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Zimbabwean Model Shares Her Intimate Story: “Behind the Shadows of Cancer” [Part 2]

Good morning lovely people!


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

Photo: E:thos Photography by Rudo Nyangulu 2011

We went several years without blatant reminders of Cancer. Albeit, my visits back home where I saw how much weight Mum had lost. The fact that she had to (with a look of piercing disappointment) put a silicone pad in one of her bra cups. Her bald head underneath her wig (which she never liked anyone to see, even my father). Her strict eating habits, for example, she had to take plenty of natural multi-vitamin powders, plenty fruit and vegetables, soy milk etc. It was never really gone from the back of my mind.

In early 2010, after having relocated to Cairns, Australia, I was speaking to Mum on the phone to catch up with her. She told me that she was having terrible headaches, feeling dizzy. She mentioned she would be going to see the doctor the next day.

I rung back to hear the result. In a shaky voice, mum told me that the Cancer was back in the breast….but had also spread to the lungs and liver.

I wanted to wail.

But, being a strong Zimbabwean woman, I held it together and said to her, “So what now? Chemo again?” She said yes and after a few more comforting words, we both hung up.

I have never felt so lonely and far away from home as I did at that moment. I rested my head on the kitchen counter and cried…I cried until my body couldn’t.

At the time, I was having lots of magazine/newspaper interviews. I made the Top 100 of Naomi Campbell’s Global Model search competition. I also had plenty of photo shoots. I also started writing for Zimbo Jam, etc.

I carried on without anyone ever knowing that I was breaking down inside.  I felt helpless and all I could do was pray. Yet I must admit that it was hard to pray, to believe for a miracle as everyone told me to…I was just numb. Sometimes all I could mutter were a few words…”God, please heal her. You’ve got to.”

At home, Zimbabwe: Teurai’s dad, late mother, Elizabeth Chanakira & cousin, Valerie, 2009

I kept reading up on the causes of Cancer. What stuck in my mind were the causes of cancer; stress, poor diet including our increasing reliance on processed as opposed to natural foods, lack of exercise, etc.

I was already an exercise enthusiast since the age of seventeen and was a firm believer in eating as many natural foods as possible. So from then on, I started watching my health even more. I started being more serious about checking for lumps in my breasts.

I also tried to substitute the pain, fear and loneliness I felt by going out a lot, just so I could block it out; I honestly didn’t know what to do.  But whenever I got back home to my flat, Cancer was always following behind me – slithering in to settle next to me, right where it always was.

And so the family faced the financial struggles of the Cancer treatment, the medication, the chemo etc. Dad sold some valuable household items to cover the costs; various family members chipped in – we all did what we could. Mum had always gone for Counselling and support at the Harare Cancer Centre.  At that time, I grew even closer to the staff members there. In the back of my mind, I subconsciously felt that Mum’s time on this Earth was drawing to a close.

At the same time, I clung to the belief that if she had chemo, it would go away.  She had intensive 2 week chemo.

I started planning to go home to be with her. When I spoke to my Dad on the phone, he said, “Come home Teu, as soon as you can.” His voice said it all. I sent all the money I could to help with the medical costs. It was not easy as I had to balance the cost of flights, etc. I had decided to move to Melbourne a few months earlier, so I had to pack and move all my stuff to Melbourne, then take the next flight to Harare.

I had a lot of clothes I didn’t need. So before I left Cairns, I held a “Clothes Sale” to benefit the Harare Cancer Centre and thank them for all they had done to support us throughout Mum’s illness. I raised $150, not as much as I would have wanted but I was so grateful for everyone who helped me.  That I was going to be able to at least give them something.

Article in the local Cairns Sun (Australian newspaper) for the Clothes sale, November 2010

Two weeks before I was due to leave for Melbourne, I received a phone call from an Aunt. She had never rung me in Australia before so I knew something was wrong.  I asked,

“Makadii Maiguru. Ko chii?” [How are you Auntie? What’s the matter?]

“Teu, chiuya kumba as fast as you can. Mama varwara.” [Teurai, come back home as quickly as you can. Mum is sick.]

She told me that Mum’s cancer had spread to the brain, to all the major organs and that Mum was afraid to tell me on the phone.

I started crying and she said,

“Zvisimbise, zvisimbise…” [Strengthen yourself, strengthen yourself – literal translation]

I stopped crying and from that day on, I didn’t cry except for the time I rung my friend, Terance, in Cairns and broke down on the phone, saying,

“Mum’s going to die, Mum’s going to die…oh my God, we are going to lose her”.

And yet to the outside world, I carried on.

I immersed myself in writing; in modelling; in believing in all of my dreams.  Sometimes I would hurt so much because I would think,

“I always wanted Mum to see me living my dreams, to be able to pay for her and Dad to go on exotic holidays and spoil them rotten…will I ever be able to do that?”

In November 2010, I journeyed home to Zimbabwe to be with Mum.  I wanted to cry in the plane and would stop myself. I repeatedly said to myself;

“I have to be strong. Mum can’t see me breaking down,”

Photo: Nuno Avendano Photography 2010

(To be continued…next week)


Please follow me on Twitter at @Teurai1

farai – who has written posts on Farai Today.

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