Ziphora Tau, 56, is a mother of two from the North West who is currently living in Vogelstruisfontein with her daughter and grandchild. In September 2019, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH) after a biopsy was done. She came to Johannesburg because she felt that she would get the appropriate care that she may not necessarily get in NW.

However, this has not been the case for Ziphora. Following her diagnosis in September, she was supposed to have her simulation and start radiotherapy on 30 October but was called on the 29th and told that the radiotherapy machines where not working. The simulation process involves using imaging such as Computed Tomography (CT) or Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to better visualise the invasion of the cancer in the tissue in order to plan for more accurate, targeted radiotherapy. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/1754-9485.12831). Even the pelvic ultrasound she was supposed to have had has been postponed until February.

She went back to CMJAH in November and was told that the machines were working again but there is a waiting list. As a result of the non-functioning machines, there is a backlog of patients waiting to receive radiation and at the moment, they are only dealing with emergencies. But Ziphora feels that “cancer itself is an emergency”. She has not been told where she is on the list, how it works and how patients are being prioritised.

That is not the only thing she is in the dark about. No-one has discussed her case with her. She has not been told what stage of disease she has or what the future hold. The last time she spoke to a doctor was in the early processes of her diagnosis. Someone who isn’t her primary health care provider told her that she has stage 3B and she doesn’t even know what that means. At this point the only care she is receiving is getting morphine and paracetamol to manage her pain.

Over the last month Ziphora’s pain has gotten worse. She is in so much pain that at times she cannot even sleep or eat. The pain starts in her pelvis and spreads down her legs. By the time leaves hospital after a visit, she needs to use a wheelchair because she can barely walk as a result of the unbearable pain and fatigue. When the pain is at its most severe, she wishes she was “dead than living with a pain like this every day”.

Unfortunately, Ziphora is one of many patients suffering the same kind of treatment (or lack thereof). She says “it’s killing me because I wonder what those people think when they look at us because they know what cancer does to a person’s body.”

When asked about the state of cancer care in the South African public health system, Ziphora’s daughter said: “It does not exist. Soapies on TV now are trying to raise awareness but in reality people aren’t getting the treatment or care they need. You ask yourself “do these people really care?” It’s like they diagnose you and just say “ag, can this one just die and follow on the next”. The ones that care are the ones that don’t have that much power… Can a person really go up and down with unbearable pain just to get pain meds and nothing being explained or done about the situation? Is it not a health care facility where every health care professional has taken an oath to save lives but if they are taking a backseat, what happens? Who holds them accountable?”

They have promised to call people in January to tell them when to come from treatment. Her phone is always at her side, while she awaits the anticipated call.

For more information about cervical cancer: https://www.cansa.org.za/files/2019/04/Fact-Sheet-and-Position-Statement-on-Cervical-Cancer-NCR-2014-web-April-2019.pdf