Ex- Miss Malawi wins her battle with cancer, to start health activism

Former Miss Malawi Blandina Khondowe (nee Mlenga) has completed her final round of chemotherapy in breast cancer treatment and termed it as her rebirth, saying she wants to write a book and start health activisim.

Blandina who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32, told a local newspaper that she will write a book about her experiences in cancer treatment.

“There is a lot of work to be done here in Malawi with regard to understanding and educating women on the disease. People think cancer equals death but this can be prevented. It is important to know that cancers detected early are curable,” the former beauty queen told Nation on Sunday.

Said she: “I had a breast cyst aspirated over five years ago on the left side. That was dealt with. When I got pregnant in 201I, I felt a lump on my right breast at five months. I saw two doctors who told me that because of my history with cysts, it had to be a recurrence of another as cysts are common in pregnancies. They advised for treatment to be taken after delivery and months of breastfeeding. God blessed me with a gorgeous baby boy in August 2012 and I breast fed normally.

Blandina: y husband always says this to me: “A positive attitude gives you power over your circumstances instead of your circumstances having power over you”.
Blandina: y husband always says this to me: “A positive attitude gives you power over your circumstances instead of your circumstances having power over you”.

“I felt persistent pain in my breast at some point and again called one of the doctors who told me it was normal and just advised me to take pain killers. I got worried when I felt one of my lymph nodes in the armpit. Eighteen months after the discovery of the lump, I was told I had breast cancer. That was on October 7 2013, five days before my 33rd birthday!”

Blandina said she knew God as a healer and being surrounded with close friends that are born again Christians made her confident.

“There were times when I cried as it hit me that I was to go through a long painful road. Looking back, it has not been as bad as I thought. The Lord has truly been gracious and merciful to me. He saw me through it all and I will live to declare the works of the Lord,” she told the newspaper .

Blandina explained her insipirational story that after the biopsy,  she  had surgery to remove the tumour and axillary lymph nodes.

“Following surgery, a pathologist—an expert in examining cells under a microscope—notified my medical oncologist. A pathologist’s role is critical in the treatment of breast cancer as his report gives helpful information about how to select treatments for the breast cancer and tell what kind of cancer it is. Next, I saw a medical oncologist who took me through suitable subsequent treatment plans such as chemotherapy and hormonal therapies. For breast cancer generally, one requires six cycles of chemotherapy, once in 21 days and is administered intravenously.

“I had my first chemotherapy after my surgical wounds healed and my first experience was brutal. The feeling of sickness cannot be matched with anything I have experienced before in my life. It was agonising, painful and atrocious. I had no appetite as the nausea was intense. I had persistent headaches. I was down for a good week.

“I was advised to undergo radiotherapy after the first chemotherapy as it was not ideal for me to remain in India to complete chemotherapy as it is a lengthy treatment. I began radiotherapy as soon as my body recuperated from the initial chemotherapy and that took two weeks.

“Radiation is given with a large machine that is used to treat a specific, well defined area of the body. It is more like going for an X-ray of some sort. Just like chemotherapy, radiation damages both cancer cells and normal cells. However, normal cells have a greater ability to repair themselves following radiation exposure. It is a painless procedure. All I had to do was lie down and assume a steady position for about 30 minutes while technicians toiled. It took five weeks to complete radiotherapy.

“A fortnight later, I continued with my second cycle of chemotherapy which was absolutely terrible, but I was excited at the end of it because it meant that I was heading home to be with my family and friends. I left India 10 days after having the second chemotherapy and continued treatment here with the drugs I brought from India.”

Blandina said she has completed her final round of chemotherapy, describing it as a “quite a relief.”

Said she: “ I will return to India for an evaluation on the effectiveness of the chemotherapy. The next treatment I will be on is called hormonal therapy and will last five years where I have to take a pill called tamoxifen on a daily basis.”

Blandina said after treatment she lost all her hair and her  hands had some skin discoloration and some of her nails  darkened.

“I lost some weight but not apparently. I have completed my cycles, my hair will grow back and the skin discoloration will clear too,” said the former beauty queen who is a family woman and working as a senior tourism officer in the Ministry of Tourism.

Blandina said she wants to start health activism.

“Malawi is a sad state with regard to breast cancer treatment and other cancers too. Aside from the lack of radiation therapy, there are no mammograms in any of our public hospitals,” she noted.

“A woman in the village has no way of accessing this as it is only available in private hospitals at a ridiculous cost and because of all this madness, Malawi is losing a lot of women to this disease. What is painful is that these deaths would be avoided,” pointed out Blandina in the published interview.

She noted that when it comes to prescribing drugs to breast cancer patients in Malawi, “doctors use the trial and error approach. I say this with utmost respect to the medical competence in Malawi as they try to offer the best available treatment with minimal resources allocated to them, however, this is not good enough.”

The India Government recently donated breast cancer equipment to Malawi. The state-of-the-art equipment includes four mammography and four ultrasound machines to help early screen and detecting of breast cancer.

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