Twenty-three year old Tadala Chafumbwa on Monday this week succumbed to breast cancer. We featured her for Everywoman cover on October 19 2014. We are re-runing her interview as a tribute. May her soul rest in peace.
Tell me about yourself
I was born on April 5, 1991 at Karonga District Hospital, but I am from M’biya village, Traditional Authority T/A Kaomba in Kasungu. I am the last
born in a family of nine, six girls and three boys, but currently, we are seven because two girls passed away. My parents also passed away— just
buried my dad in March last year and my mum passed away in 1996 when I was five. I have been raised by my sister who is out of the country right now. Currently, I am staying with my sister in Lilongwe, but I stay with my brother in Ndirande Township in Blantyre. I am a Presbyterian and a member of Ndirande Kachere CCAP.
What’s your education background?
I did my Primary School education at several schools, the last one was Naotcha Primary School. From there, I was selected to Lunzu Secondary School where I acquired my Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE). I worked for the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) from last year August till June this year as a data entry clerk. I wanted to enrol at PACT College and study Business Management in the semester starting July.
When and how did you know you have breast cancer?
I first discovered a lump on my breast in June this year. It was already big and it wasn’t just one, there was another smaller one, making two lumps. I asked a doctor friend about signs of breast cancer and he gave me a booklet. I never told him about the lump. Then I searched on the internet and became scared because the signs matched with what I had, only that there was no pain, no watery discharge and no change in skin colour. I just had change in breast mass. When I explained to the friend, he told me to go to the hospital— now that was mid-July.
When I went to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), a sample was taken using a needle. I took the sample to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital because I was told if I left it at Queens, it was going to take time or even get mixed up and lost in the process. My results from Mwaiwathu came out after three days later and they showed I had tissues which were excessively pressed. I was told those sometimes contain cancerous cells so I was instructed to undergo biopsy, which I did.
When results came, I was told I had breast cancer which was spreading to the milk ducts. That was in early August.
How did you take it?
I cried a lot and kept asking myself, why me? I wondered how— without cancer history at both my parent’s side— it had to start with me, the youngest child in my family. I spent most of my days crying. I still do up to now. This disease came at a time when I was about to enrol in school, when I wanted to start building a career for myself. Now I cannot do
it until it is over. Imagine all the excitement of going back to school and do what I have always wanted, only to discover that I can’t. It is really painful. It hurts to just think about the lost opportunity.
How are you coping since then?
Not that good, but am hanging in there. It is hard and sometimes I think I have become a burden to my family since they all now have me to take care of.
How is the breast cancer being treated?
After the discovery, I was told the cancer was at stage three because after a computerised tomography (CT) scan, I was told there was something in my lungs and if it cleared after chemotherapy, they would conclude it had spread into the lungs and they will rate it as stage four.
I started my chemotherapy at Queens on August 28. I have had three sessions and another three are remaining since I’m supposed to have six. After that I will undergo another CT scan to see if what they found in the lungs has cleared. After that I will have surgery to remove my right breast and radiotherapy will follow.
By the way, chemotherapy is a very painful treatment. It makes you really sick. My first chemotherapy knocked me down for 12 good days. My immune system is compromised. It is like that of a new born baby and I am susceptible to diseases. I have lost all my hair, my skin colour has changed. I have lost weight completely.
What can you say about cancer?
It has affected me a lot. All the plans I had about my life have been shifted to later since most of the times I am sick and everything is done for me. Cancer has taken away my freedom of association. I
cannot participate in any day to day activities.
Financially, how has it been?
It is hard, really hard. I do not have a job and have become dependent. My sister is the one who provides me with transport every time I am going for my chemotherapy session in Blantyre.
Do you face any kind of discrimination?
I am not discriminated against in any way. My family, relatives and friends are all there for me, holding my hand, encouraging me and supporting me spiritually. My best friend Rita Kumpakiza has also been there since it all started. I am really grateful. And meeting breast cancer survivor former miss Malawi Blandina Khondowe in early September was so inspiring.
How has Blandina inspired you?
Blandina has been my inspiration and my mentor. It is easy to talk to someone who has been through the same road before and she has given me hope. I met her a day after we first talked. At first sight of her, I
was like, whoah! Did she really pass through what I am going through now? I mean, she looked great and healthy. When she showed me her pictures, I was shocked. She really is a strong woman. She has been through the valley’s low and now, here she is. She fought breast cancer and I will do the same with her help, my family and friends.
What’s your advice to women?
Advice to young women who have the signs, but are hesitant to seek medical help: They should seek medical help as soon as they discover it. They should also be doing personal check-ups every now and then by sitting in an upright position and touching the breast to look for any sign of lumps.
The self examination is not limited to breasts only; they should also look for a lymph nod in the armpit. No matter how small the lump might be, do not ignore it. Cancer is curable. Together we can overcome it.