Inspiring story of a cancer survivor

December 6, 2015

After surviving two bouts of cancer, 34-year-old Mark Chivange has put his efforts in helping cancer sufferers in Bulawayo and other parts of Zimbabwe.Mark, whom I met six years ago in Hwange town in Matabeleland, in northwestern Zimbabwe, almost died after he was diagnosed with a nerve cell tumour at just 19 years and was again struck by cancer, on his thyroid glands, as a 27-year-old.Mark beat the cancer but the experience in a Pretoria hospital of being swapped between children’s and adult’s wards left its mark on him. “I found it quite difficult being 19, at school, in the middle of being a crazy teenage boy, and to lose my voice was disempowering,” he told me recently. “I didn’t find my feet until I left school in Hwange and went to university. “I felt like the hippo in the room.” Two years down the line and free of cancer, Mark is supporting young and old people with cancer in his country.”The guidance and treatment makes an enormous difference to how people feel while going through cancer,” Mark said.His role focuses on giving young people a voice during their harrowing experience. “The whole message is to get a whole bunch of health professionals and workers, sit them down with cancer sufferers and get everything out in the open,” Mark added.

Negotiating cancer can be a minefield to figure out what these people need and being young and having cancer probably isn’t the best combination to get good communication. One of the biggest issues faced by cancer survivors aged 19 to 29 in Zimbabwe is subsequent mental health issues, with more than half struggling to return to full-time work although there are hardly jobs available in his country to poor economic climate.Mark told me that he is using his own experience to guide others in the same situation. “It is quite therapeutic to help others and it’s empowering to be able to find something within my own experience to make others’ better,”Mark said.Mark revealed to me that cancer is unnecessarily killing thousands of Zimbabweans each year and costing the country’s economy millions of dollars.In a study that he was involved in last year that was conducted by an American institute specialising in cancer research, the estimated the risk of specific cancers associated with high amounts of alcohol over a lifetime were cited among the two major reasons together with smoking as the driver to increasing rates of cancer cases in the country. For women smokers, the breast cancer, the risk rises 28 per cent, for bowel cancer it is almost 70 per cent for heavy smokers and drinkers and cancer of the oesophagus is 80% common among heavy drinkers and smokers.

Cancer researchers who involved Mark in their field work, reviewed three studies that measured the effect of long-term alcohol consumption on the risk of breast, bowel, and head and neck cancers in Zimbabwe. Although the effect of alcohol on cancer risk is not clearly understood, it is thought to affect body chemicals and hormones and cause oxidative stress.Mark revealed that the analysis confirmed that those who drank heavily could be five times more likely to develop certain types of cancer as long-term, chronic use of tobacco contributes to 9,000 cases of cancer in Zimbabwe annually.Cancer patients in Zimbabwe pay higher prices for their medications according to a recent report than in South Africa where Mark was treated. According to the analysis,the wide variation between drug prices and other parts of Africa have always sparked a massive debate over healthcare policy throughout the continent.This calls for joint action by African countries and medical societies with the pharmaceutical industry, since fast and equitable access to promising new drugs is important to improving treatment results and to help save many other cancer sufferers out there.Mark is an example that despite the challenges of fighting the disease, the bravest of braves will always triumph against Cancer.

Contador Harrison