One million women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year globally, and over half of them will die from the disease.
In Ghana, nearly 70% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed in the late stages, further making chances of survival rather slim.
As the world creates awareness on the dangers of breast cancer for early detection and prevention this month, Citi New’s Caleb Kudah tells the story of a breast cancer patient in this piece he titles ‘living with my killer’.
‘I feel I am a new person now. I don’t really have an identity now. I just exist’ Dansowaa not her real name, confessed.
She was misdiagnosed for one year treating stomach ulcer when what was killing her was breast cancer.
I had always had lumps in my breast so I thought it was normal. But it started lumping up.
Initially, you could feel it moving about but then it became stagnant.
I was a regular customer at the hospital so almost every now and then anytime an issue comes up I report to the doctor.
But then, unfortunately, in January 2017, one doctor finally decided I had to do a CT scan of the breast. But there was no machine like that in Takoradi.
The beginning of the year, I had so much work to do at the office so I told myself by March I will take time off and come to Accra. I was looking for places online so I had booked an appointment to come down to Accra. But then in March, I slipped and fell in the bathroom.
So because of the pain in the back, I just forgot about the breast because it was not important now.
Weeks later I couldn’t move, I lost my ability to talk so we had to come down here to Accra. I was at 37 for two weeks. Initially, they thought it was tuberculosis of the spine.
Another doctor said we should look elsewhere because I am a woman. I don’t know how come he thought it should be breast cancer. So they checked on my lymph nodes, they checked on the breast, they asked me to go for a biopsy, the result came out as me having breast cancer to the bone and then the liver.
I was in denial until I met the consultant days later when he told me yes, that’s it. So you are going to start chemo and I had to go through counselling. So after counselling, I had to go for chemo, I was in pain.
Unfortunately, although my speech had returned I just couldn’t think straight I couldn’t process anything.
I was just blank. So most of the answers I was giving to questions were off so my dad answered all the questions. I didn’t know what was happening then. I don’t know if it was shock or the pain I was going through.
On a scale of one to ten, my pain level was at a thousand. You can’t really explain it because it’s in the bone, you can feel it in the flesh sometimes when you are hurt in the arm, you could use ointment but in this case, it won’t work because the pain is in the bone but you could feel it around the flesh. I felt everything within me, all my organs were in pain.
I just couldn’t SNEEZE, I couldn’t afford to sneeze or cough. So I had to control myself not to sneeze or cough because anytime I cough I felt my organs were about to push out. I was in so much pain.
By then there was no medication because I had to go off everything to start chemo because now they knew what was wrong with me. So it was just chemo and radiotherapy.
I did radiotherapy two days after my chemotherapy and because of that my white blood cells count was always low. At Korle-Bu when my white blood cells were low, they give me Neupogen injections to boost it.
At 37 military hospital, I wasn’t given the injections. I felt the tumor was growing back, but when I complained they said its nothing. But after the second chemo at 37 something came up because they felt I went somewhere else to do radiotherapy without consulting them, I had issues with them and I just couldn’t take it.
So we spoke to Cancer Connect they spoke to the doctors at Korle Bu and fortunately I had my folder so I moved to Korle Bu.
Right from 37 military hospital my dad told me he will take care of the bills so I shouldn’t worry, I should just concentrate on whatever was happening to me.
The only bills I have seen ever since I started the treatment was the one from my Herceptin treatment which was almost Ghc60,000.00, and then the one for my radiotherapy which was about GhC7,200.00, those are the only bills I have seen.
When I saw almost 60,000, I knew I couldn’t pay. Fortunately, my colleagues who took me the hospital had come to Accra for a training program so they just met me and told me we have a subsidiary company that helps out with people with a donation. But then, I also had a friend in management level, she had been at the head office so she knew a lot of people.
She spoke to them and they asked me to bring my bills. Unfortunately, I had help later, they were going to pay half. But then, we had spent so much and I didn’t want to put pressure on my dad.
I took the cheque to Korle Bu and I was told I had delayed and then the calculation for whatever medication I will take will change.
I was also informed that when I start I cannot stop halfway and they were not sure if I would be able to make up the other half, so it was better I don’t do it at all.
So the Herceptin treatment was stopped. I wasn’t able to do it at all.
Life after diagnosis
Back then, I would rather walk than pick a car, if the place was far. I will run errands for people who couldn’t easily do it. But now, I can’t do much walking there is always pain, today I am limping tomorrow my pace is so slow. And that’s not me. I don’t walk so slowly so anytime I am walking someone I don’t know will stop me ‘Awura den na 3y3 wo? to wit ‘lady what’s wrong with you’? I can’t even go to the market because you have to be walking so fast. On my way here an old lady was moving faster than I was and she just couldn’t understand why I will be walking so slowly.
Such things makes me miss the old me. But this is what I have. This is what I live with. When I went to Korle Bu they told me it will be managed. So I know medically, I am not going to get a cure. I am going to live with it until the end. I am just waiting for a miracle. I believe in miracles so that’s what I am looking up to.
Dansowaa has been receiving patient support and counseling from an NGO called Cancer Connect.
It’s country lead, Gloria Yankson spoke about some of the risk factors that expose women to breast cancer and advocates for regular self-examination.
By: Caleb Kudah/citinewsroom/Ghana