Africa: Reviving Hope in Cancer Patients

Brazzaville — Having survived a double cancer ordeal, Christelle, a mother of five, is now tapping into her experience to raise awareness and kindle hope among cancer patients, making early detection the thrust of her message to women in communities around the Republic of Congo’s capital Brazzaville. She narrates how she overcame the disease and how her outreach is helping others.

When I was young, I never imagined that I would get so sick, especially with a serious illness [like cancer]. The thought stuck with me until adulthood. I could see people getting sick, but for me it was always a bit far-removed. So, when my mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer during a routine check-up, the news hit me like a bomb. That was in 2004. We had never heard of the disease.

A succession of ordeals

Three years later, I felt a lump in my breast and went for a check-up to be certain. After the screening I had to undergo a procedure to remove the lump. It turned out that I had breast cancer. I was terrified because since my mother’s illness, certain things that we heard [were gloomy] such as “when you have cancer it’s time to prepare for your death, the disease will eventually kill you”. It was so depressing, and I was hopeless. I cried all the time.

Then in 2009, precancerous cervical lesions were detected. This was yet another extremely difficult experience. Seeing my body change and having to take drastic, life-altering decisions were devastating. But having young children, I quickly made up my mind, telling myself: “If I die, they will live without me. Think about their future and fight.”

My mother finally lost her battle with cancer in 2011. When she died, I felt the need to talk to others about cancer. My mother was diagnosed at a very advanced stage of the disease. I wanted others to have a different experience.

Early detection is the message

With other cancer survivors we formed an association called Solidarity against Cancer and Health Promotion. We are 20 active members, and we meet every month. We focus on raising awareness, persuading other women to get tested in time. With cancer, the earlier the screening the higher the chances of a successful treatment.

We have been taken aback by the number of women with breast and cervical cancer who are screened late. It’s a very worrying trend that is mainly due to lack of awareness and people resorting to unqualified practitioners who tell them that concoctions can save them while all they [concoctions] do is give cancer time to spread. They end up going to hospital late when there is little chance of survival. We always remind people to go early and avoid charlatans.