I have battled cervical cancer for 7 years

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By Zuurah Karungi

I am a mother of 13 children out of which only seven are alive. I am a peasant from Kaina Parish, Kayonza Sub-county in Ntungamo District.
In 2011, I started feeling a lot of pain and I thought it was just an internal damage due to my abusive husband’s constant beatings, only to be told I had cancer after suffering for some years.
It all started the day my husband came back home drunk at around 3am several years back and ordered me to open the door, which I refused.
He forcefully kicked the door in and hit me on my lower back, leaving it injured. After the incident, I got some pain, which I thought would vanish with time.

Serious symptoms set in
A few days later, my health started deteriorating, with an odourless discharge flowing out of my private parts. At first, I thought it would be a temporary problem but when it persisted, I went to Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, where I was diagnosed with vaginitis and received pain killers that gave me temporary relief.
Six months after my hospital visit, the situation worsened. I began experiencing odourless discharge [from my private parts] again, which turned smelly and came with pus. I went back to Mbarara hospital, where I was given antibiotics and told that I had developed an infection.

The stigma
The smell was unbearable; I started isolating myself from other people. I stopped attending public gatherings and associating with people because I did not want to inconvenience them with the smell.
When it got excessive, I then decided to seek a second opinion and went to a clinic in Kabale, hopping to get healed. I was diagnosed with a vaginal cyst and it is here I was recommended to carry out speculum (speculum is a process where a hollow cylinder is inserted in the vagina to assess its condition.)
Since I did not have any money at the time, I returned to Ntungamo to raise money by selling my produce. One-and-a half months later, I accumulated the money and went to a private clinic in Rubare, Ntungamo, where the speculum was done. They also removed the pus and also gave me antibiotics.
I tried asking the doctors what I was suffering from in vain; they all dodged my question, insisting that I was going to be fine.
In 2011, the situation worsened. I went back to the doctor who had carried out the speculum and he recommended the immediate removal of my uterus, saying it will curb the disease and pain.
A week later, in January 11, 2011, I was operated at Itojo Hospital in Ntungamo District. What left me angry and disappointed was not being told why I was operated, the only thing the doctor told me was that he had removed my uterus and he promised that I would be fine. His promise came true because after the operation, the situation normalised and I got back to my usual work.
I was totally fine until 2015 when the smelly pus discharge came back and this time, my lower back and knee joints were seriously hurting too.
I was admitted at Mbarara hospital and advised to carry out a cone biopsy again so as to examine the tissue from the cervix. The biopsy was going to help doctors discover the presence, cause, or extent of the disease.
I received the shock of my life two weeks later after the examination when I was told I had cancer of the cervix.
The doctors then recommended the immediate removal of my uterus, which I told them had already been removed. They then carried out an ultrasound scan, and found that my uterus had not been removed.
I was surprised that I still had the uterus. I wondered what the doctors had done during the first operation because I was sure I was operated.
Before the second operation, the doctors revealed that my cervical cancer was at Stage 2, which they said was beyond operation. I was so devastated and thought I had lost it all. I shouted, cried, and cursed. I wished the doctors had seen this early enough but it was of no use. I got stressed in the first days, looked at my children, especially the last born, who I thought I would die before seeing him graduate, but later accepted what I had become.
The only good thing that kept me going was that my children were of great support to me. They comforted me all through, which made me stronger.

Tough reality
On discharging me with a few pain killers, the doctors said that I had two options; do radiotherapy or chemotherapy (Chemotherapy refers to a chemical or drug given to destroy cancer cells.)
With the help of Hospice International, a non-government organisation, I was referred to Mulago National Referral Hospital for radiotherapy in August 2015. Sadly, I received radiotherapy for two months since the cobalt machine kept on breaking down and my schedule stretched from the anticipated two weeks. Had it not been for the machine breakdowns, my radiotherapy would have taken only 15 days.
I was then discharged in October and given an appointment to return for internal radiation, which I did after six weeks in December.
Today, I am back home in Ntungamo and luckily, the treatment stopped the discharge, but I still suffer lower back and joint pains and still battle with cancer. Despite the pain, I continue to dig in my garden and live positively by eating healthy foods such as green vegetables, fruits. I also depend on painkillers.

About cervical cancer

What it is. Cervical cancer is a cancer arising from the cervix. It is due to the abnormal growth of cells that have the ability to invade or spread to other parts of the body.
Symptoms. Early on, typically no symptoms are seen. Later symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, or pain during sexual intercourse. While bleeding after sex may not be serious, it may also indicate the presence of cervical cancer.
Causes. Cervical cancer begins with abnormal changes in the cervical tissue. The risk of developing these abnormal changes is associated with infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). In addition, early sexual contact, multiple sexual partners, and taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills) increase the risk of cervical cancer because they lead to greater exposure to HPV.
Treatment. As with all cancers, an early diagnosis of cervical cancer is key to successful treatment and cure. Treating precancerous changes that affect only the surface of a small part of the cervix is much more likely to be successful than treating invasive cancer that affects a large portion of the cervix and has spread to other tissues.

Where to get tested

UMC Victoria Hospital: Free breast cancer screening at the hospital and UMC Entebbe clinic, free specialist/ doctor consultation and discount on extra investigations such as ultra-sound /biopsy if required.
Nakasero Hospital: Breast cancer awareness presentation twice every week for October, free clinical breast examination following the presentation, free mammography services following the breast exam for those that require it and all the above will require booking to ensure good planning for each day.
AAR: All AAR clinics (Makerere Health Centre, Bweyogerere Health Centre, Bweyogerere Health Centre – annex, Kabalagala Health Centre, Bugolobi Health Centre, City Health Centre, Entebbe clinic, Ntinda Health Centre, Acacia Health Centre, Mukono Health Centre, Natete Health Centre and Gulu Health Centre) will provide free breast cancer examination and V/A screening at a subsidised price of Shs10,000.

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