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When the body protests, the soul hardens; My cancer journey (Part 8)

The dilemma of healing

At the time I was diagnosed with cancer I went through moments of confusion. I did not have much time to accept that that was my condition. I feel that the denial of my diagnosis carried me through difficult times. I kept telling myself that I’m ok, I can’t possibly have cancer, I have to be fine, this can’t be true. I continued doing what I always did, for example, I would drive myself to the doctor’s office despite the possibility of having a blackout at any time. I was stubborn, when I was not well I put up a brave face and acted strong. I guess I faked it till I made it.

My initial visits to my doctor were spent talking about radiation and chemotherapy. He was thorough in his explanations and addressed all my questions while allaying my fears at the same time. He helped me understand what cancer entailed, the details around the staging of cancer. I now know what the TNM staging system is (a system to describe the amount and spread of cancer in a patient’s body. T describes the size of the tumor and any spread of cancer into nearby tissue; N describes the spread of cancer to nearby lymph nodes, and M describes metastasis – the spread of cancer to other parts of the body). I learned something new every time and is the reference point, I understood what was going on in my body.

As news about my illness spread, I received a lot of attention and people were both shocked and concerned about me. In a short space of time, I learned that so many people were affected by cancer in one way or another. Cancer survivors came to me and told me their experiences, encouraging me to fight, to pray, to avoid the sun, and to listen to my doctor at all times. Other people came to me and told me about a surviving or deceased family member – parent, sibling, relative – who had suffered from cancer and how they had taken care of them. In essence, the message was that I am not the first one to have cancer, neither am I the last. Furthermore, cancer does not discriminate according to age, gender, race or creed, it can affect anyone at any time.

Coming from a genuine place and with good intentions, I received a lot of advice from people. Those who believe in prophets probed me to visit their pastors and prophets for prayers that would culminate in instant healing and the complete disappearance of cancer. Those who believe in traditional healers encouraged me to visit one mountain or another and be attended to by nángas or spirit mediums. Others were convinced that I had been bewitched and needed to check who in my family disliked me and perform a ‘go back to sender’ on them. There were others who told me to try the herbal route saying that herbs cleanse the body and rid it of diseases like cancer, hence no need for chemotherapy and ‘Western medicine.’ Not to be outdone were those who felt that the Catholic Church is not spiritual enough and therefore I needed to denounce my denomination and cross over to theirs where prayers are answered in a blink of an eye. Others told me about spiritual fathers based out of Zimbabwe who would be powerful enough to help me just by touching my forehead with just a fingertip.

Chemotherapy is indeed hard on the body and its side effects cannot be understated. I heard so many testimonies from people who used other routes to treat cancer which was gentler on the body than chemo and radiation. I then approached my doctor and asked for his opinion. Having gone through days of dissecting cancer that I have, having scans from various doctors, seeking opinions from other specialists, and staging cancer he asked me if those people would do the same for me. He said he understood what they were telling me but there is a need to document the success stories, and failures too, to ascertain some medical patterns with scientific proof and reference points. Again, he highlighted that every person is unique and needs specific attention throughout cancer treatment, for example, being anemic I needed a blood transfusion and constant monitoring of my blood levels. Side effects to are distinct from one individual to the next, for example, I did not lose my hair to chemotherapy (although I cut it in anticipation of the loss), while others go bald within days of treatment commencement.

It is my wish that, considering the high cost of cancer treatment, we can convincingly document other treatment routes. I believe that doctors would welcome these alternatives and incorporate them in their treatment plans, making it affordable for the majority who cannot afford the exorbitant costs that come with private care in the face of a crumbling public health system.

There were suggestions that came to me that I immediately turned down as they went against what I believed. At one time after I turned down an invitation to travel to Nigeria to see a prophet, I was bluntly told that I lacked the Holy Spirit in my soul. Another friend of mine asked me to visit his uncle, a traditional healer, but asked me not to tell my doctor because that would be interpreted as disrespect to the ancestors. I responded saying that taking the new and additional medication without my doctor’s knowledge would be disrespecting him too. I then offered that the traditional healer liaises with my doctor so that they would work together in my treatment…my friend felt offended and has not been in touch since then.

According to one of my lecturers in Theology, faith and reason are like two wings of a bird, they compliment each other. It is ok to believe in something but do not use faith blindly without reason.

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