that it was arthritis and I requested X-rays for confirmation. But he didn’t budge and I had to take the matter further with his manager.”

Lejaha-Letebele said she was transferred to Bloemfontein for treatment right away as an emergency after the doctors confirmed cancer on her hip and lungs.
She underwent radiotherapy to strengthen her bones. She was discharged without any cure, just hoping for divine intervention.

“The most painful part was coming home to wait for my death in 2016,” she said, praising God. “He heard my prayers and responded accordingly.”

She said she went to a doctor who practises homeopathy in Port Elizabeth who gave her a lot of medicines and she paid “a lot of money as I was told that cancer is irreversible”.

“I had to take a loan and I spent over half a million maloti trying to work on myself after the doctors did their part and concluded it was the end for me.”

“My medication is costly and I had to stop eating meat and fruits completely. I was so thin but after following the instructions, I slowly regained my weight,” she said, adding that she now eats meat in small portions balancing it with green vegetables.

She still takes painkillers but the pain is no longer as strong and she gains strength daily as the cancer is no longer spreading.
Lejaha-Letebele says the absence of a cancer facility is a major challenge for Basotho.

“During my time (at Mediclinic), I watched as many Basotho were sent back home daily due to delays by the government in making payments and the polite excuse given was they needed a blood transfusion,” she said.

“There were so many needless deaths which I believe could have been prevented if we had our own facility.” When a 53-year-old ’Mamosa Mosola bled after intercourse in October 2018, she didn’t think much of it, even less that it could be a sign of cancerShe was diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer, she was overwhelmed by the news, and the pain that followed was unimaginable.

“They were like birth pains,” she said.

Her children took her to Makoanyane Military Hospital where she was admitted for two weeks, but that was just the start of her journey managing a disease that is affecting many Basotho women.
She was referred to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital before being taken to Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital where cancer was confirmed.

For survivors such as Mosola, the hope is that the government deals with the challenge as a matter of urgency so that other women do not have to go through the pain she suffered.
The pain made her feel like death was knocking on her door.

“I couldn’t walk anymore and had to use a wheelchair,” said Mosola, adding: “I could see death getting nearer and nearer.”
She was referred back to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in December and was told to seek further treatment in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

But the doctors were on leave and would only be available in January.

“I lost all hope,” she said.

A ray of light filtered when she learnt of a visit to Lesotho by some Indian doctors, who eventually attended to her.
Mosola later sought for treatment in India in February 2019, where she underwent chemotherapy sessions for six weeks.

Afterwards, she said she underwent two radiation sessions.
She urged Basotho to go for cancer screening before it’s too late.

“The pain I suffered, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
‘Malisela Tšilane sobs as she narrates how her 63-year-old mother succumbed to cancer in 2015.

She said she had a lump which looked like a boil under her armpit.
She went to Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital and got treated as an outpatient following numerous check-ups and given different antibiotics for the same thing.

“Doctors were negligent as they kept prescribing different pills without running tests even though the cancer had spread to her breasts and her situation worsened with time.”
She said she changed doctors to a privately owned health centre.

“Worse, she was misdiagnosed with mastitis there,” Tšilane said.
She said she returned to Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital but “unfortunately we didn’t see a doctor as we were given an appointment for a biopsy which was to be done in three months”.

She said the biopsy was finally done and it confirmed she had breast cancer, hence her referral to Bloemfontein.

“In the meantime, her problem was escalating as her breast was shrinking and itchy and when she scratched, the cancer wound appeared and she was hurting,” she said.

“But because they didn’t care, she was given antibiotics until forever.”

It took six more months before she could get a six-week chemotherapy treatment.

“Unfortunately, she died after her fifth chemo, we were least expecting it as she looked better with lesser pain,” she said, adding: “I don’t think she would have died had she been diagnosed and treated much earlier.”

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg as many Basotho continue to suffer.
Speaking at a press conference recently, the Health Services Director General, Dr ’Nyane Letsie, said cancer is now a major cause of morbidity and mortality in Lesotho.

She said it is the fifth cause of death among adult men and second among female adults, saying cervical cancer is among the highest in women, followed by breast cancer and prostate cancer in men.

She said the country continues to refer cancer patients to Bloemfontein for care and treatment. However, the costs remain high for testing and treatment.
She said the government spends between M150 000 and M200 000 per patient from diagnoses, treatment and rehabilitation.

“The government solely pays for this,” Dr Letsie said.

“Also, despite all this, the mortality rate among our patients who are already under care is significantly high,” she said.

“We lose more than half of them and this is really shocking.”

Dr Letsie, therefore, said to ‘close the care gap’ in Lesotho, there is a need for infrastructure, skilled human resources for the management of cancer as well as drugs and supplies.
She added that plans are underway for the construction of a cancer hospital in the country.

“Despite the delay of construction of a cancer hospital, we are glad to note that at least now the processes have begun and I am sure that the ministry in charge will soon announce the processes to ensure that construction continues.”

She announced that Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital has a cancer unit designed to provide cancer services since 2010 and “we began to deploy staff to ensure that chemotherapy is provided”.
She said four operation theatres are also being maintained and the new Queen II Hospital will provide a fully equipped chemotherapy unit.

She said the first Mosotho oncologist has resumed duty and has already conducted a baseline assessment.

“It is an honour as most services that were not given will be given. And now that we have the oncologist, soon we will not have to refer many patients but those in critical conditions.”

She added that medical physicists, radiotherapists, doctor and nurses oncologists and cytologists amongst others have been trained.

“There is light because most cancer services will be provided in the country although those who will need referral will still go to Bloemfontein.”

“The death rate will decline as we will be able to diagnose them sooner,” she said.

Meanwhile, she said the country spends M12 million per month on cancer patients.

’Mapule Motsopa

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Dead on arrival

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My sister delivered a stillborn baby when she was on her way to the clinic,” ’Matemoho Letšela, 23, barely holding back tears.

Letšela says her sister, whose name she withheld, suffered birth-pangs when she was alone at home in Khonofaneng village in Mokhotlong.

She was then rushed down the slopes of a mountain by some passers-by on foot, striding on the slopes of a rocky mountain, crossing deep gorges as she sought to get to the Molika-Liko Health Centre some eight kilometres away.

When she arrived at the clinic, the baby was declared dead on arrival.

Welcome to Mokhotlong, Lesotho’s mountainous region known worldwide for its big and clean diamonds where the people do not have basic services.

Letšela said her sister collapsed when she was on her way to the clinic and was only seen by some passers-by.

By the time passers-by saw her, it was already too late for her and her baby.

She was eight months pregnant. 

“She was still far from the clinic and away from the villages,” Letšela says.

“She had no one to help her until she lost her baby. She was helpless the whole day until it was too late for her to survive,” she says.

 “She had already lost a lot of blood and could not make it to the hospital.”

Letšela shared her sister’s story with thepost during a tour conducted by the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to assess the impact of their assistance in Mokhotlong and Quthing districts a fortnight ago.

Letsela pleaded with the government to provide services in Mokhotlong’s hard-to-reach areas to avoid unnecessary deaths like her sister’s.

“My sister was eight months pregnant so the long walking distance might have been the cause of her early delivery and ultimate death,” she says.

She says there are still some villages in her area that are way far from where she stays, villages like Lichecheng where a patient must travel early in the morning, sleep on the way and reach the clinic the following day.

Cars cannot reach those remote areas, she says.

At Letšela’s area, they only have one bus that travels from home to town at 9am and will be back late at 8pm.

Even though they would love to always catch a ride whenever they are going to the clinic, sometimes they just do not have the money.

Letšela is three months pregnant now and says she cannot wait to reach 37 weeks so she can go and stay at the accommodation facilities provided by the clinic.

 “That is the advice from our midwives and I am willing to take that offer,” she says.

“I don’t want what happened to my sister to happen to me.”

When thepost met Letšela at the clinic last week, she had left her place at around 4am walking alone to the clinic and arrived after 10am.

Relebohile Tšepe

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Doctor tampers with corpse

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THE Mokhotlong Government Hospital has agreed to pay M200 000 as compensation to the husband of a deceased patient after a doctor unlawfully tampered with the corpse.

There is a deed of settlement between the hospital and Jacob Palime, the deceased woman’s husband.

Jacob Palime rushed to the High Court in Tšifa-li-Mali last year after the hospital failed to explain why the doctor had tampered with his wife’s corpse at a private mortuary behind his back.

His wife’s body had been taken to the Lesotho Funeral Services.
Palime lives in Phahameng in Mokhotlong.

In his court papers, Palime was demanding M500 000 in compensation from the hospital “for unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with” his rituals and rights over his dead wife.

He informed the court that his wife died in September 2020 at Mokhotlong Hospital.

“All requisite documentation pertaining to her release to Lesotho Funeral Services were effected and ultimately the deceased was accordingly transferred to the mortuary,” Palime said.

The court heard that Palime’s family was subsequently informed about the wife’s death.

The family however learnt that one doctor, acting in his professional capacity, went to the mortuary the next day and tampered with the corpse.

The doctor subsequently conducted certain tests on the corpse without the knowledge of family members.

Palime said their attempts to get an explanation from the hospital as to the purpose of the tests and the name of the doctor had failed to yield results.

“It remained questionable and therefore incomprehensible as to what actually was the purpose or rationale behind conducting such anonymous and secret tests,” he said.

Palime told the court that the whole thing left him “in an unsettled state of mind for a long time”.

He said his family, which has its traditions and culture rooted in the respect for their departed loved ones, regards and considers Mokhotlong Hospital’s conduct as an unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with his rituals and rights over his deceased spouse.

“This is more-so because the hospital had all the opportunity to have conducted any or such alleged tests immediately upon demise of the deceased while still within its area of jurisdiction and not after her release to the mortuary,” he said.

Palime said despite incessant demands, the hospital has failed, refused, ignored and neglected to cooperate with him “to amicably solve this unwarranted state of affairs”.

Palime told the court that there were no claims against the Lesotho Funeral Service as they had cooperated and compensated him for wrongly allowing the doctor to perform tests on the corpse without knowledge or presence of one of the family members.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Villagers whipped as police seize guns

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Dozens of villagers in Ha-Rammeleke in Khubelu, Mokhotlong, were on Monday night rounded up and beaten with sticks and whips by the police during an operation to seize illegal guns.

The villagers told thepost that they heard one man crying out for help saying his wife was sick. And when they rushed to his house, they found the police waiting for them.

The police had stormed the man’s house and ordered him to “cry for help” to lure men from the village.

The men and women were then frog-marched outside the village where the police assaulted the men with sticks, whips, and kicked them.

One man said when he arrived at the house, he found other villagers who were now surrounded by armed police.

“At first I thought they were soldiers but later picked up that they were SOU (Special Operations Unit) members,” he said.

He said they were subjected to severe torture.

“They beat us with sticks at the same time demanding guns from us,” he said.

The police and soldiers also raided other nearby villages in Khubelu area but in Ha-Rammeleke villagers say they identified only police from the Special Operations Unit (SOU).

Several villagers who spoke to thepost asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.

This was the second time within a month that the security forces have raided the villages in search of illegal guns after a spate of gory murders in the areas.

The murders are perpetrated by famo music gangs who are fighting over illegal gold mining in South Africa.

The first raid was on Wednesday preceding Good Friday.

Villagers say a group of armed soldiers stormed the place in the wee hours collecting almost every one to the chief’s place.

“We were woken-up by young soldiers who drove us to the chief’s place,” one resident of Ha-Rammeleke said.

When they arrived at the chief’s home all hell broke loose.

A woman told thepost that they were split into two groups of women and men.

Later, women were further split into two groups of the elderly and younger ones.

She said the security officers assaulted the men while ordering the elderly women to ululate.

Young women were ordered to run around the place like they were exercising.

She said the men were pushed into a small hut where they were subjected to further torture.

A man who was among the victims said the army said they should produce the guns and help them identify the illegal miners.

He said this happened after one man in their village was fatally shot by five unknown men in broad daylight.

He said the men who killed the fellow villager had their faces covered with balaclavas and they could not see who they were.

 

The villagers chased them but they could not get close to them because they were armed with guns.

“We were armed with stones while those men were armed with guns,” he said.

“They fired a volley of bullets at us and we retreated,” he said.

The murdered man was later collected by the police.

The army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola, confirmed that soldiers stormed Khubelu area in response to the rampant lawlessness of unlicensed guns.

Lt Col Lekola said their presence in the area followed two incidents of shootings where one man was fatally shot and a child sustained serious gunshot wounds.

“There were reports everywhere, even on the radios, that things were out of hand in Khubelu,” he said.

He said in just a day they managed to collect six guns that were in wrong hands together with more than 100 rounds (bullets) in an operation dubbed Deuteronomy 17.

These bullets included 23 rounds of Galil rifle.

Lt Col Lekola maintained that their operation was successful because they managed to collect guns from wrong hands.

He said they are doing this in line with the African Union principle of ‘silencing the guns’.

He said it is an undeniable fact that statistics of people killed with guns is disturbing.

“We appeal to these people to produce these unlicensed guns,” Lt Col Lekola said.

Lt Col Lekola said they could not just watch Basotho helplessly as they suffered.

He said some people are seen just flaunting their guns.

“They fear no one,” he said.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, said he was aware of the operation in Mokhotlong but did not have further details.

Majara Molupe

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