I recently visited home, in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape. My heart was flooded with sadness when I came across an old woman with a wounded breast, it was as if a rotten-fungus manifested on her pinkish breast.
Her left breast had wet her blousy shirt even though she had wrapped it with a small towel underneath the body bra she was wearing. Her breast was sore, discharging a yellowish fluid which smelled like a sewage. When I asked the cause, she innocently said “I used to keep coins and money in my breast, that really damaged my breast”. She had also alluded that the cause of her illness is something she guessed but had never received any professional help from the hospital she went to.
When she consulted the local hospital, she was always granted ointments to apply, no x-ray! No mammogram! For almost a year she had a duty to wash and apply creams on her breast, but nothing helped.
I advised this woman to begin consulting private doctors, one doctor who is based in the rural area said it was just an infection meanwhile when she went to East London (big town) to see a second private doctor it was revealed she had breast cancer.
The worst could have happened to her especially if the second private doctor had not diagnosed her with cancer, which resulted in her breast being wounded.
I therefore wonder, how many other women in rural areas continue to suffer just because they don’t get enough support and they are not fully aware of breast cancer, I am sure there are plenty. All I am saying is, often women who are familiar with cancer awareness campaigns are mostly those in urban areas as a result, a woman suffering from any kind of cancer and stays in urban areas usually gets better treatment than a woman who is based in rural areas.
This is therefore a challenge to our government to prioritize the cancer campaigns in rural areas too. The same way they did to HIV they should do to cancer. Our government needs to introduce door to door cancer tests campaigns, this will help South Africa to fight the prevalence of breast cancer.
The door to door campaign will also help to produce employment is rural areas, I think our government should instantly act in brining solutions and breast awareness in those areas.
I understand in 2017, the Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi launched two critical cancer policies namely, Cervical and Breast Cancer policies aimed at addressing high mortality caused by these cancers, management of the condition as well as improve the quality of life of women in South Africa.
Breast cancers have been identified amongst the leading cause of deaths among South African women, especially women aged 30 years and older.
I also acknowledge that the Department of Health is working on a 10-year plan to equip hospitals with the necessary facilities to care and support patients with cancer in an effort to address the Hospital Service Equity and accessibility for women.
But the fact is, women in rural areas don’t get enough support and are not equipped on dealing with breast cancer. Thus far, breast cancer affects approximately 27 in 100 000 women in South Africa, and accounts for 16% of cancer deaths among women. The reality is that the incidence of cancer is becoming more commonplace among local women, the number of positive cancer cases is on the rise.
Also, global statistics indicate that 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, I therefore believe it is not good enough to intensify cancer awareness only during October, it should be an everyday thing. Women over the age of 45 are always encouraged to have regular mammographies, but some women in rural areas don’t even know what a mammography is and its benefits.
Also, a simple monthly breast self-exam is suggested to check their own breasts for lumps or anything that seems out of the ordinary. I truly believe women will take control of their health, especially when they have knowledge and do not lack resources. Understanding cancer and how it can be treated will help them to be proactive in finding solutions for their own health matters.
To conclude, women in rural areas need to be educated about cancer as illness and its treatments, they need to know once they are diagnosed, several treatment options are available and how they can access the treatment.
Siwaphiwe Myataza is a Political Science graduate from the University of the Western Cape. Managing director of Village Girl Creatives, a Media Hub.