ANGELA KUZILWA- BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR AND FOUNDER OF THE TANZANIA BREAST CANCER FOUNDATION
Dove Eyes is committed to showcasing women who have survived dangerous, life threatening odds through their faith. Angela Kuzilwa happens to be one such woman. When she was told, eight years ago, ‘Angela, we have bad news’, she took the news calmly. It was the last thing she expected but she said to me in the interview, ‘I had faith, that I would get through it’. Her daughter and sister-in-law broke into tears but she remained calm, did not even cry. That is the power of faith.
How did it all start? Angela says, she had repeated pain in her breast. It did not get better, so she decided to go to the doctors here in Tanzania. They checked her out and said it was nothing to worry about and gave her pain killers. But she did not feel better and went back for more tests and they confirmed their earlier diagnosis that she was fine. So she got on with life and eventually, the pain subsided.
A year later, she went to the United Kingdom on holiday to see her daughter. It was just a holiday. It was not supposed to be a medical trip. In the last week of her holiday, she had a nudging in her heart to see a doctor about her breast. She strongly believes that the nudge came from God Himself, because she did not feel the need to see a doctor. She had booked her return date and was practically packed to go home but decided to follow her heart and the rest is history.
They did a biopsy and confirmed she had cancer in her right breast and would need to have it cut off- a mastectomy. Devastating as the news was, she had to be strong for herself and her family. She called her husband at home to tell him the bad news. They rallied around family members to raise the funds for the surgery and she went in for the surgery, which went very well. I had the honors of seeing the scar from the surgery. I was amazed. It was a well done piece of art work. I guess that is the Western touch.
After the surgery came the Chemotherapy, that is the procedure cancer patients absolutely dread. Angela just smiled. ‘When I began to lose my hair, I realized that the best thing to do was shave my hair, so I would not have to deal with the emotional and psychological trauma of seeing my hair on my pillow every morning. So I shaved my hair’. It was so simple for her.
She also had a bra designed to suit her, so she did not look lopsided without her right breast. So she looked normal, like women with two breasts. Angela, with a naughty sparkle in her eyes said, ‘I wanted to see the looks on faces of family members as they were trying to figure out which was the removed breast. It was very funny, because I could tell from the look in their eyes they were trying to figure it out, until my husband eased them of their curiosity and told them about my artificial bra’. That was the high point for Angela, when she was all dressed up, after the surgery to meet once again with her husband and family members who did not know what to expect. They were shocked to see a vibrant, beautiful and happy woman who had just survived breast cancer.
An experience like a mastectomy does not leave any one the same. She is one in thousands of African women who did not make it. That is what led her to start the Breast Cancer Foundation her in Tanzania. She explains,’ I used to go the Ocean Road Cancer Institute, the only hospital in Tanzania that deals with all forms of cancer, to talk with the patients to give emotional support to the patients. I met a couple of women who all felt we should start something, and so we did. Of the ten women who started the project with me, only two of us are still alive and the other lady is in remission as we speak.’ That was so alarming. But those are the facts of breast cancer, ‘breast cancer is the second cancer killer of African women after cervical cancer’.
What the things to look out for as a woman?
- Initially, breast cancer may not cause any symptoms. A lump may be too small for you to feel or to cause any unusual changes you can notice on your own.
- In some cases, however, the first sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast that you or your doctor can feel. A lump that is painless, hard, and has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer. But sometimes cancers can be tender, soft, and rounded. So it’s important to have anything unusual checked by your doctor
- swelling of all or part of the breast
- skin irritation or dimpling
- breast pain
- nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
- redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- a nipple discharge other than breast milk, like blood
- a lump in the underarm area
Can young girls and teenagers have breast cancer? Although breast cancer in teens is extremely rare, it’s a good idea for girls to learn how to perform breast self-examination (BSE) so they can get used to how their bodies feel normally. After learning what is normal for them, teens can then recognize changes in their breasts.
Doctors recommend doing a monthly BSE at the same time each month (like a few days after a girl’s period ends, when breasts are less tender). Some kinds of lumps that teenage girls may feel are normal, but a doctor should check out any lump to be sure.
Changes in the breast could also be signs of less serious conditions that are not cancerous, such as an infection or a cyst. It’s important to get any breast changes checked out promptly by a doctor. If in doubt, get a second and third opinion. That may be what would save your life.
All in all Angela went through this 5 month experience and came out of it stronger and better, and appreciating life a lot better. This entire episode in her life was eight years ago and she’s fine and has never been in remission. She now offers hope to women who have to deal with the bad news of having breast cancer through her work in the Breast Cancer Foundation. Her final word on Dove Eyes is ‘ Ladies, love your bodies, get to know your bodies and don’t ignore any irregularities. Go to a doctor as soon as you see anything unusual. If you are not satisfied, get a second opinion. Love your bodies’. An amazing woman and great survivor. Ck