My wife Juliet of over twenty-six years was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. When she went to the local clinic to have a lump in her breast checked neither of us suspected cancer. Even when Juliet Mulenga was referred to the hospital they were not alarmed. It was only when a biopsy was recommended did we start to worry. Approximately two months after the biopsy was done the results came back. The couple went to the hospital where they were told Mrs. Mulenga had stage two breast cancer. Their immediate reaction was to seek a second opinion, so the couple went to another medical facility. The results came back the same. When the couple went back to the hospital a doctor explained that cancer had not spread, and he gave the couple options including a mastectomy (breast removal surgery).
Mrs. Mulenga wanted time to consider her options. Mr. Mulenga disagreed. He wanted his wife to have a mastectomy immediately. Looking back, he feels that his wife may have viewed his stance on the matter as harsh and insensitive, but at the time he felt that was the best way to deal with the situation. He felt that his wife was in a denial and so it was up to him to deal with the cancer head-on. Eventually, Mrs. Mulenga did come around and she had her breast removed. Mr. Mulenga was told by his elder brother to be mindful that breast cancer poses an additional burden on women as a mastectomy changes their bodies. However, to Mr. Mulenga, the fact that the cancer was in the breast was not the issue. He says no matter what part of the body the cancer attacked, he would have insisted that part be removed. What he wanted was his wife’s body to be ridden of cancer. Mr. Mulenga believes his wife stood up to cancer and defeated it because of her love for her family. The cancer brought them closer as they stood together to fight it. Mr. Mulenga says he did not tell their three children the gravity of their mother’s illness because he wanted to shield them from the pain and stress.
As a Christian, Mr. Mulenga saw hope in the crisis. He was thankful that at the time his wife was diagnosed, the Cancer Diseases Hospital was up and running and that the facilities to treat his wife were available in Zambia. He also believes that God does not give one a problem they can’t shoulder, so despite the seriousness of what they went through, they survived and came out stronger. Mrs. Mulenga has been cancer-free for 10 years now and she has committed herself to working in cancer advocacy through the Zambian Cancer Society.
To other men nursing partners with breast cancer, Mr. Mulenga says, ‘I can’t tell another person what to feel, but what I can say is be supportive. Your wife has to deal with the physical stress of the disease as well as everything else, so it’s up to you to hold her hand and fight the cancer with her.’Mr. Mulenga’s story reveals the importance of a man supporting his partner when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. It is not unusual for women to feel apprehensive and depressed about having their breast removed. So it is important that men understand this, and that they reassure their partners that they still love and care for them.
Mr. Mulenga’s story and other stories in English and all the 7 main local Zambian languages can be listened/downloaded on the Zambian Cancer Society website at www.zcs.co.zm.