Patience Mtakwa is a financial administrator who lives in Zimbabwe. She is married, has 3 children and one grandchild. Highly educated, she has worked in banking and private business for many years but is now taking time off from work during treatment for breast cancer. She is interested in developing ways to help those in her country who cannot afford treatment for breast cancer. Patience is currently working on a documentary project that will assist breast cancer patients in her country.
Patience's Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Age at diagnosis: 44
Date of diagnosis: February 21, 2008
Lymph node status: Four of seven nodes positive, no metastasis found with medical imaging or bloodwork
Tumor description: Stage 3, grade 3 tumor
Treatment Plan: Mastectomy, chemotherapy (Cytoxan, Adriamycin, fluorouracil) and radiation
Q: How did you react when you first learned that you had breast cancer?
A: I wasn’t shocked, as I have always had it in the back of my mind that it could happen to me. The irony is that in 1996 and 1999, I went for mammograms and didn’t have another one after that. I even stopped doing breast self-examinations. I was OK with the whole cancer thing and was more worried about my family's reaction and how they would deal with it. It was and still is the chemo that I am more afraid of, after having read and watched movies on how chemo affects the patient. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1973 but didn’t have a mastectomy. She only had radiation treatments. She passed away five years later at the age of 35.
Q: Tell me about discovering your breast lump.
A: I discovered it by accident. I have high blood pressure and don't like taking medication continuously. I am in the habit of checking my pulse rate to find out if my blood pressure is OK or not. The best way I can get a clear pulse is by putting my fingers on my heart, under my left breast. On this particular day, I was lying in bed on my back and thought I should check my pulse. This was the first time I had ever checked my pulse lying down. In trying to look for the right spot, I felt the lump that at first I thought was my rib. After checking my pulse, I decided to check out the "rib" again, and that is when I realized it was actually a lump in my left breast.
Q: How has breast cancer affected your everyday life? Does this diagnosis affect your self-image?
A: My self-image hasn’t been affected at all, even after having the mastectomy. There are people who have lost an arm or a leg, something that is so crucial in daily life, so why should I worry about losing a breast? That is something that no one notices, unless I tell them about it. Since I am still undergoing treatment, I have had to stop working and put my own business on hold, as it has become difficult to plan. My chemo treatments have had to be delayed because of low blood counts, and I've had other side effects. Other aspects of my life haven’t changed much as yet, but I am reading on holistic healing and listening to your body and helping it heal itself. This will definitely lead to some changes in my diet and daily activities. Also, I am looking for someone to teach me how to meditate. This will be a positive change.
Q: What challenges are there to being treated for this disease in Zimbabwe?
A: Because the cost of living has become so high, many medical costs are beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans. I am fortunate that I have managed to pay for treatment by sacrificing a few luxuries. Many more aren’t as fortunate as I am.
The average person in Zimbabwe is not able to afford doctor's fees, surgery costs and medication. Even people who work as nurses, teachers, office clerks or supervisors and civil servants have difficulty paying for healthcare. For the majority of women in Zimbabwe, a diagnosis of breast cancer can be a death sentence, as there is no way they can get treated.
There is only one radiation treatment machine in this country, and I have just learned that there is a one month waiting list for it. It has broken down often and not been serviced. The breakdown of the machine reminds me of how our healthcare delivery system has broken down. It used to be one that was sought after by people from this region [of Africa]. But now Zimbabweans that can afford health care now seek treatment outside the country. Due to the economic hardships, few oncologists are left in this country. They have moved away to other countries in search of greener pastures and a chance to own a home.