The scorching sun beat down mercilessly as I stood at my elder sister’s graveside, surrounded by a sombre atmosphere that mirrored the heaviness in my heart. A deep sadness engulfed me as I reflected on the painful journey that had led us to this point. My sister, a vibrant and strong-willed woman, had succumbed to the clutches of breast cancer, but her battle had been fraught with misguided choices and missed opportunities for proper medical care.
It all began when my sister first received her diagnosis. The doctor had urged her to undergo hospital treatment, stressing the importance of early intervention and the potential for a successful recovery. However, my sister, deeply rooted in her religious beliefs and traditional African customs, chose a different path. She turned to the plethora of churches and African medical interventions that promised miraculous healing.
“I have faith in the power of prayer and the traditional remedies handed down through generations,” she would say firmly, dismissing the doctor’s pleas for modern medical intervention. “I trust that I will be healed, and my ancestors will guide me to the right cure.”
Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, as my sister travelled from one religious gathering to another, seeking solace and healing through prayers and rituals. In the meantime, the cancer continued its relentless assault on her body. I watched helplessly as her once vibrant spirit slowly waned, overshadowed by the ravages of the disease.
The turning point came when my sister finally realized the gravity of her condition. She returned home, frail, her body ravaged by pain and suffering. The doctor’s prognosis was bleak, offering little hope for a meaningful recovery.
As I stood there by her side, holding her feeble hand, she whispered words that will forever haunt me. “I should have listened,” she rasped, her voice filled with regret. “I should have sought proper medical care when there was still time.”
The days that followed were agonizing, filled with the stench of decay that permeated our home. My sister’s body deteriorated rapidly, leaving us with no choice but to burn plants and incense to minimize the unbearable odour that accompanied her final moments.
In the aftermath of her passing, I found myself grappling with a mix of grief and anger. I mourned the loss of my sister, but I also mourned the missed opportunity for proper medical intervention. It was a painful lesson that left an indelible mark on my soul.
I realized that while faith and traditional remedies have their place in our lives, they should never replace the importance of seeking timely medical care. Cancer is a formidable opponent that requires a multifaceted approach, combining the power of modern medicine with the comfort of faith and the support of our cultural heritage.
Now, as I reflect on my sister’s journey, I am committed to raising awareness about the importance of early detection and proper medical care. I advocate for regular screenings and encourage those affected by cancer to seek professional help without delay. It is a cause that has become my life’s mission, driven by the painful lesson I learned from my sister’s tragic journey.
In the end, the loss of my sister has taught me that cancer care is a battle that requires every tool at our disposal. To honour her memory, I strive to ensure that no one else has to experience the heartache of a preventable loss, reminding others that timely medical intervention is crucial in the fight against this merciless disease. – Ama*, 55.
The narrative above is not dissimilar to what many – medical professionals and families alike – can relate to. The canker that is cancer continues to ravage lives and livelihoods. Cancer, a silent epidemic, continues to cast a dark shadow over Ghana and the limitedness of data ensures that its full extent, in direct and indirect terms, is hard to quantify. We will return to that.
A menace to society
The burden is compounded by entrenched cultural beliefs, and financial constraints, which create a daunting environment for those affected. Already, the country faces a double burden, battling both communicable and non-communicable diseases. This is why the transformative efforts of Trust Hospital’s Oncology Services – Trust Cancer Care, and the potential for a brighter future in national, even sub-regional, cancer care, is significant. The menace, however, has been exacerbated by:
Limited Data, Cost and the Double Burden
As has been mentioned, despite being a major public health problem, Ghana’s battle against cancer is hindered by a scarcity of comprehensive data. Conservative estimates suggest that in 2020, there were an estimated 24,009 new cases of cancer and 15,802 cancer deaths in the country. The most common cancers in Ghana are breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer and liver cancer. However, increased testing is showing a prevalence of blood-related cancer.
The average cost of cancer care varies depending on the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, and the location of the treatment. However, cancer care can be very expensive in the country. For example, the cost of a course of chemotherapy can range from US$1,000 to US$5,000, and the cost of a mastectomy can range from US$2,000 to US$5,000.
The high cost of cancer care can be a barrier to treatment for many Ghanaians. A study by the Ghana Cancer Society found that only 20percent of Ghanaians with cancer receive any type of treatment.Furthermore, the absence of a national cancer registry makes it difficult to track the incidence and prevalence of cancer in Ghana and makes it difficult to plan and allocate resources for cancer care.
Also, the limited availability of cancer treatment facilities necessitates long-distance travel for patients, adding to the overall cost of care. Additionally, the high cost of cancer drugs and medical equipment poses a significant barrier to treatment. Compounding the issue is the absence of health insurance coverage for cancer care, resulting in many Ghanaians having to bear the financial burden of their treatment.
The lack of accurate statistics has made it difficult to quantify the magnitude of the problem and develop effective strategies for prevention and treatment. Furthermore, the country faces a double burden as communicable diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS persist alongside the rise of non-communicable diseases like cancer.
Superstition, limited income, and low early detection
Deep-rooted cultural beliefs often lead individuals to resort to alternative, unproven remedies or seek solace in faith-based interventions. These practices, coupled with limited financial resources, hamper early detection efforts and delay proper medical care. Consequently, many cases go undiagnosed until they reach advanced stages, severely limiting the chances of recovery and survivorship.
Shunning free screenings and anonymity
Despite efforts to provide free screenings, many individuals in Ghana are reluctant to participate due to scepticism and fear. The stigma surrounding cancer leads some patients to use pseudonyms, further hindering efforts to accurately track and address the problem. Overcoming this resistance is crucial in improving early detection rates and promoting a culture of proactive healthcare-seeking behaviour.
Enter the Trust Hospital
Pink October and the Birth of Trust Cancer Care:
During Pink October, an initiative aimed at raising awareness about breast cancer, Trust Hospital conducted regular screenings that shed light on the alarming prevalence of the disease. In 2022 alone, the hospital screened 6,000 women and men for breast cancer and the results of this enlightening exercise provided us with enough baseline and paved the way for the introduction of Trust Hospital’s Oncology Service – Trust Cancer Care.
Still in its nascent stages, Trust Cancer Care provides:
Comfort, privacy, and changing perceptions:
The Trust Cancer Care unit at the Trust Hospital provides patients with an environment that prioritizes comfort, privacy, and emotional support. This approach has been instrumental in empowering patients to navigate their cancer journey with strength and resilience. As a result, patients are more receptive to seeking treatment at tertiary facilities, which were once considered a “death sentence.”
The Trust Hospital has provided comprehensive care and unwavering support at every step of the patient’s journey through Case Managers and Clinic psychologists.
Through a collaborative approach with the patients and their caregivers, Trust Hospital develops personalized treatment plans tailored to meet each patient’s unique needs, striving for the best possible outcomes. Their innovative approaches specifically target cancer cells while minimizing harm to healthy tissues, reducing side effects, and ultimately improving patient outcomes and quality of life.
The qualified team and well-equipped Premium Centre
Trust Cancer Care boasts a highly qualified team of oncologists, surgeons, and specialized medical professionals dedicated to providing comprehensive care. The Premium Centre is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and cutting-edge technology, enabling accurate diagnoses, effective treatments, and improved patient outcomes.
Together with a highly skilled team of professionals – oncologists, surgeons, nurses, and support staff – who are passionate about delivering the highest standard of care to patients, there is a range of services and treatment options. These include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and surgical interventions, all supported by evidence-based research and advanced technology.
Driving down costs and partnerships
Recognizing the financial burden associated with cancer care, Trust Hospital is actively engaged in multiple partnerships to drive down costs and make treatment accessible to all. Collaborations with pharmaceutical companies, nonprofits, and government initiatives aim to demystify cancer treatment and improve affordability.
Currently, the centre has partnered with the world’s largest biotech company – Roche. The partnership has equipped the Chemotherapy unit at Trust Hospital’s Premium Center and has enabled the hospital to provide complete cancer treatment to its patients. Roche’s generous contribution underscores the shared belief in the importance of cancer treatment and it is anticipated that other partnerships will be concluded in the near future.
As an added layer, Trust Hospital has also introduced the Cancer Care Academy, an annual three-day learning conference designed to offer healthcare professionals the latest education on cancer care. This was informed by the necessity of educating all health workers, not just clinicians and oncologists, about cancer care management.
The academy aims to provide comprehensive knowledge to nurses, radiologists, pharmacists, lab technicians, and other healthcare professionals. The Cancer Care Academy will be held annually, ensuring continuous education and professional development in the field of cancer care.
This marks only the beginning of a remarkable journey towards attaining comprehensive cancer management in our country. Let us unite, hand in hand, and forge ahead with unwavering determination. Together, we possess the power to achieve this noble mission, touching the lives of countless individuals, one patient at a time.