October is breast cancer awareness month. Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women, impacting 2.1 million women each year, and also causes the greatest number of cancer-related deaths among women. In 2018, it is estimated that 627,000 women died from breast cancer that is approximately 15% of all cancer deaths among women.
Girl Grandeur Zimbabwe caught up with Tendayi Gwata who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and below are the excerpts of the conversation.
- Tell Us About Yourself. Who is Tendayi Gwata?
I am a mother of an amazing 4 year old boy, an older sister to 3 siblings, a daughter and good friend.
- What does Tendayi do?
I am a marketing consultant working in the digital media space as well as the political space (outside of Zimbabwe). I spent part of last year as a Campaign Manager for party elections in Ghana. I have also started sewing and will soon start selling headwraps and scarves that work for everyone but in particular chemo patients and people with natural hair.
- When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
I was diagnosed in July of this year. It was very unexpected and I can say blindsided me.
- How did you feel when you first received the news?
I was terrified. I kept thinking about my son and what will happen to him. It felt like being given a death sentence at the time. Although now I realise there is a lot of hope and a huge chance that I will survive. I would say the most difficult time for me so far was the time between my diagnosis and receiving a treatment plan, which was about 3 weeks. In that time I felt very lost, unsure of the future and very very afraid.
- Tell me about your treatment process.
The oncologist gave me what is called a Treatment Plan which maps out my treatment. I would say that this was the first time since the diagnosis that I began tpo feel positive about y condition. My treatment plan consists of 8 cycles of chemo, surgery followed by radiation.
Can you please enlighten us on how it’s still affecting you?
I am currently in the chemo stage and it hasn’t been easy. The side effects range from unbearable bone pain to hair loss to hardening veins. What makes it most challenging is that even though I am aware of the side effects to expect, I don’t which I will get and when, so I am in a constant state of expectation. I struggle with sleep, enjoying the taste of food (the chemo has had a huge impact on how things taste). I also find I get tired very quickly and can usually manage a couple of hours of activity a day then I am completely exhausted.
- What has changed in your life?
Living with a life threatening illness has changed my perspective about everything. I am more appreciative of the small things, waking up, being able to walk around and generally just being alive.
I consider myself a very social person but due to my lowered immunity I am no longer able to be around crowds, I have to be very careful about what and where I eat. This has meant that I now stay at home a whole lot more than I have ever done.
- Please take us through the check-up process, what really happens?
I havent really had a specific check up process as yet. For now my check ups happen at the next chemo. It usually involves a blood test to check my white cell counts and liver function to make sure that they havent been seriously affected. I have also had to see a cardiologist after my 4th chemo cycle to check my heart function. All these checks are necessary as the chemo impacts these areas, and to be able to proceed to more chemo, there is a need to confirm that all is ok.
- What message would you like to provide women in the community?
To all the women who have been diagnosed and are going through this I would like to say that I wish you well. I hope that you have a strong support system to help you geth through this journey. That nutrition and hydration are my secret weapons to remaining on top the treatment and side effects.
To those who don’t have breast cancer, please check yourself regulary and go for your annual mammogram. Catching it early means you have a higher chance of survival, and are less likely to have such an aggressive treatment plan.
I post quite regularly on my twitter account @tendayigwata where I share my journey and things that I am learning along the way. Such has where to find information about the drugs and how you can figure out at what point will your immunity will be at it lowest between chemo cycles.
Women are encouraged to regularly get checked for breast cancer. Early detection saves lives.