I Am An HIV Positive Cervical Cancer Survivor

Popularly known as Aunty Rebecca, 65-year-old Zambian Cancer Society volunteer, peer educator, and counselor, Mrs. Rebecca Siambwati, knows first-hand what it is to like to live with two chronic diseases.  In 1999, she tested positive for HIV and has been on Anti-Retroviral Therapy since 2000.

According to UNAIDS, there are over 630,000 Zambian women living with HIV/AIDS which puts them at a higher risk for cervical cancer.  Women with HIV/AIDS are 4 to 5 times more likely to develop invasive cervical cancer due to their compromised immunity – just like Aunty Rebecca.  But there is HOPE! The World Health Assembly recently passed a resolution calling for the elimination of cervical cancer and adopted a roadmap to make it happen. The WHO’s Global Strategy for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer will be officially launched on November 17, 2020.

Aunty Rebecca first went for cervical cancer screening to show herself as an example to the people she was educating on HIV/AIDS and cancer screening in her community.  As a peer educator, she believed that if she went for cervical cancer screening would encourage others to go as well.  Additionally, at the time, Aunty Rebecca had started to feel pain in her hip which she knew was a symptom of cervical cancer.

The result of her first screening in 2009 came back clear and she was asked to return the following year.  However, the pain intensified so she went back to the hospital for another test.  This time a LEEP procedure (a method that uses electric current passed through a thin wire loop to remove abnormal tissue) was carried out. The result revealed that she had stage2b cervical cancer. Consequently, Aunty Rebeccaunderwent a total hysterectomy to remove her cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.  Thereafter, she underwent radiation therapy (the use of high energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors).

Aunty Rebecca states that due to the stigma, myths, and misconceptions about cervical cancer some of her friends and relatives distanced themselves from her because they believed cervical cancer was contagious. Despite the discrimination and isolation, she persevered. Aunty Rebecca’s treatment was successful, and she has been cancer-free since 2010! She believes that being a counselor helped her deal with cancer.  She says that she was able to cope because she was informed about the disease, its symptoms, and the possible side effects of treatment.  Her spirituality also helped her deal with her cancer: “I was always a spiritual person, but now I am closer to my God having survived cancer and I thank him for my life”.

Aunty Rebecca’s message to all women in Zambia is that they should go for screening.  She also stresses one main point to cancer patients especially those who are HIV positive: “I was like you. But here I am. I am a living example that there is HOPE”

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