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Go-getter Keo's goal

By unknown | Jun 11, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

T 32 Keo Mafafo has established herself as one of the most sought-after medical oncologists in Johannesburg because of her commitment to her job.

T 32 Keo Mafafo has established herself as one of the most sought-after medical oncologists in Johannesburg because of her commitment to her job.

Based at the Sandton Oncology Centre, the young doctor has dedicated her life to helping women with cancer.

Her passion for oncology, a speciality in cancer treatment using chemotherapy, developed four years ago while she worked at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital's oncology clinic.

There Mafafo and her team saw no less than 10 new cancer patients a day.

Helping patients with the limited drugs the hospital could offer, Mafafo could not help but get emotionally attached to her patients.

To the petite doctor, who was born and raised in a village in Hebron, Pretoria, it was not about administering the treatment and then moving on to the next patient. She walked the journey with her patients.

Though Mafafo has moved to the private sector, she says she is still worried about the situation at state hospitals, where more and more women continue to present advanced stages of cancer, particularly breast and cervical cancer.

Breast and cervical cancer are the fastest-growing cancers among women, she says.

But it is mostly women from rural communities and the townships who present advanced stages of cancer.

"This tells you that a lot still needs to be done," Mafafo says. "I don't know whether the breast cancer awareness campaigns are filtering through to people in the townships and villages or whether they are only on big billboards in the centre of town. I don't think the message is getting through at all. We really have a lot of work to do."

She attributes this factor to a lack of access to good "preventive healthcare" and illiteracy.

"Some women don't know that when you have a breast lump, for instance, it is something you have to pursue with vigour and urgency. But people who are well educated and have the financial means and access to information, usually act immediately. The lump is found, these women go for mammograms and are cured. In state hospitals the situation is different," she says.

Why this vast difference in a country where a lot has been done to bring quality healthcare to the people? I ask Mafafo

"Unfortunately, our country is very polarised. Within the same country we have extremes. We have millions of people and there are limited resources to cater for all of them. It is a polarised situation of lack and abundance," Mafafo explains.

She says the high cost of cancer drugs is another contributing factor to the problem facing the majority of South Africans.

"Oncology drugs are very expensive. At the state hospital we had very basic drugs because the hospital could not afford all the drugs that are necessary to treat patients.

"It was difficult, but fulfilling because all of us have this deep need to help other people," she says.

And what happens when you lose the battle? I ask.

"I pray. Sometimes I cry because you connect with your patients. It happens. You can't not connect.

"The treatment of oncology is not just the drug, it's assisting patients on their journey, including acceptance when there is nothing else that can be done and all you can do is be there for them at the time when they face death. It's part of what we have to do.

"Oncology is an emotionladen field of excitement when the cancer responds, and deep disappointment if it returns, and even further disappointment when you realise you've come to the point where you can't offer anything more," she says.

Mafafo says that with recent developments in the treatment of breast cancer, women have more chances of living longer with the disease than before.

"Early detection is key."

Mafafo, who is a very early riser, has become a firm favourite with her patients.

This go-getter is now on a mission to educate women in rural communities.

And with that energy and zeal, nothing can stop her.


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