For many women in rural areas, cancer remains a killer and some say they knew too little to see the dreaded diagnosis coming.
“People in Douglas don’t know what cancer really is,” says Tina September, who lives in Douglas about 170km outside Kuruman in the Northern Cape. “We don’t know when we should go seek professional help.”
“We found out too late about my mother’s cancer,” says September, who lost her mother to lung cancer. “We don’t know where it started in her body, but if she had been diagnosed early, I believe we would have been able to save her.”
Nationally, most cancer treatment and diagnostic tools like computerised tomography (CT) scans remain centralised at provincial and specialist hospitals. For patients like Rachel, this means an almost 220km-round trip journey to Kimberley Provincial Hospital.
In some provinces, one CT scan serves dozens of referring hospitals. In some places, patients who have been diagnosed with cancer may have to wait about a month for the scan to confirm where the cancer is in the body. This wait can delay patients’ access to treatment when some rural cancers are already diagnosed too late due to a lack of awareness.
Low levels of awareness may hamper cancer diagnoses
Almost 60,000 South Africans are diagnosed with cancer annually, according to the National Cancer Registry, which was last updated in 2010. Despite a growing burden of non-communicable diseases like cancer in the country, numerous small, qualitative studies have shown low levels of cancer awareness among some communities in the country.
People in Douglas don’t know what cancer really is. We don’t know when we should go seek professional help”
For Puleng Mokgatla, being diagnosed with cancer just a few months after her mother, Makgauta, passed died of cancer was difficult.
“My mom died because of womb cancer,” Puleng told OurHealth. “She found out only at the late stages of it. We tried everything to help her, but she did not make it.”
Luckily for Puleng, her experience with her mother prompted her to go for screening and her cancer was diagnosed early.
Today, Puleng is a counsellor in Bethelehm, Free State who encourages other to go for screening early. According to Puleng, more people need to know the risk factors for cancer and its signs.
According to breast cancer survivor Marie Foster, there may also be a need for continued counselling post diagnosis.
“I was petrified as I knew very little about cancer and what to expect from treatment,” says Foster, who also had to journey from Douglas to Kimberley Provincial Hospital for chemotherapy.
“When you have just had chemotherapy and are not feeling well, the last thing you feel like is a complicated, long journey home,” says Foster, who eventually had a mastectomy. “I was really glad my family and friends supported me even if they also didn’t now much about cancer.” – Health-e News
An edited version of this story was also published on Health24.com