Cancer care is a basic human right, but Tina passed away in December because Baragwanath Hospital did not have the drip medicine that was making her better.
This is her story:
Tina is seated on her couch, propped up by a pillow and being fed her breakfast porridge by a young lady. Another young lady emerges from the other room followed by a toddler. I am welcomed warmly into their home in Soweto. The first young lady, who I later find out is Tina’s carer, gets up to get Tina’s pills from the other room. Tina assures me that we’ll be able to start our conversation soon as she just needs to take her tablets, which is no small feat. Her carer has to help her take her tablets because Tina has lost function in her arms. When she is done taking the small mountain of pills her daughter, the other young lady, helps her put on her metal spine brace. She is also unable to walk.
In June 2018 Tina started feeling a lump in her right breast that grew until it ruptured in August and necessitated her going to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, where she was diagnosed with stage 4 HER2+ breast cancer that has metastasised to the lungs and bone. She was also found to have a cardiac problem, previously undiagnosed, which prevented her from starting chemotherapy. She was immediately started on Zometa and Zoladex. Zometa or Zolcdronic Acid is a bisphosphonate used to treat Paget’s disease, high blood levels of calcium caused by cancer, multiple myeloma or metastatic bone cancer. It is also used to treat or prevent osteoporosis in post-menopausal women and to increase done mass in men with osteoporosis ( https://www.rxlist.com/zometa-side-effects-drug-center.htm).
Zoladex also known as Goserelin is Luiteinizing Hormone-Releasing Hormone (LHRH) agonist which helps the down the ovaries and stop them from producing oestrogen so there is less oestrogen to fuel the growth of hormone-receptor positive breast cancer, which Tina has.
“I am taking tablets for my heart. The drip I’m getting is my only saving grace. I’ve only been receiving Zometa and Zoladex.”
Tina stayed on these two medicines and improved enough that she was discharged and was even able to work selling fruit, sweets and chips on the street to get some income for her family. This continued until June 2019 when she was informed that Bara did not have the Zometa infusion. She was referred to Johannesburg Hospital where she could not be helped. Tina and her family tried different GPs and private hospitals as well, to no avail.
“At Bara all they kept telling us is that they have ordered the medicine but it is not available at the pharmacy because it has not been delivered. The doctors said they were attending meetings, I’m not sure what those meetings were about or what was being said… All they could tell us was that there is no drip. At that time I was very sick and in pain but I also felt very sad. I was always crying at home”
This is when Tina’s health started to deteriorate. She started to experience severe pain all over her body, especially in her back, and her arms and legs became weak. After some tests at Bara it was discovered that the cancer had spread to the spine. Tina was rushed via ambulance to Johannesburg Hospital immediately for emergency radiation of her spine. After two days she was sent back to Bara where she was discharged mid-November.
“For now, I am going to continue taking the treatment until I feel well. I am going back to Breast Clinic in January to continue treatment.”
Tina had the following cry for help, “What I would like to ask government, whoever makes the treatment and wherever it comes from, is to please make the treatment for this disease available. This is a deadly disease. It kills people. People are suffering!”
Sadly Tina’s comment that this disease “kills people” is all too true. She sadly passed away in December 2019.