Muti and breast cancer don't mix - patients put their lives at risk

Nurses Doreen Selane, left, and Olive Monota. Selane says most patients have reported that they are not coping with the side effects of chemotherapy such as vomiting. / ANTONIO MUCHAVE
Nurses Doreen Selane, left, and Olive Monota. Selane says most patients have reported that they are not coping with the side effects of chemotherapy such as vomiting. / ANTONIO MUCHAVE

A Limpopo nurse has seen close to 20 breast cancer patients die in the past three years after they missed chemotherapy in favour of traditional medicine.

This has pushed oncology nurse Doreen Selane, who is based at the Dr CN Phatudi Hospital outside Tzaneen, to start a campaign to educate her community about the disease.

According to Cancer Association of SA, breast cancer is the leading type of cancer affecting women with 19.4million females aged 15 years and above at risk of being affected.

Selane said she became increasingly concerned when the hospital started losing patients at an alarming rate, noting that when she tried to track down patients who had stopped chemo, she discovered that they had opted for traditional medicine.

Selane said patients also complained that they could not cope with the side-effects of chemotherapy such as vomiting and fatigue.

"Most of them stop treatment. By the time they come back to us it is already too late because the cancer has advanced. All we can do for them at that stage is give them medication to help them deal with the pain," Selane said.

She said they currently have 20 patients on treatment at the hospital, but believes the number could be much higher.

Selane said people were not informed about breast cancer. "When they go to traditional healers, they are told that it's witchcraft and [they are] given medication to wash the cancerous wounds. It doesn't help," she said.

Margaret Ramodike, 52, who was diagnosed last year, yesterday said she went to a traditional practitioner after having gone through months of medical procedures.

Ramodike said they could not confirm that the lump growing on her left breast was cancerous until the third test, adding that when the lump developed into a wound and grew more painful she approached a traditional healer for help.

"I showed her my breast and she told me that she could help me. She gave me herbs and told me to wash the wound with [these] herbs every day. But my wound was getting worse and I decided to go back to the hospital for more tests."

She was finally diagnosed last year and started with treatment.

Spokesman for the provincial health department, Thabiso Teffo, said many people went to hospital when they were dying. "As the department we are very concerned about this, which is why we are working closely with traditional healers to resolve the problem," Teffo said.

He urged traditional practitioners to refer patients to hospitals first instead of attempting to cure conditions such as cancer on their own.

Chairman of Limpopo Traditional Health Practitioners, Morifi Nicodemus Makgabo, said people had the right to approach traditional practitioners for help.

Makgabo said the correct approach was to encourage practitioners to work with local health facilities.

He said traditional practitioners should refer patients to a clinic or hospital before administering treatment. "The most important thing is that we work together to save the patients' lives," he said.

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