Story by Abigirl Tembo, Health Editor
HEALTH experts have warned against the use of alternative treatment to cancer, saying early health seeking behaviour will prevent tumors growing into advanced stages which in most cases become unmanageable.
For the past 5 years, nine-year-old Wayne Mukwevere of Highfield, Harare has battled a neck growth which kept growing by the day causing him pain and discomfort while it emotionally, physically, mentally and financially drained his mother, Ms Talent Ngonde.
He had even dropped out of school.
Ms Ngonde told ZBC News, ‘‘This growth started when he was four years old. After a year, some lady managed to remove it, after she removed it the growth returned after 6 months at the end of 2021. Then in June 2022, someone scratched him then it developed into a sore. I just kept him at home because I didn’t have money to take him to the clinic. I was then called to the school by the headmaster and they did a fundraising for Wayne. He was now having seizures, so we took him to Harare hospital. He was then diagnosed with cancer, then we were referred to Parirenyatwa and that’s when I was told that my son has soft tissue sarcoma.’’
It was a long and painful five-year journey for mother and son as they sought for alternative treatment at faith and traditional healers. As if that was not enough, the father deserted them.
Ms Ngonde said, ‘‘I had no hope, I had lost hope. I thought my son was about to die and what made the situation worse was when his father deserted him saying no-one from his family has had such a condition. He just went away and abandoned me with two kids. We had exhausted all alternative treatments from churches to traditional healers. I exhausted them all but nothing changed.’’
Typical of most Zimbabweans, she shied away from the hospital.
“I didn’t have faith in our local doctors because whenever I went to hospital, people would advise me to seek for medical treatment outside saying local doctors wouldn’t be able to treat my child; they would instead kill him. So I didn’t have faith that my son could be treated locally.’’
But a team of medical specialists led by ENT head and shoulder surgeon, Dr Memory Bara restored her faith in local health professionals.
Ms Ngonde said, ‘‘I went to Sally Mugabe Central Hospital where I was referred to Pari. He was taken for a CT scan to check if the cancer had spread and it was discovered the cancer had not spread and was concentrated in the armpit and neck area that’s when they put him on chemotherapy. When he had the first session of cancer, the growth shrunk then it started growing back. On 6 February he had the second session, that’s when the doctor told me that my son would have to be operated on by ENT specialists. He was then booked for theatre on the 23rd of February. So I brought him, the case was treated as an emergency and the doctors sourced for blood. He was transfused and then put to sleep. When I was called back around 2pm, I was shocked to see that the mass had disappeared. The first thing I checked when I went was the neck mass. I am so happy, even up to today I can’t believe that neck mass is gone because this has been going on for a longtime.’’
Dr Memory Bara narrates the delicate two-and-a-half-hour surgery they performed on Wayne.
She said, ‘‘The surgery went on successfully, the possibilities of complications that could have happened like injury in the major great vessels, the internal carotid artery which could have been injured, we could have injured the lung apex, but we thank God that we managed to resect that tumor. The recovery post operatively went successfully. Wayne had to receive two pints of blood and we would also like to thank the community out there who support us the health care workers by donating blood. So there is someone out there who contributed to the success of this surgery. My advice to the community is, do not hesitate to visit your clinic, the city council clinic or any healthcare service provider out there because they are equipped to tell you of the best route to take, of which they would have seen that patient early and would have referred him to us in the early stages of the disease when it would have not caused much debilitation to the child. Just a message to mothers with young kids and even to the adult community for them to seek early treatment are available.
‘‘Of late, we are seeing a lot of patients coming in with advanced stage cancers. People are seeking alternative treatment while these tumors are growing. When they come to us they are now at an advanced stage so we want the public to know that services are available. Because cancers spread like wildfire, we need to treat them earlier.’’
Over the years, locally trained medical professionals have proven their capabilities.
ENT specialist and lecturer Dr Naboth Matinhira noted, ‘‘We do have the capacity to treat some of the conditions. As a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, I am actively involved in the teaching of medical students as well as the post graduate students and my assessment of the curriculum and the clinical exposure that our students have is we do have the capacity to train doctors which are actually at the right level. Most of the operations we can actually do them locally, so I would like to encourage the public to seek help from us first before seeking for other alternatives because most of these procedures we actually do them locally. This is a good example of this child we have managed. There were suggestions to take this child to India, but we ended up doing this operation here successfully and safely.’’
While the doctors monitor his recovery process and the mother waits for the next doctor’s appointment, Wayne, like other children of his age, is glad he can now join his peers in street soccer.
“Am happy that the mass is gone and I no longer have sores and I can play with my friends,” says Wayne.
Acknowledging the cancer burden in the country, government is subsidising cancer treatment in public hospitals to reduce the cost on patients, while making frantic efforts to source more cancer treatment machines from abroad.