Clare Mwanza. This is the best introduction I could come up with for today’s article because she is a whole phenomenon and what a privilege it was for me to meet her. You see, Clare is battling Stage III vulva cancer but when you meet her, you will have absolutely no idea what she is dealing with unless she mentions it. She has such a radiant smile and is so full of energy, and life, that even the nurses often mistake her for a bed sider at the Cancer Diseases Hospital.

You see, with the current state of the Cancer Diseases Hospital, many patients are depressed because most of them need radiation treatment but the radiotherapy machine is down with no news on when it’ll be replaced. Many people view cancer as a death sentence, but not Clare. Even if she is one of those who need radiation, she has refused to be engulfed by negativity. Instead, she lets her positivity radiate into any room she enters.

Her life was normal, until last year when she noticed some unusual activity in her body and at first, a medical practitioner concluded it must just be menopause kicking in. But eventually, a diagnosis of vulva cancer was given.

“Some time last year in September, I had issues like having a lot of discharge and it took a toll on me because I am one person who really understands my body. So, when I asked my medical practitioner, he said from what I had explained, I was menopausing. Weeks later, it came to our attention that no, there was something going on. So, I had to see a gynaecologist from Levy Mwanawasa who actually said ‘you need to do a biopsy’. I had no idea about a biopsy, I thought it was just one of those things, the tests that you do and the like so I had to go to the theatre and they did a local anaesthesia. After the biopsy, they told me to take the samples to a lab. Two weeks later, from Phil Lab, it was diagnosed that yes, there were cancer cells. And they said I had to go and seek medical treatment from the Cancer Diseases Hospital, that is about September last year,” she shared.

“When I got to Cancer Diseases Hospital, the doctor there said they also needed to do their own findings, which they did. I had to do the tests, the liver, the kidney, the CT-Scan and a week later, the results came out positive. It showed that I had cancer of the vulva and it was in the third stage.”

Clare said doctors recommended surgery, which she underwent on November 8, 2022.

“I had asked them to say ‘what is the game plan?’ So, the doctors said ‘you’ll need to have surgery then after that, we’ll know what to do’. I had surgery on the 8th of November at the cancer hospital, I stayed in the hospital for I think nine or 10 days. They removed the glands and I think the part where the cancer cells were. But to be sure of that, they said I needed to do radiotherapy and I needed to do it six weeks after that. But because of the queues, I was pushed to March (2023). When March came, when I went, the doctors told me the radiotherapy machine wasn’t working,” she said.

She said some doctors recommended going to India, South Africa, Namibia or Tanzania for treatment.

“Two weeks later, I went back and I asked them again and they said it’s not working so I asked them ‘so what’s the game plan?’ So, at that point, that’s when the doctors said ‘well, other patients go to India, others South Africa, others Namibia and Dar Es Salam. Tanzania became easier for me because I looked at the mode of transport; rail and air. So, they gave me the name of the hospital and with the help of the doctors at the Cancer Diseases Hospital and the doctors from there, they did communicate and they came up with a plan to do it there. So, I am supposed to do 32 cycles of cancer treatment on the machine, which means about six to eight weeks but I need to go with a bed sider,” she said.

She said she had learnt that sugar was terrible.

“If you ask me what I am eating, or what I am doing with my life, when I was told, the first thing that came into my mind was anything is possible with God. And at that time, for me, if you ask me what I do, what I would tell others is to have faith in God, your mindset, what does your mind tell you? What do you figure your life to be? And the people that you associate with matters a lot. Are they negative or are they positive? If they are negative people, move out from there, find yourself with people who are positive, people that will give you life. Some people are very negative, yes, they will always be there but it is up to you to work it out. And also, the type of food,” she said.

“What type of food are you eating? Is it the junk food? Or the normal back to Eden food? For me, I was one person who really liked sugar and if I am very hungry and I needed something to drink, the first thing I do is a sugar solution but with the cancer coming on the scene, I have read, I have googled, I have realised that the cancer cells actually feed and multiply faster on sugar and wheat products. So, on those, I have actually cut down. I eat more natural foods, junk foods, maybe once in a while.”

Clare affirms that her positive attitude has kept her so strong that people can’t tell she’s battling cancer.

“Six weeks after my operation, I went back there, I went for a review, we were queuing up. So, the nurses came and said ‘all the bed siders move out! We just need patients!’ So, I just stood there and I looked at this nurse and said ‘does this nurse really know me’. Then she asked ‘imwe simuinvela (you are not hearing)’? So, I said ‘nimvela (I am hearing), my file is inside’. She asked me what my name is and when I told her, she went to check and said ‘but you don’t look like a patient’. So, I said ‘so a patient needs to look frail?’ For me, life goes on, I like myself, yes, and I believe in God. Everything is possible. For me, I look at Job, from a Christian point of view, if you look at Job, he suffered but, in the end, he was rewarded. But he never cursed God, he held on to God. My favourite scripture today is Jeremiah 33: 3, it says call unto me and I will show you greater things that you know not’,” she said.

“I was telling my friends that if I knew that the radiotherapy machine would not work up to now, I would have already gone. Because I think at that time, I was relaxed, just to find out that the whole Zambia, even the private hospitals don’t have that machine. That machine is only found at CDH so it took me backwards. So, for me, I am back to my normal life, I trade, try and find what I can supply here and there, it keeps me going.”

Asked how her 12-year-old only child, whom she refers to as a miracle, handled the news, Clare said, “My daughter is in a boarding school and at the time when I was waiting to have surgery, you know you are on the phone and you are saying ‘I have been diagnosed’, at first when the doctors told me I actually said I will tell her after she writes her grade seven exams and days before she could even write, she just came crying and said ‘mum you need to tell me the truth, what is wrong with you, what are you sick of?’ At that time, yes, I told her the truth and she cried. If you ask me, did I feel hurt? I felt I told her something that I was keeping from her so that she should know that life is not rosy all the time. She only asked me one question that ‘if you die, who is going to look after me?’ Then I just said God, God will provide somebody who will look after you.”

She urges fellow cancer patients to keep a positive mindset.

“I am a testimony. My appeal is to the people that have been diagnosed with cancer, my word of encouragement to them is that cancer is not a death trap, it is not a death sentence, there is life after that. I mean, cancer to me, I look at it like people who have got BP, sugar, HIV, they are drinking medicine and their life needs to go on, they need to have a good mindset. If you meet somebody and they say, I used to meet people who would say ‘so you have got cancer? Ah, my mother died of that, she didn’t stay, two months later she died’. I say ‘yes’ apparently, with me I have said, ‘God the number for those who are dying is enough, I am not dying now, I know I will die at some time but not now’. So, we need to give them hope, let us help them by not speaking negative things, let us be positive, encourage them to have life after that,” Clare said.

“When someone has a negative mindset, it makes them deteriorate quicker. I saw some patients that I was with in November prior to my cancer surgery and now the last one month when I went back, they have lost hope, they have lost the will. They would even ask me, ‘what are you doing to yourself? What are you eating?’ I said ‘it’s got nothing to do with my eating, it is my mind and God. If I need to die, yes, I will die but I am just holding on to God, my life needs to go on. I love myself.”

Asked how much she needed for travel to Tanzania, she said there was a K61,000 balance.

“I need $6,000. Medication alone is $2,600, then you have got food, lodging, transport to and from, and I need to go with a bed sider because I don’t know how the reaction will be. I have raised K59,000, I still need K61,000. When it happened, my brothers and sisters set up a WhatsApp group, my nieces and nephews set up a WhatsApp group, my friends have also been helping so I will be grateful for any amount,” said Clare.

To donate:

Deposit to Margaret C Chibowa
Standard Chartered Bank
Kabulonga Branch
Acc Number: 0150160242000

Or send via Airtel Money to +260971564187 (Margaret Chanda Chibowa)

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