[Podcast] Mali, cancer fighters

My collection is “Les Combattantes du cancer” and “bòn kelè brao” in Bamancan.

I made it because I was a victim of this disease. That’s why I created this association, because at the time, when I got it, I had no information about cancer. When they told me I had cancer, I told myself that after my treatment, please, I would be an assembly to be able to inform women of this scourge.

The association “Les Combattantes du cancer” aims to raise awareness of cancer and raise awareness of women so that they can be screened.

Because a woman caught early is worth saving a life.

Our needs are many because treatment… We need many medicines. We are in March, our products are finished in our hospitals. Many of our products have been finished in hospitals. So really, we need to. The sick woman is financially devastated because the treatment is too expensive. It is true that MSF is available for free, but there are many who pay for the treatments. After six months of treatment, you are stripped naked because it is not easy.

Sick women need their husbands. There are many who have been abandoned by this disease. Last night a woman was talking to me about this. She told me that she had many problems with her husband because of his illness. You know what he does to a woman. It makes us numb. We don’t want to get close to our husband. You are sick, then you have family problems, it is not easy at all.

We need logistical means because Mali is not only Bamako. There are villages. We want to go there to educate women again. As you know, everywhere we lack the means and money.

While cervical and breast cancer screening and control have improved in recent years, issues of awareness and access to treatment remain important.

The treatments available with us today are practical. There is chemotherapy and there is radiotherapy. There is also immunotherapy. After treatment, you have to take medications for five years. It’s called immunotherapy.

Cancer is treated only in Bamako. Other areas can’t access it. For treatment, the small period is six months, and can exceed six months. Leaving Kayes, the first region, to come to Bamako, to spend six months here, without your family, with another family, with the problems we are facing today, it is not easy at all. So this is a big problem. This is in the regions. As for the circles and villages, let’s not talk about them.

Radiation therapy, we only have one radiotherapy for every Mali, and only one radiotherapy when a million people need radiotherapy. we are 20 [millions] If not more and we only have one radiotherapy. And this radiotherapy breaks down every time. If it breaks down to be repaired, its duration is not less than six months while the treatment of cancer after chemotherapy and radiotherapy should not exceed three months or else the disease can come back again. One of our fighters fell victim to this. She ended up with chemotherapy and the operation. She was waiting for radiotherapy. I waited and waited and waited. One of his relatives came to his aid. He gave her money to go and do it in Dakar. The moment she was preparing to leave for Dakar, she left.

In 2016, when I finished my treatment, I had surgery first, after chemotherapy and after radiotherapy. After that, I was told that I no longer had any signs of cancer. When the treatment is finished, there are examinations that need to be done. During a medical examination, they once discovered a small spot in my right lung. My chest is my left breast, but we found a small spot in my right lung. After the analyzes, it was confirmed that it was cancer. I also had this operation and then this treatment. But unfortunately, there are others who did not survive this.

I know a lady, who couldn’t get over it, so easily left. She had surgery, then chemo and then radiotherapy, but after a few years she was back again, it was a lot. She was so strong, she couldn’t stand it. He was a member of our association.

And this January, we lost three fighters in a row. Within three weeks, we had three deaths. Their husbands also abandoned them so they could not afford treatment. They had problems in their homes, then illness. One of them was supported by her husband, but she did not agree to the operation. I waited before agreeing to this operation. So we cut off her first breast. After some time, a second breast also appeared and then generalized. This is also gone.

When I found out the word cancer scared me, especially since I hadn’t even heard of it. For us, Cancer was for the rich. There is cancer and diabetes .. it is widespread now, otherwise it was considered here the disease of the rich. So when they told me that, I was really pissed, I just went crazy. I was hiding to cry. I didn’t know what to do, because I lost my first husband in 1996, so I was with the kids. I told myself that I, too, would leave and leave the children. Really, it wasn’t easy. My entourage helped me a lot. My parents and children were all around me to support me. Also lucky for me in 2017, I met someone who was very supportive of me and even married me. When I was diagnosed with my second cancer – at the time they were in its early stages – when I was diagnosed, I told him so. He just lost his wife. Therefore, I said that it is necessary to stop me, because I, too, will be leaving soon. He told me not to talk to him about it again and that he knew I would overcome this evil. So we had the wedding and so far… so far he’s next to me helping me [rires]. Thank God for that [rires].

When we ask Faye to tell us about the disease, she tells us how her body has changed with the treatments: her black skin, absence of hair, permanent fatigue and breast removal.

When the doctor told me that was the only solution, I accepted immediately. It was that or die. It was that or die. That is why I immediately accepted the removal of the breast.

I can say that cancer made me stronger. I often get tired but now I am a fighter. The association you created, we are always on the move. Cancer has made me strong because it makes me happy to tell other women not to have their boobs cut, because that’s what we want to avoid.

As part of her association, the fighter makes sanitary pads and breast implants for women who have had mastectomy.

I do it by machine using fabric and synthetic cotton. As for the breast, it takes the shape of a breast. The sanitary napkins are also cotton cloths that I use.

WhatsApp group shares with other fighters to support each other despite the disease. Together, they struggle against taboos, stigma, and the exclusion of patients.

Sometimes during weddings, baptisms, or even death, we talk and talk to people. And between us too, we comfort each other, we talk to each other to give advice, and a lot of things. We have whatsapp group, cancer fighters, we have whatsapp group. So, as soon as you take our card – the card is 1000 francs – we register you in the group and then each time we chat. We make jokes. There are many who have forgotten their illness thanks to this.

After treatment, it is not easy to live a normal life. little by little. It is bit by bit because there are many who would not accept to have only one breast. They are shy. They are a shame, especially here in Africa, we are in a polygamous family. We’re with his wife who makes fun of us all the time. A woman who only has one breast, we tell her things that you have to be strong in order to get out of it. We talk about it all in our whatsapp group, because there are a lot of people who tell us their problems, so we talk about it a lot.

Even if your arm hurts, you’ll think it’s cancer. If you had a headache, you would think it was cancer. We all have this fear of repetition. Cancer is a disease like a thief. He is like a thief. Where you least expect it, this is where it will come. So we all fear repetition.

The fact that we are discussing this between ourselves allows us to live with it. And then, after the treatment, we put something in place for the women. We want to train these women in sewing, decorating and hairdressing. So we want to train women. So that they can take care of themselves after the treatment because there are so many of us abandoned. So if you stay like this, you have no income, it’s not easy.

If I had any advice for women, I would ask them to get tested. There is early detection and late detection. These two examinations are necessary for the treatment of cancer, because a woman’s detection early means that the woman will be cured.

In Mali, 1,545 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the Bamako region in 2019, according to the National Cancer Data Registry. Epidemiological forecasts from the International Agency for Research on Cancer put the number of new cases in the country at just over 14,000 for 2020.

“Mali, Cancer Fighters” was a podcast produced by Doctors Without Borders. With the participation of Fai Kadiato Kanti, President of the Association “Combating Cancer”.

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