Blogger Judy Fortin is in Cape Town, South Africa this week and files this report.
Working for the American Cancer Society, I’ve often heard my colleagues say that cancer knows no boundaries. I didn’t know the true meaning of the phrase until I traveled half way around the world to South Africa and had the chance to work with cancer survivors.
I’m participating this week in the Voice of Cancer Survivor Empowerment Forum in Cape Town. My role is to help prepare two dozen cancer survivors to speak to the media and make their voices heard about key issues that need to be addressed in this country.
Cancer is rapidly becoming a global pandemic. South Africa, a country hit hard by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, is now grappling with staggering statistics that have created not only a cancer burden, but significant levels of stigma.
It takes a lot of courage for any cancer survivor to tell his or her story, but just imagine what it would be like to share intimate details of your health history in a part of the world where some people believe that cancer is contagious.
It was remarkable to hear a young breast cancer survivor tell me what it was like to be diagnosed at the age of 24 and to be dealing with a recurrence of the disease now nine years later. A man named David said a persistent cough led him to make an appointment at a medical clinic only to find out that he had cancer of the larynx. When his doctor originally tried to treat him for bronchitis, he insisted on further testing. Another man told me what it was like when a doctor told him he had five years to live following a lung cancer diagnosis.
The stories are chilling and poignant, yet they could be told ten times over in countries around the world. Cancer survivors share more than the name of a disease. They share the pain and heartache of knowing that their lives will never be the same following diagnosis. Cancer doesn’t care if the patient is rich or poor, black or white, educated or illiterate. It is crossing borders and boundaries at an alarming rate. But with survivors willing to come forward to be advocates for cancer care in places like South Africa, we can give hope to future generations and reduce the burden of cancer.