Breast Cancer Awareness Month (or Pink October as some call it) which runs throughout October, is recognised across the world as an important time to raise global awareness around breast cancer. Her Zimbabwe decided to do things differently this year by talking to Zimbabwean women in different parts of the world to give this activism a human face and begin a conversation where we ask each other if we check our breasts? How often? And if not, why?
Their answers reveal that for most women, the fear of breast cancer is never far from their minds, bringing with it untold stress and grief. We hope you will read through their stories and begin to checking your own breasts for cancer, this month and beyond.
Princess Nkomo (25)
I do not normally check my breasts; I guess it is just
ignorance on my part. But I recently lost a relative to breast cancer. She was hiding the lumps from her husband and never said anything to anyone for more than a year. By then, it was too late. She lived in the rural areas so I guess she made nothing out of it because of lack of awareness. When she eventually went to the hospital, she had a big scary wound on her breast. She got medication but died before sourcing money for an operation, leaving two children under the age of five. That event scared me and I guess if you feel any abnormalities you should take them seriously. Life is too short to tolerate sickness.
Environmental Monitoring and Modeling PhD Student, USA
Forgive me for my ignorance but when I was asked to share what Pink October means to me, the first thing I did was consult “Uncle Google” to establish what it really is. I wasn’t sure if Pink October was a day, a month or just an activity to bring awareness to breast cancer. Not that I am that ignorant about the cause Pink October stands for.
I remember a couple of years ago when one of my friends frantically dragged me to the doctors after I had felt a painful lump in one of my breasts. However, a mammogram later, it turned out to be just a normal lump. But the “what if’s” and numerous other scary thoughts that crossed my mind as I waited for the results were scary.
Will I die? Will I lose my breast? Will I be able to breastfeed? Are they going to be able to cure it?
More often than not, I feel my breasts for any strange lumps (“feel” is used intentionally because I do not know how to examine myself properly in order to differentiate an ordinary lump from a cancerous one). I guess it’s time I learnt the proper DIYs of breast examination. After all, early detection has been known to save many lives.
Wadzanai Mavunga, 26
Pharmacy Assistant, Australia
Three months ago, l had a breast cancer scare. One of my breasts felt heavy, and l felt a lump; the worst thought crossed my mind. I was hesitant to go to the doctor and have it checked out so instead, I went on Google to search my symptoms. l would cry day and night because I was convinced that l had breast cancer. One day, I gathered enough courage and booked an appointment to have a mammogram done.
They found a lump but they found out that it was a benign cyst (non-cancerous); it’s safe to say that I was relieved and grateful that l received the good news. Even though I am just 26, (research usually points to breast cancer affecting women over the age of 50), there are stories of younger women dying of breast cancer all around the world. Pink October is a time when I think of how lucky l am. And it reminds me of how diligently every woman should be paying attention to any little change that happens in their breasts. When caught early, there is a higher chance of beating breast cancer.
Ruvarangu Tichareva, 21
Radio Presenter, Zvishavane
I have heard a lot about breast cancer and I regularly check my breasts for lumps. This is because I have heard stories and I know of people that have lived with it. The mother of my roommate at school died of cancer. She said her mother started coughing and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She went on to get treatment for it but did not respond. When she went back, it was discovered that she had cancer which had disguised itself as a lung infection. But by then, it was too late.
The advice has always been, the sooner the better with testing. I have since learnt how important it is to go for mammogram regularly and to do a weekly DIY breast lump check.
Elizabeth Ngaruwe, 24
Marketer, South Africa
Growing up, I never had any form of interest in learning more about breast cancer, or any other cancer. I was ignorant and naive too. But fortunately, my ignorance on the subject was short-lived. I lost my grandmother to breast cancer and it was an absolute torture seeing her health deteriorate. Doctors could not save her as the disease had spread to other parts of her body. She lost the battle in January 2015.
As a young woman madly in love with myself, I know each and every part of my body and I examine my breasts from time to time. I must say, though, that examining my breasts can be obsessive and stress-inducing. Whenever I feel a lump (sometimes it’s in my head) my heart drops and stress kicks in because of fear of going through the same painful experience my grandmother and other women all over the world have been through. I wish more women in the world could educate themselves on this deadly disease, do the screenings, attend seminars, read and research. At the end of the day YOU ARE THE BOSS OF YOUR LIFE
Bwalya Bubu, 25
Information Management Specialist, Zambia
I recently lost a relative to breast cancer. She suffered for three years without knowing she had it; she believed her breasts were swelling because she was breast feeding and only discovered the problem after her third pregnancy when it was too late.
I check my breasts, following a guide book that I got from my local clinic. It comes with pictures and explanations of how to differentiate normal breast tissue to that that might be cancerous.
Awareness of breast cancer is somewhat limited. I feel if it were discussed more often, if women were encouraged to get screened or have breast checks more often, the response would be so much better.
Lisa Nyamadzawo, 22
There has always been a fear associated with breast cancer; the pain of the disease and the fear of having to go bald. This fear, associated with breast cancer, has made me afraid to get screened. This month, however, I am determined to get screened. I want to be bold and do it forever. The earlier the better.
Brenda Keti, 27
Social Worker/ Student, Germany
I didn’t examine my breasts because first of all I just really didn’t know how to. Even after I knew how you really do it, I still had this fear of discovering something. I know it’s stupid because allowing the fear to take over can actually cost your life.
The turnaround moment for me was when a family friend in our street discovered she had breast cancer. She is herself a doctor and I am sure, took the checking thing seriously. So now I have four gynaecologist examinations per year where my breasts are also checked.
My own personal feeling to this is that October should not be the only awareness month. More should be done to encourage girls and young women to have regular check-ups.
Main Image: Princess Nkomo. All Images provided by Vimbai Chinembiri