My name is Gwen Chisakula and this is my story….
Like many women, Gwen knew about cancer, but she hadn’t really thought about it, or that it would affect her. This is despite that she lost her father to cancer of the eye as a child. When she was found with pre-cancerous cells in the cervix in her mid-thirties, Gwen was very shocked and scared.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
It all started in June 2017 when Gwen started bleeding outside of her normal menstrual cycle. Apart from bleeding in between cycles, she started bleeding after sex. She also started experiencing pain during sex. The symptoms worried Gwen who is a psycho-social counselor. She was anxious to know what was causing her pain and bleeding, so she started looking for information. As she read through a brochure on cervical cancer, she realized that she was experiencing some of the symptoms listed in the brochure. Gwen had heard about cervical cancer screening, so she made an appointment. Two months after her symptoms first started, Gwen at the age of 34 had her first-ever cervical cancer screening.
At the screening, she was told she had pre-cancerous cells. The examiner showed her the pre-cancerous cells on a screen and Gwen was filled with fear. She was a counselor and trained to deal with or help people cope with stress, but she says when she was told she had precancerous cells she was petrified. “I was a counselor but as a human being it was difficult for me to apply my counseling knowledge to my own situation,” says Gwen. As the examiner explained what she had found, the word cancer rang through Gwen’s ears blocking out what she was being told. On the same day, the pre-cancerous cells were found, Gwen underwent cryotherapy treatment which is the application of extremely cold temperatures to kill the pre-cancerous cells. Gwen was then told to go home and come back after a month for a review to see if the treatment was effective. It was a very difficult month waiting for her review, says Gwen. She kept the diagnosis and treatment a secret because she was aware of the stigma cervical cancer attracted. She knew of women losing friends and marriages breaking down due to the challenges of cervical cancer, so she kept quiet.
LIVING IN FEAR
For a month, Gwen carried her fear of what she would be told at her review. Fortunately for Gwen when she went back for review, she was given the all-clear. The cryotherapy had killed the precancerous cells. Only after she was given the clear did Gwen tell her mother and other family that she had been found with pre-cancerous cells. Post her diagnosis Gwen has made some lifestyle changes. She exercises more. She watches her diet and condomises. Gwen believes that there needs to be more awareness around cancer. Gwen says, “Cancer awareness campaigns should be consistent and not just about October and February.” She feels that the efforts that were put in HIV awareness campaigns should be the same for cancer because there is still a lot of ignorance around cervical cancer and cancer in general.
USING MY EXPERIENCE TO GIVE OTHERS HOPE
As a counselor, the experience of having been found with pre-cancerous cells and being treated has had a positive impact on Gwen’s work. She now counsels with a better understanding of what her clients are going through because she has been there. “I escort my clients to their screening appointments, for their reviews, and when they go to pick up results. I tell them my story to give them hope because I know what it is like, I have been there,” says Gwen. To all the women out there Gwen advises that they go for cervical cancer screening particularly if they are HIV positive as their low immunity puts them at a higher risk of having cancer. Gwen’s parting words are; “We all need to fight cancer together.”
This story is part of the “No Woman Should Die From Cervical Cancer Awareness Series”. It is an initiative of the Zambian Cancer Society in commemoration of January – Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
P/s If you would like to share your experience with cervical cancer as a patient, caregiver, medical personnel etc. please dm or call Idah on 0966 824 027 or 0976 659 914.
Pictured below is Gwen Chisakula