Doctor’s diary: Cancer doesn’t kill people but ignorance does

Tuesday February 11 2020

Doctor’s diary: Cancer doesn’t kill people but ignorance does,medical field,cancer,


By Dr Chris Peterson

No one is promised to live forever, this ugly truth will always walk with us. As a Christian, the bible tells me that a person should live for at least 60 years or more.

However, in the medical field, I was taught that a person may reach as long as even 100 years of biological life, only if he/she maintains a healthy lifestyle.

As a doctor, my passion is to better people’s health and save lives. But contrary to popular belief, medicine is not a profession struggling against the finitude of death.

Though the public needs to be better informed about death, but so do doctors. The paradox of doctors dealing with death is something we need to address and talk about.

We also need to understand that the grieving process in the wake of a patient’s death can be similarly unfamiliar territory for doctors.

Let me tell you about an incident that occured two weeks ago when I and my team lost a young lady Zainab* to cancer.


Zainab first came to me 2 years ago when she experienced gradual swelling on her left shoulder.

After going through several medical procedures, including biopsy and all the scans, it was found that the swelling was linked to cancer.Bad news! But the good news was that the cancer was still at its initial stages. Zainab was recommended for surgery to be done in few days to come and some few rounds of chemotherapy. With the initial stage of her cancer by then, she stood a very high chance to be cured only after successful treatment.

It was unfortunate that on her surgery day, Zainab with her relatives disappeared from the hospital and the hospital management wasn’t able to find her whereabouts. Little did we know that she and her relatives had left to search for a native approach to her condition. That is, traditional treatment.

After almost two years, Zainab* showed up at the hospital again early last month and she looked terrified. The swelling on her shoulder had grown bigger compared to the first time she was presented at hospital.

Her relatives confessed that they ignorantly escaped to traditional treatments with the perception that only traditional treatment could cure her cancer.

But unfortunately, things didn’t go their way and Zainab’s condition continued to worsen day by day. That’s when they decided to come back to hospital after failed traditional treatments.

This time, it seemed too late to perfom Zainab’s surgery since the swelling had grown way too much that it could cause complications to other internal organs.

Zainab lost her life few days before we came with an alternative way to help her.

Zainab’s death is one of the deaths that saddened me a lot in my career. I have been wondering how many patients fall in death sentences needlessly due to delayed treatments of their already diagnosed cancer. During the commemoration of cancer day early last week, the minister of health, Ummy Mwalimu, revealed that, the number of cancer patients who lose their battle with cancer is quite significant in Tanzania. One of the reasons she said was due to the fact that most of them live in remote areas where they have poor access to medical services, little awareness about the disease, not to mention the distance from their homes to cancer facilities for instance Ocean Road Cancer Institute.

Majority of cancers if diagnosed and treated at their initial stages, can be controlled and treated. Get regular check-ups and successfully attend to particular cancer treatment if diagnosed with any. Death is real but let’s not fall in it ignorantly.

The author is the medical doctor based in Dar es salaam.