By Dr. Helena Nam:
What it is like to experience cancer in Uganda? The following is an account of an average consultation in the life of an oncologist in Africa.
One evening, I was just about to leave my clinic room when I heard crying outside. I opened the door to find a young man lying, doubled up in agony. Nurses helped me to pick him up, find a bed and morphine for him. I later found out his story – he was recently married for only three months when he had been diagnosed with an advanced stomach tumour. Because he lived in the mountains, six hours east of the capital, Kampala, there was very little health care – the poor man didn’t even have paracetamol. His friends had heard of “Dr Helena” in the treatment of cancer and managed to scrape together enough money for a one way bus ticket to my clinic in Kampala. The next morning, I found him sitting up, smiling, eating breakfast. What a transformation!
The man survived many months and even went back to tending his crops. Morphine and other drugs were shuttled up and down the mountains by the local Bishop. Sadly, his new wife left him and eventually he passed away. The Bishop told me that with the pain relief, he died with peace, comfort and dignity.
I will never forget that young man. His utter helplessness highlighted the desperate plight of Ugandan cancer sufferers. Many do not have treatment or even simple pain control for cancer, whether due to limited access, lack of funds, late presentation, superstition or ignorance. It made me wonder just how many others are crying out for help, in desperation, suffering from cancer.
Coming from a background of “number crunching” and meeting “targets” in the UK, I have had to re-evaluate what constitutes successful treatment.
Working in Uganda has transformed my perspective on results – it isn’t necessarily about statistics or paper targets, it is about real people, about individuals and the small or large differences that you can make in that person’s life. By working hard at cancer awareness, earlier detection, provision of complex chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and palliative support we can start to reform the face of cancer care in Uganda.
In this way, my personal experience of working in Hope Cancer clinic is meaningful. To each individual that attends, we do whatever we can to assist. Since it’s inception in 2006, hundreds of patients have been treated charitably and, yes, we are seeing survivors come through, able to live life to the full… and that makes it all worthwhile.
You can read more about the work at Hope Cancer Care Clinic by clicking here…
Click here to download the November 2010 Newsletter which has a number of patient stories and updates.