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It's tough road for cancer patients in PNG's health system

Hore AvaraPAEOPE OVASURU

ALL forms of cancer can have a lasting effect on families and relatives of the victims.

In Papua New Guinea, cancer cases are increasing and many families struggle to take care of their loved ones.

With no treatment available at the Angau General Hospital cancer unit, many lives have been lost.

The treatment and care of cancer patients is also very costly, and many families who go through this experience are left broken financially and emotionally.

One such is the family of the late Hore Avara (pictured), a cervical cancer patient who passed away on 15 March., Through their sorrow and pain, her family has decided to speak about their experiences, to share with others who have had similar experiences and help those in the same situation.

Hore’s daughter, Boio Eava Roana, took care of her mum when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. This is her story:

In my primary and high school days, I never heard of the term cervical cancer. I didn’t know the effects, the results and what happens. I learnt so much about it through my own experience of taking care of my beloved mum.

My late mother would have celebrated her 51st birthday on 6 May. It is very sad having loved ones passing on for a reason that is not accepted at all: that is no proper facilities to treat our mothers, sisters and daughters.

When my mother was referred overseas for radiotherapy treatment, we were fortunate to have my first cousin brother and his family living in Brisbane. They accommodated her for three months. The financial burden of having a loved one treated overseas is very costly for any family. My mum’s big sister and her son and his wife and children had to make huge personal sacrifices to take care of my mum.

Because of the radiotherapy treatment overseas, my mother was able to stay longer with us. On her return from overseas on 23 March 2016, she was given a referral letter. What good is the referral letter when our facilities are not up to the world standard? 

At that time, I moved from Lae to Port Moresby to look after my mother permanently. While caring for her, I educated myself about caring for cancer patients and I began to understand what cervical cancer was. The fear of losing my mother was really strong and the experience was challenging.

From October to December last year, our hospital visits for morphine Injections were regular and the times of trying to get her morphine injection to ease her pain were really tough and upsetting because we had to wait for the doctors and nurses for hours just to get one morphine injection. It was so difficult witnessing her every day crying in pain, the pain is endless.

Caring for my mother, who was young, and seeing her condition deteriorating was very painful. I cried in my heart while I attended my daily chores of looking after her. When she was bedridden, I had to stay full time with her; she was my world and my queen. I would bath her at her request, change her diapers, clothes, beddings, wash her clothes, brush her teeth, help her rinse her mouth, wash her face every morning and feed her.

I did all of that knowing she would leave me anytime. She was a real fighter and my hero.  It’s not that easy caring for a cancer patient. Sometimes I felt like giving up but my mother never gave up the struggle, discomfort and endless pain until the day she was called by our Heavenly Father.

Hore’s niece, Maria Levo, a teacher, took care of Hore during the Christmas holidays. From her experience, she said:

My aunty would go to Port Moresby General Hospital emergency at least twice a day to get morphine so she would be relieved of the severe pain she had. Sometimes she was attended to as soon as she arrived but most times she had to wait in the long queue crying in pain till late at night - eleven o'clock or even midnight - just to get morphine to make her feel comfortable for six hours.

This continued for eight months and the dose increased from two to three injections a day. She became addicted to the drug and would prefer morphine to the herbal medicines and vitamin supplements. Morphine is a drug given to a patient only with permission from a doctor. It does not heal the patient from disease but relieves severe pain for a few hours.

This was what my beloved aunty was going through; her body became over drugged with the three doses a day, not getting any better but deteriorating each day. Seeing this, I encouraged her to take herbs and vitamins to dilute the drug in her body. So she did. She was very even though she encountered complications like constipation, mumps and swollen legs which I believe were side effects of the morphine.

Despite these complications, she fought her way so courageously to overcome this deadly disease which kills many women in Papua New Guinea every year. We hear and read in the media about vaccines now available to protect young girls but how about the poor women with existing cases. How can we help them survive with inadequate facilities?

The government should seriously look into this matter and make it a priority. It never occurred to us that one day we would be in the same shoes of the relatives of women who lost their lives.

After losing their sister, mother and aunt to cervical cancer, the Avara Sevesoa family are now challenged to help other women suffering from cancer. Her sister Hari, who is heading the family on this project, talked about their motivation:

It is very sad describing the experience of having my beloved youngest sister suffering silently from cervical cancer for almost one year and five months. The experience was heart breaking, agonising and tormenting. I hear stories and read stories about cervical cancer not knowing that one day one of my sisters would become a victim. I say victim because our country does not have the proper facilities to cater for cancer patients.  People are dying of cancer due to poor or inadequate facilities in the main hospitals.

In August 2015, my sister was diagnosed with cervical cancer stage 3B. Dr Mola referred her to the specialist oncologist Dr Niblet at the cancer unit of the Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae.  She travelled to Lae only to be told by Dr Niblet that the stimulator machine was out of order and the only option was for her to go overseas for radiotherapy treatment.

I didn’t believe what I heard as Angau’s cancer unit is the only hospital treating cancer patients in PNG and my first instinct was; do we have a government and a minister responsible for the health department and are they aware of this.

I decided to go to the media hoping that the health department will read and take necessary action.  Despite my story and those of other cancer patients in the media, nothing was done to address this pressing issue. Every story had the same issue; there was no facilities to treat cancer patients. On 15 March, I lost my youngest sister, Hore, to cancer.

I am moved by the stories I read and hear every day in the media. What can I do to save another woman’s life? It’s a pity there is little or no help from the authorities to address the issue of shortage of staff and facilities at Angau’s cancer unit.

I believe people’s voice is very powerful and we can deliver, if we have the right leadership. I know there are ordinary Papua New Guineans out there living in PNG or overseas who also have the genuine heart to help support financially for a good cause but the question is will they see the end result.  We are skeptical in donating funds for a good cause to organisations because we hardly notice the improvement of the existing facilities.

An important benchmark to measure our country's development and progress is to look at the welfare and wellbeing of its citizen. Cervical cancer is a high risk for our mothers, our aunties, our wives, our in-laws, our sisters, our daughters and our grandmothers.

I know and believe that there are some families out there who are silently facing the same situation as our story. Talking without action is already a syndrome for many people in authority and power, when are we going to take action and solve the problem of these cancer victims who encounter so many other complications with the endless agonising pain.

On behalf of our Avara Sevesoa family members, we would like to network with families who have suffered similar situations. We believe together we can make a huge difference in saving another girl or another woman’s life because of our real and true experiences caring for our loved ones who have passed on. Our family contact email address is h.avara.png@gmail.com

Comments

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Lindsay F Bond

Is there any reader who can respond to the critical information that at Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae, the "stimulator machine was out of order", an item essential to medical processes in 2017?

Surely the asking is not too embarrassing for Gavman PNG which may have had the maintenance item in mind when asking Gavman Australia for a change to direct budgetary support.

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