What you need to know:
- Cervical cancer prevention requires all of us to work as a team
- This is the message that Kizazi Chetu has been trying to put across since its inception
- Kizazi Chetu is a movement that seeks to involve everyone in the eradication of cervical cancer
Collete* is a bubbly 16-year -old who has been through a tough adolescence.
She was so full of life, with a mischievous smile and a razor-sharp wit. She challenged me with her inquisitiveness. You would never guess the trauma she had undergone.
Collete was born when her parents were still in college. Her grandmother was very keen on her mother, Ellen*, finishing college on time and she raised Collete while her mother went back to class to complete her degree. She was three when her parents graduated, moved in together and were able to take her back.
For the next few years, the young couple worked diligently to grow in their careers and even advance their education to masters level, and Collete was an only child for a long time. She was, therefore, very excited when her mother announced she would have a sibling.
Ellen’s pregnancy progressed well until she was about 25 weeks when her blood pressure started to rise. Though unremarkable at first, her doctor was very worried. Things escalated really fast and two weeks later, Ellen was in hospital being wheeled into surgery to deliver her premature baby in an effort to save her life.
It was the darkest day for the family. Ellen never made it back from surgery while the little one only survived a few hours in the newborn unit before giving up. Everyone was devastated, the loss cut really deep.
Collete and her father clung to each other and to her grandmother through the pain and loneliness because it is all they had. Her grandmother never really recovered from the loss.
As if that was not enough, her grandmother was diagnosed with cervical cancer two years later. Collete’s world came crushing down all over again.
Even though her grandmother fought hard, the cancer stayed a step ahead and it eventually won. Three years later, Colette was bidding farewell to the person who had been the pillar in her short life.
I met Collete after dozens of hours in therapy and was happy to see it had paid off. She had learnt to accept her loss while immortalising the memories for her loved ones in her daily life. She had learnt to smile again and was finally thriving in school.
This was until she started struggling with recurrent yeast infections. She had read a lot about her condition online and insisted on visiting a gynaecologist. She was terrified of getting cervical cancer. It took a while to calm Colette down and reassure her that she was not following in her grandmother’s painful path.
Taking Collete though the female reproductive anatomy was greatly amusing. She was perplexed at how little she was taught in school about her body and its function. She kept on going with the questions, switching from amazement and wonder to downright mirth at how ignorant she was on many issues affecting her as an adolescent.
Collete had vowed never to have children for fear of dying like her mother but she was now more open-minded and promised to rethink that position in a decade.
She was now more interested in understanding this monster that robbed her of her loving grandmother. She was greatly concerned about why so little was said about a cancer that we had a 100 per cent chance of preventing.
Collete was even more grateful that she belonged to a generation that stood a chance at eradicating cervical cancer. It was going to start with her. Not only did she get treatment for her yeast infection, she was also started on the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV). This is the first step in primary prevention against cervical cancer. She was happy to walk this path, secure in her father’s support.
Cervical cancer prevention requires all of us to work as a team. This is the message that Kizazi Chetu has been trying to put across since its inception. Kizazi Chetu is a movement that seeks to involve everyone in the eradication of cervical cancer. Just like we have been doing for HIV, we may not all be infected, but we are definitely all affected.
Cervical cancer elimination requires that we all get involved in the conversation. As a father, do you know that your daughter requires to be vaccinated against HPV before she becomes sexually active? Do you know that the government offers this vaccine to all 10-year-olds for free?
As a daughter, do you know if your mother has been screened this year? As a man, do you know your partner’s gynaecologist? Have you offered to take your mother to for her annual health check-up? As girlfriends, do you schedule a Saturday to go for your pap smears together before heading to the salon?
It takes a sustained conversation to tackle this monster and end preventable deaths. It is not enough to do annual screening camps and then forget about the cervix until the next year.
Through Kizazi Chetu conversations, Carol Ng’ang’a, a cervical cancer champion, is highlighting this. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer at only 27 years. She has lived through this rollercoaster and understands how important it is to talk about the cervix.
Vaccinate, screen, initiate early treatment. May this be our daily mantra, whether or not we have a cervix.