Empowerment through education

According to US research 1 in 8 women will be affected with breast cancer in their lifetime. Early detection will reduce the number of deaths by about 30%. 

We spoke to Breast Health Foundation Community Educator, Ntokozo Dludla, to find out more about the challenges of spreading awareness in rural communities. Ntokozo and her team (all breast cancer survivors) offer an invaluable service to the community in the Sedibeng district where they educate patients about breast cancer at their local clinics. With compassion and understanding, they educate and empower the patients about the benefits of early detection and monthly breast self examinations. Patients with identified breast problems are booked on patient transport and the following Wednesday, they are transported to the Helen Joseph Hospital Breast Clinic (HJHBC) where they are seen by the doctors.

“On Wednesdays and Thursdays the team goes to HJHBC.  Some patients bring their partners or children to HJHBC when they come and get their results.  This provides an opportunity to also educate the whole family. This is very important, as they have to know what to expect during their mom, spouse or partner’s treatment plan.   When a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, trauma and shock are experienced.  It is enormously comforting and helpful to be able to identify with someone who has been through a similar ordeal,” Ntokozo says.

The team also goes to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital’s Oncology department and Sebokeng Hospital breast ward to provide support to patients who are receiving chemotherapy treatment.

Myths and Stigmas

Unfortunately, there are many myths and stigmas around breast cancer. This delays women from going to get treatment or even worse, not getting treatment at all!

“This is why education is so important. Women, particularly those in rural areas do not go for treatment when they feel a breast mass. They are unaware of what it may represent medically and/or are concerned about the stigmas of cancer, they also fear being rejected by their community and partners.

Some of the stigmas are:

  • Some women believe that the breast cancer was caused by a curse or that God has punished them for their sins.
  • Microwaves are blamed for the cancerous lumps.
  • Your enemy has sent you a Tokoloshi that is sucking your breast while you are sleeping. The result of this “bewitching” is breast cancer.
  • Most men, especially in rural areas, do not believe that men are also affected by breast cancer. They believe it is a woman’s disease. Fortunately, the younger generation is more open to new information.

“Our biggest challenge is lack of knowledge about the disease. Rural men and women also need to be made aware of the importance of breast self examination and the available screening tests. Being proactive with regards to breast health is one of the greatest gifts our women can give themselves and their families,” Ntokozo says.

The sad state of affairs is that rural women do not get the same exposure when it comes to breast health awareness. Most rural women are unaware of the causes of breast cancer. Effective communication in this regard is therefore vital. Once our rural women know what breast cancer is and how it affects them, they will be more equipped to fight it.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world – Nelson Mandela