Fighting cancer while HIV positive

MS CHIKOMA encouraged other women to go for cancer screening at Chaisa Urban Health Centre in Luanshya.

IN FEBRUARY 2013, Medan Chikoma, 48, who is HIV positive and has been on anti-retroviral drugs since 2007, started experiencing unusual menses.

When she visited the hospital and explained her case, she was told that those were symptoms of menopause.
Ms Chikoma started looking like a pregnant woman because her tummy was full of blood and blood clots.
In the same year between March and April, she started having prolonged heavy periods with clots.
“In May 2013, I started having heavy periods with clots. This time around, there was a stench and I knew, something was very wrong,’’ she says.
When she went to Roan Hospital, Ms Chikoma, a resident of Luanshya, says the doctor only asked how old she was and how many children she had.
She replied that she was in her 40s and had two children.
She says the doctor was convinced that what she was experiencing were symptoms of menopause.
But she was convinced that something in her body was not well. She had no medical proof yet.
Ms Chikoma lost a lot of weight and started feeling weak and experienced terrible waist aches.
It reached a stage where she could use a two-metre chitenge material as a pad and stopped appearing in public for fear of being stigmatised.
In December 2013, she went back to the hospital and used her own initiative to go for a scan to establish what could have been causing the heavy bleeding.
After getting her scan report, she went back to Roan Hospital. When the doctors examined the scan and report, they recommended that Ms Chikoma be referred to Thompson Hospital for further investigations.
The scan showed that her cervix had several sores. The doctor who attended to her at Thompson Hospital referred her to Ndola Teaching Hospital (NTH) to be seen by an oncologist.
“I was actually told that my case was an emergency,” she says. “When I reached Ndola Teaching Hospital, I was seen by Dr Lesho Mweshi who was so kind to me.”
But before she was seen by Dr Mweshi, some nurses decided to dis-infect her belly.
After carrying out his investigations, Dr Mweshi realised that the case presented before him was beyond his jurisdiction.
He requested that haemoglobin count, an x-ray, liver and kidney testing be conducted on her before she proceeds to Lusaka.
The results came out on April 7, 2014 and indicated that Ms Chikoma had cervical cancer which had since spread to most parts of her body.
He therefore referred her to the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka for treatment.
Ms Chikoma says although she knew that her illness was getting more serious, she found comfort in God, her friend and relatives.
She says her children, relatives and Dr Mweshi encouraged her and assured her that she would recover in time.
On December 27, 2014, when she visited the Cancer Diseases Hospital and as expected she found long queues and a pile of files for other cancer patients.
After saying a silent prayer, she went to inquiries and presented her letter and in no time, she was seen by an oncologist.
“The lady who attended to me just said, you are from Luanshya, just sit there and you will be attended to in a while,’’ she says.
On April 30, 2015, Ms Chikoma was given injections before she could start the routine cancer treatment including chemotherapy.
She was asked to go back to the Cancer Diseases Hospital to begin treatment in June but due to scarce resources, she only managed to go back in August 2015.
Some people had told her that after visiting the Cancer Diseases Hospital, she was going to die especially that she was HIV positive.
“I prayed to my God and told him that he should prove the devil wrong,’’ she says.
Ms Chikoma was admitted to the Cancer Diseases Hospital to undergo treatment in August 2015. She finished the treatment on December 27 the same year.
She says after the chemotherapy, she felt much better and was able to move on her own.
She was asked to go back for review in April 2016. After the review, she was asked to go back for another review after six months.
Ms Chikoma was given a clean bill of health.
Her last review was last year in October. Again, it was a clean bill.
“My miraculous recovery has amazed a lot of doctors,” she says. “In fact, I will be going back in March this year to get my letter of discharge.”
Ms Chikoma was among the people who encouraged other women to go for cancer screening when Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya officially opened the Chaisa Urban Health Centre in Roan, Luanshya last month.
Dr Chilufya says cancer is a huge public health challenge in Zambia with 1,200 women dying every year and 2,300 new cervical cancer cases being recorded every year.
Chaisa Urban Cancer Centre is part of the Global Fund funded projects to build 25 cervical cancer screening clinics in Zambia at a cost of US$ 635,000.
Dr Chilufya says government wants to decentralise the cancer services in the country.
Zambia has a total of 74 cervical cancer screening sites and 350 trained health workers in cancer management.
Head of clinical care at Cancer Diseases Hospital Susan Msadabwe-Chikuni says the hospital is doing its best to help both men and women suffering from cancer.
She says the hospital has all the necessary cancer drugs such as tamoxifene, cyclophosphamide, methotrexate and zoledronic acid.
Dr Mweshi is happy to have helped Ms Chikoma, who lost her husband in 2005.
He is now encouraging other women to undergo cancer screenings.

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