Breast cancer: What is crippling the fight?

October is breast cancer awareness month. It is celebrated with a series of activities that include sharing of videos, tweets, and infographics focusing on the global burden of breast cancer.

This is done to help in increasing awareness and support in fighting the disease.


And much as such efforts have made an impact, breast cancer is still a worrying issue especially in low developed countries.


Information from World Health Organization shows that in 2018, an estimated 627,000 women died from breast cancer — that is approximately 15 per cent of all cancer deaths among women. And that majority of deaths (269, 000) occur in low-and middle-income countries.


Continous awareness is needed in the fight against breast cancer.  Courtesy photos

During a dinner gala that was organised by the Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa (BCIEA) Inc. on Tuesday this week to celebrate its 10-year-anniversary, partakers at the event shed a light of the prevailing factors that are affecting the fight against breast cancer.

Factors included awareness, or lack thereof, and social aspects such as misconceptions regarding cancer that are impeding the fight against cancer.

Cheryl Mutabazi, the chair BCIEA board, says women don’t seek treatment out of fear — fear of knowing, fear of superstition, fear of being outcast. She, however, says that this is something knowledge can change.

Survivors share stories of hope. 

“We can make a difference and there is hope, this is why we are here. We are here because we care and because we want to make a difference,” she says.

She also highlights that people need to understand that knowledge is power.

“It has power to make a difference to yourself and power to make a difference for others; the first thing to know is that breast cancer is treatable and if found early it can be lifesaving. I am a walking testament to that fact I was successfully treated 25 years ago,” she says.

Mutabazi reveals that it was for her habitual check-ups that saved her life.

Decuir, BCIEA’s founder, says everybody can do something about fighting breast cancer.

“It was through my routine check-ups that the doctors got to find the cancer in time. I had fast access to the treatment I needed. In fact within two months of diagnosis I already had a mastectomy.”

She commends the support from family and friends for aiding her survival.

“It was the support that I got from my husband, my family stood by me and they gave me love, strength and support.”

With this, she says, people need to understand that breast cancer survival calls for a number of factors, emphasising care and understanding from family.

“Yes I had a mastectomy but my husband didn’t see me as any less of a person or as a woman, however, sadly, many women are abandoned by their husbands, are stigmatised or even outcast by friends and neighbours. One husband told his wife I am not feeding your cancer, you are going to die anyway and promptly left her, she is a member of our survivors’ group,” Mutabazi narrates.

Women are encouraged to have regular check-ups.

“The message I want you to take home is ikunde, imenye isuzumishe, love yourself and value the person you are and be aware of the changes in your body. This should be done by getting checked regularly,” Mutabazi says.

She called upon the participants to celebrate a mass turn for BCIEA and understand what such a milestone means.

“What does that mass turn-up represent? It represents a growing awareness about breast cancer in this country and the means by which we can do something about it. It also represents the part that BCIEA has played in raising that awareness,” Mutabazi says.

Why breast cancer is everybody’s business

Patrice Shema, a member of BCIEA, says breast cancer is worth investing in, hence, should be everybody’s business.

“This is worth investing in to save lives. I feel attached with breast cancer initiative which is BCIEA and I am glad to be a part of this,” he says.

Constance Mukankusi, the project manager for BCIEA, says they have been creating awareness for breast cancer for the last 10 years and with this, they strive to continue giving people hope.

“We want people to understand that there is always life after cancer, and we are promoting early detection as the best protection. We are doing this with an aim of creating more strategies, especially with prevention,” she says.

Risk factors for breast cancer are still increasing and I think it’s due to a lot of things, for example, a change in people’s lifestyle, change in technology, issues such as bad feeding, and a lack of knowledge, are still a hindrance, she says.

Mukankusi also points out that there are people who don’t go for detection and that this is a very big problem.

“It would be of great importance if people could go for early detection because breast cancer is curable.”

She consequently commends the government for doing great in terms of fighting breast cancer.

“Since we started operations over the last 10 years, we have seen changes in terms of cancer management. For example, there is radiotherapy at Rwanda Military Hospital in Kanombe, but before people used to go to different countries to seek some of these services,” she says.

“Treatment is available if only Rwandans can just seek medical services here, for example, at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), most referrals offer these services.”

Philippa Kibugu-Decuir, the founder of BCIEA, commends Rwanda’s journey in terms of fighting breast cancer.

“So much has happened in Rwanda ever since I started this figment of imagination that has become a reality, however, much more remains to be done,” she says.

She encourages the masses to learn everything they can about this disease, emphasising that knowledge is power.

                      What needs to be done to strengthen the fight against breast cancer?

The best way is for people to endeavour going for check-ups on a regular basis. This is the only way to beat breast cancer, and the good thing is that when detected in its early stages, chances are there for survival.

Doreen Kakuru, Cashier 

I think people need to educate themselves about cancer. They need to find all the relevant information they need to know, this will help them in terms of prevention and treatment.

Maureen Katushabe

A number of organisations are doing their best to fight breast cancer and I commend them highly. However, I think more should come up, especially in rural areas, these organisations should aim at creating more awareness.

Emmanuel Kigenyi, Lawyer

People need to manage their lifestyles. They need to mind what they eat, make it a habit to exercise, for these are some of the risk factors associated with getting cancer.

Ali Mujahid, Businessman

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