Andrew was diagnosed with cancer of the colon in 2006. At the time, his daughter was four years old and his son was six months old. ‘When I was diagnosed with cancer, I wondered what would become of my children. I would sit and observe people going about their daily business and think if I was taken out of the equation the world would go on without me,’ says Andrew. He had noticed blood in his stool but, for a while, he didn’t do anything about it because when he mentioned it to friends here and there, they said it was normal to have blood present in one’s stool. However, when the symptoms persisted, Andrew decided to go and see a doctor. The doctor mentioned in passing that it could be cancer but because he didn’t insist on it — and Andrew himself thought the idea that it could be cancer was far-fetched —the cancer angle wasn’t pursued. Andrew was sent home with medication for misdiagnosed ulcers. When his condition did not improve, Andrew sought treatment again. He saw three more doctors consecutively, all of whom put him on medication for ulcers.
After a while, Andrew became anaemic due to the loss of blood and he went to see another doctor who recommended that an endoscopy be carried out. For Andrew, who up until that point had never been in a hospital or undergone a surgical procedure, the endoscopy was a very traumatic experience. ‘I found the endoscopy so traumatic such that when my doctor recommended medication to increase my blood count and that I also undergo a colonoscopy, I opted for the iron supplements and declined the surgical procedure because I did not want to go back into the theatre,’ says Andrew. In hindsight, however, he admits it was a grave mistake to pass on the colonoscopy.
It all came to a head one day whilst Andrew was at work. He felt severe pain in his stomach and he became very dizzy. Somehow, Andrew managed to drive home from work and his wife rushed him to the clinic. At the clinic, Andrew was told his blood count level was so low it was amazing that he could actually walk. He was given a blood transfusion and referred to a hospital in Chingola for a colonoscopy. He was then referred to a hospital in Kitwe for a biopsy. When Andrew went to get the results of his biopsy, his doctor opened the envelope and asked him to immediately pack his bags and travel to Lusaka to see a cancer specialist.
Andrew got leave from his job and travelled to Lusaka, where a CT scan was done and he was told he had to go into surgery immediately. At this point, Andrew had only shared with his wife and brother that he was unwell but when he was told he needed surgery, he informed all his close family and friends. On the eve of the operation, Andrew’s sister called him from abroad and asked that they pray over the phone. ‘She brought a pastor on the phone line and as we prayed, I experienced something I can only describe as a surge of electricity flow through my body and from that moment, I felt deep inside that I was healed and that I would be fine,’ he remembers. The next day, Andrew was wheeled into the theatre knowing that he was healed. ‘I was very positive that I was going to be okay,’ says Andrew, who had been told that when the tumour was removed, the surgeon would check whether the cancer had spread. If it hadn’t spread, he would-be put-on chemotherapy(anti-cancer drugs)after surgery. On the other hand, if the cancer had spread, the best that could be done was to provide him with palliative care ( care provided to a patient which is intended to manage symptoms, relieve pain and improve their quality of life rather than cure the disease).
COPING WITH CANCER
Fortunately, the procedure was successful. The tumour was removed and the cancer cells had not spread, so after Andrew recovered from the operation, he was put on chemotherapy. Throughout his treatment, Andrew kept himself abreast by reading up on cancer, so he was expecting the severe side effects of chemotherapy. To his relief, however, apart from nausea, he did not experience any of the usual side effects associated with chemotherapy. After his last cycle of the treatment, Andrew was given the good news that he was cancer-free. ‘I was numb when the doctor told me we had beaten the cancer. It had all happened so fast from diagnosis to being cancer-free,’ he says. Andrew has now been cancer-free for over 10years and he continues to have annual check-ups.
LIFE AFTER CANCER
Andrew is very open about his cancer. He believes being open can help others. ‘I once spoke to the husband of a work colleague who had symptoms similar to mine. I told him my story and encouraged him to go to the hospital. When he went he was found with polyps that would have become cancerous if he hadn’t sought treatment when he did,’ says Andrew, who adds that his perspective on life has changed since he had cancer. ‘Cancer was a wakeup call. It really changed my approach to life.’