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Zimbabwean Model Shares Her Intimate Story, “Behind the Shadows Of Cancer”

Filed under : Africa, Entertainment, Lifestyle

Good morning lovely people!


From our Guest Contributor, Teurai Chanakira: Model, Author / Writer & Founder of the Elizabeth Chanakira Cancer Trust

I don’t think I will ever forget the first time that my Mum told me she had Breast Cancer.

I was still living in Birmingham, UK in 2003 and we were on the phone, chatting.  I remember the sound of her voice, how she sounded so scared but yet pretending to be so strong. I was shocked. Cancer? How and why? I selfishly thought,

“Why my mother…what did it mean….it would go away right? Of course it’s going to; it’s going to be ok because there’s treatment for it.”

She told me she had to get one of her breasts removed to cut off the cancerous lump, and then have chemotherapy.  I thought of chemotherapy and the little I knew about it from one of my friend’s accounts of what it had meant for her and her mother.  It had always been something that happened to other families and on that day, it came knocking on my door…and never left.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to journey back home during Mum’s chemotherapy. This brought a huge amount of guilt into my heart, but I attempted to compensate by calling her constantly and sending her long letters telling her how much I loved and appreciated her, placed within decorated cards.

Fear…that’s how I describe how I felt. Even then, I still couldn’t bear to ask too many questions about the disease. I think I just wanted to distance myself from the pain as much as I could.

There were days when I would ring home and would be told that she couldn’t come to the phone because she was too exhausted, weak, and nauseous and/or agitated.  The chemotherapy drugs made her moods change and as my dad sometimes told me, she would snap at those around her on and off, something that was totally out of character for her.

She was extremely kind; soft-spoken; gentle; caring; always smiling; would make anyone feel as though they were the most important person in the room; was humble; generous and intelligent, having excelled as a Nurse, a Nurse Tutor at Parirenyatwa Hospital and later on became the Deputy Nurse Registrar in Harare.

The rest of the family reacted differently but we were all held together by the same fear:

“she had always kept the family together, what would happen if she left us? How could we do without her?”

Teurai’s late Mum pictured with her older sister, Eden, a few years before the breast cancer diagnosis

What I noticed from the very start was that cancer treatment was so expensive in Zimbabwe – from the $100 paid per chemotherapy session to the scans and drugs that were needed.  Even though Mum was on medical aid, it was still a struggle and I did my bit by sending money home and then later on, asking Mum to send me her prescription so I could purchase some of the medication in the UK as it was cheaper.

After her chemotherapy, we received the news we had all been waiting for – that she was now in remission and that she needed to be on medication for a few years. After which the doctors would check if all was ok and the cancer had completely cleared.  But…around about 2005, I had the same conversation with Mum that I had had a few years previously – she had found another lump.

I couldn’t believe it, I just felt so angry and scared – angry at this disease that kept robbing me of parts of the woman I loved more than anything. Why? I kept asking God.

So we went through the same emotional process all over again. However, this time, Mum and Dad decided to journey to Botswana for her to receive radiotherapy there as it was cheaper.

The next time I rang to see if all was ok, Mum told me that she was.  And that she was back from Botswana already and she had decided that she didn’t need the radiotherapy and that the lump was actually not cancerous.

I felt somewhat relieved, but at the same time, I just had a niggling fear in my heart….

Photo: E:thos by Rudo Nyangulu 2011


(To be continued next week…)


Please follow me on Twitter at @Teurai1


farai – who has written posts on Farai Today.

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