There is a lot of stigma surrounding cancer patients both during the treatment process and survivorship, a situation that needs more sensitisation among people, according to experts and survivors.
The survivors and experts were speaking on Friday at the Kigali innovation village in an event organised by Rwanda Children’s Cancer Relief, a non-profit organization focusing on raising awareness of childhood cancers.
In 2018, according to world health organisation, Rwanda had 10,704 new cases of cancer, with cervical, breast, and colorectal cancers being the most rampant.
Although statistics about cancer stigma are not available, Dr. FideleRubagumya, a Clinical Oncologist at the Rwanda Military Hospital, said many people are ignorant about cancers, and this contributes to stigmatization of patients.
Rubagumya said he has encountered patients that were facing stigma during his practice as a doctor. Due to ignorance about cancer, he saw some lose partners; while others were stigmatized by relatives, among other things.
He shared a story of a young woman, a cancer patient, who refused to have surgery on her breast because she feared that her husband would leave her.
“I explained to her that we were going to give her chemotherapy, after which we would carry out a surgery to remove the tumour. She took the chemo, but refused the surgery because she feared that her husband would go,” he said.
“Because the chemo had made the tumour shrink, she thought she was cured. She went home. After four months, she came back with a huge mass. By this time, I heard that the husband had already left her,” he added.
According to Rubagumya, cancer patients go through such stigma. In some cases, some get isolated due to the ignorant belief that the disease is contagious.
Yet, he said that stigma can even spread more during survivorship, where for instance, spouses separate because one of them discovers that another is a cancer survivor.
Karen Bugingo, a cancer survivor, and author of “My name is Life” said that many people don’t understand survivorship, and they tend to ask a number of questions concerning their normality,
“Some people ask me, ‘Are you really cancer free?’” she said.
“People don’t understand when I tell them that I don’t take any medicine now, I don’t need any pill before going to bed,” she said.
One of the participants asks a question during the event. Emmanuel Kwizera
Bugingo was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma in 2012. Lymphoma is a cancer that begins in infection-fighting cells of the immune system, called lymphocytes. These cells are in the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and other parts of the body.
Despite being at stage four (the last stage of cancer) she was able to heal and seven years later, she is sensitizing people about cancer.
She said that the best way to recover from cancer is having hope that you will be well. For her, you need to be mentally strong, and not lose hope as you fight for your life,
“People talk many things about cancer. They say its incurable, and if you have it you are going to die. However, I am a living testimony that someone can be free from cancer. I am a survivor, and if survivors are there, the cure is there” she said.
Bugingo added that believing in God was very important during and after her sickness. She said it helped her to keep hope during the sickness, and she says she developed a good relationship with God even after recovering.
DeodatusRubayita, one of the youth who attended the event admitted to knowing little about how to behave around a friend or a family member suffering from cancer.
Bugingo said the best way to act when you are around a cancer patient is not to treat them as a fragile people, but rather as just normal, as if nothing has changed,
“They also need to have that sense of normality,” she said.