By Harold Kapindu
On a sunny Saturday morning of 24 October 2015, Lilongwe’s City Centre was painted pink as Malawi joined the rest of the world in commemorating Breast Cancer Awareness month. Clad in pink, hundreds of people from all walks of life paraded from Parliament Building through Presidential Drive Roundabout to Coco Bean Café.
All over the world, countries are celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month in different events and activities. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) fans may bear witness as they have been seeing the ring with a pink middle rope and WWE Executive officers wearing pink ribbons on their suits in support for the same cause.
As many may be aware, October is cancer activism month and Blandina Khondowe (nee Mlenga) Breast cancer survivor and former Miss Malawi together with Magdalena Zgambo since 2014 joined hands to start a Think Pink Malawi movement to raise awareness of the disease.
Compared to 2014’s event, this year’s patronage tripled as more men were seen parading in support of Breast cancer awareness.
The importance of this year’s event, dubbed “Think Pink Malawi 2015” could not be overemphasized as evidenced by the presence of public figures namely Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati, Dr. Ben Phiri and Julianna Lunguzi, MP.
“Ladies, soon after your menstrual cycle, stand up straight, raise your left hand up then use your right hand to touch your left breast on the side. If you sense something that feels like a bean then something is wrong, it might be breast cancer in its early stages,” This was among the many messages that were preached at the Think Pink Malawi, Breast cancer awareness day.
According to Khondowe, the idea was to raise awareness of early detection of breast cancer and to canvass for funding from government and the private sector towards increased treatment opportunities and care.
Asked if the event was successful, Khondowe says: “Yes it was a success. Last year we only had six days to plan and just over 200 people participated in the event. This year’s event has attracted hundreds as compared to last year.
“We have managed to get the required sponsorship and enormous media coverage. We also had several cancer survivors who shared their stories that encouraged and educated those that were in attendance.”
Being among one of Breast cancer survivors, the former Miss Malawi took a moment to also share her story.
“I never thought I would be able to address and communicate to people as I did. And so the experience was really gratifying, however, there is a lot of work that needs to be done with regard to breast cancer awareness and the overall cancer management and care in Malawi.
I have a strong passion towards improving the current situation on the ground as Malawi does not have complete care for breast cancer and so I believe that I have a huge responsibility to raise awareness and help improve the public health service delivery in this country,” she explains.
She adds: “Here in Malawi, while a small population is certainly aware of and suffers from breast cancer, there is still a large number of the population that is not aware of how to prevent and fight the disease. So there is a lot of ground work that needs to be done as most women live in the rural areas and they too need to be educated on the effects of breast cancer and also require adequate facilities for management and care of breast cancer.”
But apart from Think Pink Malawi, what other forms of Breast cancer activism are there on the ground? She answers: “Having witnessed firsthand the inadequacies of breast cancer treatment and care during the time of my diagnosis at the age of 32 in 2013, I decided to educate people about breast cancer using my experience via a blog called “my breast cancer journey”.
I continue to educate through my column called “Fencing Cancer” in Malawi News- one of the local newspapers. My goal is to emphasize the importance of early detection of the disease for a better chance of survival.”
Contrary to popular opinion, Breast Cancer does not only affect women. Men are also at risk of having the disease. In her Malawi News “Fencing Cancer” column dated 24 October 27, 2015, Khondowe writes “Breast Cancer in men is usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple or areola.”
“Men carry a higher mortality than women do, primarily because awareness among men is less and they are likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment.”
According to www.breastcancer.org, in 2015, about 2,350 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
“Breast Cancer cases are on the rise and according to research, in developing countries like Malawi, Breast Cancer cases constitute 44.1% of the overall number of cases globally and women of the reproductive age-from 15 to 49 years old. There is a need to be vigilant in raising awareness of the disease to increase the chances of survival because cancers that are detected early are easiest to treat,” Khondowe advises.
Donations were used to organize the event and proceeds will go to Cancer Survivor Quest, a registered charity organisation in Blantyre. They work with Cancer Association of Malawi, providing care baskets and support for patients.
Cancer Survivor Quest also helps pay for expenses that some patients cannot meet. They visit patients in their homes and in hospitals and give them support and keep them company.