Nozipho’s story

Last night (Wednesday) a Health-e documentary on SABC 3’€™s Special Assignment told the heartbreaking story of 38-year-old Nozipho Mgoma battle to live and see her daughter grow up. Mgoma lost in the end with all indications that the health system failed her on many levels.

‘€œIn Nozipho’€™s case, the system in place, failed her. It’€™s as simple as that. The system from the time she had a lump in her breast, that mandated that the lump be investigated, to the time that her headaches were ignored and continually so up to the point where she was in hospital and it took them a month to make the diagnoses of metastatic breast cancer, the system had failed her,’€ said Dr Devon Moodley, Oncology specialist at the University of the Witwatersrand’€™s Donald Gordon Medical Centre.

Moodley, who is also a member of the advocacy group Campaigning for Cancer’€™s board, gave his comments after Mgoma’€™s death and after seeing details on her case.

‘€œYou could say it was individual docs, sure it was up to a point and you could say it was poor screening. Yes, it was. And you could lay blame at every point of that medical ladder, and you’€™d be right, but she is one of many patients, many patients who suffer the exact same fate.

‘€œThere is no regular (breast) screening programme for women in South Africa, it certainly is not a government-initiated programme. And that’€™s important, because we have many women in this country, many women with breast cancer and it’€™s the commonest cause of death in black women in this country,’€ said Moodley.

Statistics back up Moodley’€™s assertion that breast cancer is the biggest killer, with one in 29 women getting the disease in their lifetime.

The American Cancer Society has warned that the number of cancer deaths will double by 2030.

If diagnosed early, breast cancer can be successfully treated, but for many it can be a death sentence.

‘€œStruggling. Struggling. It’€™s not nice this disease. It’€™s not nice at all. Every day. Some days are worse than this. Some days when I stand up and try to do something I just collapse in the kitchen. They will have to come and take me and put me back in bed,’€ said a visibly weak and ill Mgoma, last year from her Kagiso home.

Diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, Mgoma had seen several doctors and gone to countless clinics to find out why she had been feeling ill and was in severe pain, but was always sent home with some run-of-the-mill painkillers and no answers. It was only when she collapsed on her way to work that further tests were done. By the time her cancer was discovered, it had already spread to her brain, spine, liver and kidneys.

‘€œYou get pain, especially when it has spread this far. You get pains every day. You know, sometimes you don’€™t feel like talking, you know. You are just tired. You get angry at other people. If someone tries to do something for you, you just feel like a burden.’€

For people like Mgoma, ignorance and a lack of regular check-ups allowed her cancer to go undetected, until it was too late.  

Mgoma’€™s biggest fear was leaving her daughter behind.

‘€œI am scared. Maybe if I didn’€™t have a child, I wouldn’€™t be scared. But, because I have a child, I’€™m scared. No one is going to love my child like I love her.’€

I tell her, ‘€œMummy’€™s sick and Mummy is going to die.   Some day, you will be alone and then you will have to do things for yourself.   So that is why I’€™m teaching you now,’€ she said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Cancer is a one of the leading non-communicable diseases, commonly known as chronic or life-style related diseases, which include diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases.

These are responsible for more deaths than all other causes combined and have emerged relatively unnoticed, while the international community has rightly so focused on communicable infections, like as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

The World Health Organisation believes that non-communicable diseases are a massive cause for concern and will – in the future – financially cripple developing nations.

World leaders gathered in New York this week for a historic United Nations meeting to decide a global strategy to address Non-Communicable Diseases.


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