Shereen Rampersadh from KwaZulu-Natal was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) (adenocarcinoma) in June 2018. She was treated at a private health facility but following her experience, believes government should step up and provide free treatment.  

NSCLC is one of two major types of lung cancer and cause malignant cells to form in the tissues of the lungs. Adenocarcinoma is sub-type and normally forms in mucus-producing glandular cells like the lungs.

 “The public sector should endorse the same process as the private sector, having one oncologist see a patient so that proper treatment can be given. I feel government should give all treatment for free which includes expensive tablets,” said Rampersadh.

Rampersadh was speaking during the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) webinar on lung cancer, titled ‘Lung cancer-our voice, our story’, which took place on Thursday. CANSA, established in 1931, offers unique and integrated services to the public and to all people affected by cancer.

‘CANSA must educate South Africans’

Rampersadh, who struggled to accept her diagnosis, has urged CANSA to educate South Africans about cancer and the importance of early screening.

“CANSA must educate rural communities, as they lack knowledge of cancer. Giving motivational speeches at schools will also help educate the youth about the importance of cancer screening,” she said.

Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body. According to the WHO, the most common causes of cancer deaths in 2020 were lung (1.8 million), colon and rectum (935 000), liver (830 000) followed by breast cancer with 685 000 deaths.

Reflecting on her cancer journey, Rampersadh said that she never gave lung cancer a thought when she first started experiencing chest pains.

“I had a pain in my chest and thought I was about to have a heart attack. I woke my husband up at 2am in the morning and told him I thought I was dying,” she explained.

Rampersadh said her husband rushed her to hospital where doctors diagnosed her with lung cancer.

Side-effects from hell

Currently on Tarceva pills as well as a zometa drip twice monthly, Rampersadh said her journey to recovery was one of the most difficult yet.

“I experienced a lot of side effects from chemotherapy and radiation. The chemo made me vomit, gave me diarrhea, a lack of energy and loss of appetite,” she explained.

“The radiation caused hot flushes and my skin burnt a lot. The Tarceva also had many side-effects and there days I would be sitting in the restroom vomiting my guts out as well as headaches and body rashes.

She explained how she lost all sense of taste and up to this day, is unable to eat spicy food without experiencing acid reflux and heartburn. Performing daily tasks like sweeping, cleaning, cooking and shopping is also now impossible.

Having family support helped Rampersadh get through the hard times, something she can’t stress enough.

“Having family support is very important and so is having a positive attitude and following a proper diet. My family was stressed, fearing the worst for me. My daughter had to put her studies on hold to care for me. It was hard to watch my family suffer,” she said.

Treatment during COVID-19

Rampersadh also had to contend with her husband’s cancer diagnosis and COVID-19, a lonely experience given the restrictions.

“It was frustrating as my family members couldn’t accompany me when undergoing treatment. My husband was also diagnosed with renal cancer during lockdown and underwent surgery. We were unable to see him or comfort him during this stressful which caused a lot of anxiety not being able to support each other.” – Health-e News