Yesterday was World Cancer Day! The 2015 theme was “Not Beyond Us” proposes a new positive and proactive approach in the fight against cancer.
This approach is underscored by: “Solutions exist across the continuum of cancer and they are within our reach,” as stated by Union of International Cancer Control, UICC.
Considering the dire disparities that abound in Rwanda and indeed in the whole continent of Africa, how can we begin to implement this approach? Rwanda is well known for “Using what we have to meet our challenges” and here, I may also add, “what we know” plus “the easily, available evidence-based information”. Studies show that globally, 1 in 3 people will develop cancer in his/her lifetime and for breast cancer the ratio is; 1 in 8 women.
Facts are startling: low income countries like Rwanda, are tackling cancer epidemic with insufficient infrastructure and specialized manpower and yet making progress.
Cancer is a disease that impacts all of us as individuals, families, friends, coworkers, neighbors and society at large. We can no longer afford to remain inactive or engage in dialogue and debate; we must take action at all levels.
As we move forward into 2015, let us play our part in the fight against cancer as a disease that affects so many of us directly or indirectly, thereby buttressing the commitment to find the solution to it. How does one get involved in the fight against cancer, one may ask? The answer lies in your response to another gnawing question: how do we value human life affected by cancer in Rwanda, or East Africa or in the world?
We are fortunate to live in a country that is making waves for change as demonstrated by the success of the national cervical cancer prevention through adolescent HPV vaccination and the existence of a cancer strategic plan that is being implemented by the ministry of health.
We cannot afford to standby and wait because cancer happens indiscriminately and unpredictably.
Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa Inc (BCIEA Inc.) is challenging you to be proactive; take advantage of available lifesaving information, become informed on how you could reduce your risk for cancer.
It is a fact that 1/3 of cancers are preventable and on a personal level you can choose to take charge of your health by adopting the following healthy choices:
Be smoke free, eat fruit and vegetables, drink less alcohol, eat less processed food, sugar and red meat, eat fibre diet, be sun smart, be active, exercise, keep healthy weight, eat less salt.
Once you embrace this approach, it behooves you to become a change agent, share and pass it on at home and at work. Word of mouth has been proven to be a strong catalyst and effective networking tool. Let us make use of it in the campaign against cancer.
Evidence shows that access to early detection practices for cancer can significantly reduce the burden of cancer. It is important to realize that awareness is the first step to early detection and improving cancer outcome because early stage cancers are more treatable than advanced stage cancers.
BCIEA strives to increase awareness by offering culturally appropriate options for early detection by clarifying misconceptions and stigma surrounding cancer, diagnosis, treatment, gender and socio-economic issues that tend to result in people delaying or even completely avoiding care for cancer.
BCIEA breast health program provides strategies for self awareness and education on signs and symptoms for breast cancer and the importance of early detection that increases chances for successful treatment and better quality of life for breast cancer patients.
Empowerment, self value, help-seeking, and follow-up behaviors are vital parts of early detection component. BCIEA fosters awareness of early detection through workshops and seminars of various sizes and community settings and/or workplaces and the information and training is brought to the people.
Through collaboration with Rwanda Association of Midwives, we are able to integrate clinical breast exams in our early detection strategies. This allows us to link with the local health systems---any suspicious lumps detected are referred to proper medical channels diagnosis and followed up.
BCIEA free workshops are offered to businesses, churches, civil society groups, educational institutions, and medical facilities by appointment and you are encouraged.
It is Not Beyond us if we meet the challenge of providing effective cancer treatment and services as people become aware and take charge of their health.
The Government of Rwanda, through the ministry of health, has made major strides in cancer care though much remains to be done. Since 2012, Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence is the only affordable cancer facility in the country.
Report shows that, Butaro is overwhelmed by cancer patients, not only from Rwanda, but also from the neighboring countries.
As more people become aware and informed, the need for effective cancer treatment, care and specialized manpower, must be on the forefront of the national agenda.In developed countries a cancer patient is treated by a multi-disciplinary team; in Butaro, a treating team mostly made up of non-specialists although they have undergone training in cancer medicine, are dedicated and do the best with what they have and know.
Knowing that there is life after cancer will help all of us strive to maximize the quality of life.
This can only be achieved by understanding and responding to the impact of cancer on emotional, mental, physical well-being of the patients, families and caregivers.
If we all own this problem, working together we can find the solution to it.
The writer is the founder, Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa Inc.