In January, OurHealth reported on Masego’s condition, which his family blames on deplorable living conditions. The toddler shares a shack with 11 others, and with no electricity or water.
Now, Masego’s grandmother Decia has been diagnosed with cervical cancer. Masego’s mother and Decia’s daughter, Merriam, is desperate.
“When I look at my family, my life and our situation I feel like I was not born to suffer like this,” Merriam told OurHealth.
After breast cancer, cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer among South African women after breast cancer. Women living with HIV in particular are five times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer due to their compromised immune systems.
Decia said she realised something was wrong several years ago when she began having bouts of abnormal bleeding and lower abdominal pains. Merriam urged her mother to seek help but Decia said she refused.
“I refused as I was afraid of being tested for HIV,” Decia admitted.
Finally, Decia’s pain became so unbearable she asked Merriam to take her to the local Refentse Clinic where health workers conducted a pap smear. As part of a pap smear, a small swab is used to take samples of cells from a woman’s cervix, these samples are sent to a lab for testing.
Decia’s pap smear showed that she had cervical cancer, which was confirmed by a biopsy performed at Jubilee Hospital. Decia is currently on medication to help manage her pain but continues to be in a great deal of pain. She has been scheduled for surgery
Dr. Lesego Mawela of the Soshanguve nongovernmental organisation Vuk’Uwazi Institute for Social Change said Decia could have caught the cancer early and avoided surgery if she had undergone regular pap smears.
Currently, women older than 30 years old who are HIV-negative are only offered three free pap smears – or one pap smear every ten years – in the public sector. In 2010, South Africa introduced a policy to allow women living with HIV, who are a higher risk of developing cervical cancer, to access pap smears every three years
Meanwhile, Merriam says that caring for her sick mother is difficult amid such poor living conditions. Community leader Sonia Mamabolawa said that she knows of the Seemise family’s problems and will try to lobby the municipal housing department on their behalf.