My pimple turned into a deadly cancer
Curled up on bed number 14 at the Uganda Cancer Institute, Mulago, Brian Mpalampa looks helpless. His face, limbs and chest ooze pus. He narrates his ordeal to John Agaba
One morning in 2010, I noticed a swelling behind my left ear. I thought it was just a pimple that would go away on its own. However, it did not. The pimple continued to swell and spread to my face.
I began to feel headache. Some people said I had been bewitched. They advised me to seek help from a traditional healer. I heeded to their advice and the traditional healer gave me a concoction to drink. He then rubbed some herbs around the swelling and packed some for me to use at home.
Several months down the road, the swelling continued to grow. Some people suggested that I go to the cancer institute at Mulago Hospital for a check-up in case the swelling was cancerous.
Doctors carried out some tests and took scans of my bone marrow and then recommended a biopsy. They cut a piece of flesh from my neck. In June 2011, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma (lymph node) cancer.
When the doctor broke the news to me, I didn’t know what to think. I sat still, staring in space. I felt empty because I had heard stories that cancer had no cure.
I was started on chemotherapy (chemical treatment), which was to last until the sixth stage of treatment. However, after three months, chemotherapy was discontinued because it was too strong for me.
I went back to study at St. Cyprian Kyabbakadde in Gayaza, Kalagi. I developed swellings, so I dropped out of school and went back to Mulago. The doctors carried out other tests and sent the samples to Germany.
I was started on treatment, but it had to be stopped because I developed pain in my legs and the back. The doctors advised I would resume the medication as soon as the pain stops.
I am too weak. I can neither walk nor sit upright without support. I feel a lot of back and leg pain. Every day, my condition gets worse. I have no parents and I am the first born. I have four siblings including my brother, Robert Mboggo, who is always at my bedside.
What you need to know about cancer
By Vision Reporter
Cancer is a disease that results from abnormal growth of cells. The growth results into a swelling called a tumour. However, in some cancers like leukaemia (bone marrow and blood cancer), it results into greater numbers of abnormal blood cells.
According to Dr. Noleb Mugisha, an oncologist (cancer expert) at the Uganda Cancer Institute, cancer can develop in any part of the body. He says cervical and prostate cancer are the commonest in Uganda.
In 2012, up to 29,380 cancer cases were registered in Uganda. And according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the number of new cancer cases worldwide hit 14.1 million, while the number of new cancer deaths stood at 8.2 million in 2012.
Projections based on the GLOBOCAN 2012 predict an increase to 19.3 million new cancer cases globally per year by 2025.
More than half of all cancers (56.8%) and cancer deaths (64.9%) occur in less developed regions of the world, including Uganda.
What causes cancer?
The cause is “multi-factorial, just as is the case with other non-communicable diseases (hypertension, diabetes mellitus and heart diseases).”
However, some cancers are strongly associated with other factors. The commonest cancer in Uganda is highly associated with the human papilloma virus (HPV). If a woman is infected with HPV, she is at risk of contracting cancer of the cervix.
However, not all women who have the virus suffer from the cancer, Mugisha adds.
There is a vaccine against HPV, which prevents cancer of the cervix by about 60–70%. In Uganda, immunisation against the virus is done for girls between 9–13 years. They need three doses for adequate protection.
Cancer of the liver, on the other hand, is highly associated with Hepatitis B & Hepatitis C infections, while lung cancer is associated with tobacco smoking.
Cancer risk factors
Some cancers can be passed on from parents to their children. For instance, breast cancer, prostate cancer and cancer of the ovary.
Tobacco use is a risk factor to lung, throat, bladder, mouth, lip and cervical cancers. People living with HIV are at risk of contracting cancer, especially skin cancer because the virus lowers their immunity, which prevents the cells that become cancerous from multiplying.
Such patients are advised to adhere to treatment in order to maintain a strong immunity, not only to protect them from opportunistic infections, but also from cancer, says Mugisha.
Anyone can suffer from cancer and no one is immune. Some of the commonest cancers in children include leukaemia, Wilms tumour, lymphoma (both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin), bone and brain cancer.
Dr. James Kafeero, an oncologist at the Uganda Cancer Institute, says depending on the stage of infection and affected body part, treatment may involve; surgery, radiotherapy or chemo-radiation.
Treatment of cancer is complicated and in some cases, patients are treated for several years. Many cancers can be cured although some types like breast cancer take a minimum of five years to cure. The major drawback is that many patients seek medical help when the disease is in advanced stages.”
Challenges at the cancer institute
The cancer institute has only five oncologists. In addition, there is inadequate space.
“Most patients at the institute sleep on the floor. The Government has built a new ward in Mulago and constructed other cancer clinics in Mbarara and Arua districts to decongest the cancer institute,” he says.
“We advocate a healthy lifestyle. For instance, we encourage people to substitute oily foods, fatty foods and red meat with green vegetables.
It is also advisable that everyone does frequent medical check-ups. In case cancer is diagnosed early, chances of survival are higher.”