CUT AND DIE: Journalist recounts last moments of breast cancer patients

Agnes in the hospital after the surgery
Agnes in the hospital after the surgery

As a journalist, people have often questioned why I do the kind of stories I do. I have had no explanation for them, except that I’m touched by very simple things, especially when it’s about the plight of vulnerable people. And I have often been caught in the crossfire of my job.

For instance, I did a story about a year ago, precisely on 6th November, 2015. In that story, I shared the dilemma of a young lady, Agnes, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I titled that story CUT OR DIE and shared excerpts of it on my social media platforms (for the benefit of those who would want to search and read). It’s taken me a while to tell this story again but I have to. Agnes did not survive

It’s taken me a while to tell this story again but I have to. Agnes did not survive the cancer. She had the surgery, but the aftermath was terrible.The post-surgery signs were quite reassuring; the histology was also promising. And she looked tremendously well.

Then one session of the chemotherapy triggered cough episodes. This caused the sutured area to open up. Her health declined. And that was it.

The situation devastated the team of doctors that worked on her especially, Dr. Martin Morna and Dr. Mabel Boateng. For me, I guess I was the hardest hit. I fished her out from her “hiding spot” and sent her to the health facility, giving her the hope that she was going to live. I got too attached to Agnes than I should have, but I knew no other way. Agnes’ condition deteriorated some few weeks after the surgery, though she picked up tremendously.  For whatever reason,the cancer cells mounted a menacingly stronger attack and completely weakened her immune system.The chemotherapy could not defend her. So she had no other option than to give up. So she did. Sadly.

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The breast cancer scourge is possibly claiming the lives of women in Ghana more than any other gender-related ailment. But our government seems not to have its attention in this area, and I get worried. One of the cases I’m currently following is another heartache. The doctor doesn’t seem to want to do the surgery because it seems a “bad case”. She is a 42-year-old woman with two children. She has been diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor once told me, “Look, Ama, if I go ahead with this case, we can’t even close up the area because there’s no skin to close up; and she will die anyway, so why stress the poor woman?” The news broke my heart like the news of Agnes’ death.

Agnes with some of the nurses after her sugery
Agnes with some of the nurses after her surgery

We cannot continue like this as a nation. The health of people must matter to our government. Education and information must be available to the people who need it. Resources must be accessible. Drugs must be affordable. The government must take some responsibility for Christ’s sake.

October is here again and the world once again goes pink to create breast cancer awareness. It’s become a global ritual but most women are clueless about the noise in the city.

Mary Ama Bawa, the host of ATL FM's morning show
The writer, Mary Ama Bawa, the host of ATL FM’s morning show.

Individuals have been given huge sums of money for the establishment of breast cancer foundations, but are they really doing the actual work? We hear of such foundations once a year, girding themselves to celebrate PINK OCTOBER. They then fill stadiums with women in pink and take photographs to satisfy their donors’ curiosity. Somebody help me understand this level of insensitivity towards precious lives. I hear the voices of all the Agneses who met their untimely death calling on all of us to speak against this level of apathy. Breast cancer is no longer a silent killer. The sound of death is very loud. But we are closing our ears to it.

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Agnes’ dream was to create awareness about this disease when she got well after the surgery. That’s now a dead dream of a 32-year-old lady who had no husband and had no child. But she was a breadwinner. She was the first daughter of a poor widow. She left her village to seek greener pastures for her mother and siblings.

I CELEBRATE YOU, MISS AGNES ACQUAH, for your bravery. You fought it and remained positive till your death. But I hope you lived. And that no woman dies like you. For now, I can only hope, because the reality on the ground is grimmer than the most optimistic of all hopes. And everyone of us must rise up and show concern.

The writer is Mary Ama Bawa, the host of the ATL FM morning show, Cape Coast.

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