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 Tuesday 02 June 2009
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Agnes Mulimbika: "My friends shun me because I have this cancer"
May 2009 (PlusNews)

Photo: Nebert Mulenga/PlusNews
"Many things have changed about me"
LUSAKA, Agness Mulimbika, a Zambian actress who stars in the country's most popular soap opera, Kabanana, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in February 2008. She talked to IRIN/PlusNews about how her life has changed.

About half a million women worldwide are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, but most of the 250,000 deaths it causes occur in developing countries without the infrastructure and resources for routine screening. Women infected with HIV are thought to be three to five times more likely to develop cervical lesions that can become cancerous.

"I found myself in this condition not by my own choice. Sometime in 2006 I saw changes in my body. When I saw that my discharge was changing, I went to the hospital and did about three pap smears.

"All of them were negative. They were just telling me that I had an infection, but I wasn't convinced because I was given medication but it was not clearing.

"Then I heard about the screenings in the local clinics. In February [2008] I was screened and told my cervix was not clear. I had a biopsy done and was told for the first time that it looked like I had cancer, and that it had moved to stage 2B - this is where the cancer has moved from the cervix to other parts. I cried, and cried, and cried. I felt like this is the end of the world, I am dying. That day I couldn't talk.

"I then went to the cancer diseases hospital [the Cancer Centre at the University Teaching Hospital, Zambia's largest referral facility], where I was advised to sign a consent for simulation [a type of radiation therapy]. I agreed because I knew it was the only way I could be treated.

"I used to go there early in the morning, every day. There are a lot of people there; a lot of women. If you go there at 6 a.m. you will be maybe number 60, so I had to be there by 5 a.m. It is a very, very painful treatment; you just have to be strong. I did that for 28 days.

"I had a lot of side effects. I had terrible diarrhoea, I was vomiting a lot, then the burning of the skin left me with a very painful sore - all sorts of things.

"When I went for reviews I was told that I was responding to medication. I am supposed to go there again to be checked [to see] how I am responding.

Fast Facts
Zambia has the second highest incidence of cervical cancer in Africa
About 1,650 women in Zambia are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and 1,340 die from the disease
Zambia launched routine screenings for cervical cancer at local clinics and opened a cancer treatment centre in Lusaka, the capital, in 2007
iOne of the main factors contributing to the high rate of cervical cancer in Zambia is the high HIV prevalence rate of 16.1 percent among adult women
Source: World Health Organisation
"Many things have changed about me. I am a person who used to drink beer; now I have stopped. Even going for social functions now looks meaningless; most of the time I just stay at home.

"I was very fat; now I am small, I am thin. People talk when they see me, they say hurtful things - I hear comments like, 'Esnart kana yaka' [meaning she is HIV positive in local slang]. I have lost many friends; they shun me because I have this [cervical] cancer.

"I had plans to have my own family, to have my own children and to live very happily with them, but I was told I will never have any child, and I have accepted that. My partner has really been there for me. I lack words to appreciate this man - the way he has supported me is amazing.

"To the women out there, going through what I am going through, I would like to say, 'Be strong and don't pity yourself. Sometimes it's not the disease which is going to kill you, it's self-pity.'

"To other women I would say, 'Go for the tests at least once every year, instead of shunning them'. We should do away with this habit of going to hospital only after you are bedridden, or the condition is critical. When things are detected early, it's good. Even for my cancer, they say when detected early, it's curable."


See also: SOUTH AFRICA: Cervical cancer vaccine offers distant hope


[The above testimony is provided by IRIN, a humanitarian news service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

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