When the world observed Breast Cancer Awareness in October, Betty Mbaembae took the opportunity to reflect on her own three-year battle against the disease. From the early confusing signs, to the eventual devastating diagnosis and mastectomy, Mbaembae is now focused on spreading awareness. Mmegi Correspondent, NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE writes
Betty Mbaembae, a 42-year-old mother and wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 and was told that the disease had advanced to Stage Three.
Mbaembae said her problems started when she realised that had a stain on her bra while she was undressing. At first she thought the stain was just food supposing maybe that something had fallen on her top. To her surprise the following day she experienced the same thing. That was when she squeezed her breast and saw a discharge coming out.
“The cancer issue came into my mind and I took a step to go to the clinic.
“When I got there the doctor who was handling my consultation told me that the discharge coming out was breast milk.
“I asked him how that could be when I was not pregnant or breastfeeding, and he said it was also possible that I could have a brain tumour that produces lactorine.
“He ran some tests and told me that they would take a month.
“That was in November 2016 and to date I have never received them.”
Mbaembae went back to the clinic in February 2017 complaining of the same discharge from her breast. She had no lump, or pain but recognised that breast cancer is known as a silent killer.
“I was later referred to Princess Marina to do a mammogram, but when I got there the machine was not working,” she recalls.
“I didn’t have medical aid so I had no choice but to wait because I could not afford to pay private hospital bills.
“When waiting to get tested, I started having a painless lump, which grew rapidly.
“I went back to the clinic and was immediately referred to the breast clinic at Marina where I was diagnosed with breast cancer after they tested the discharge coming out of my breast.
“It was truly a difficult moment because I was alone.”
Mbaembae added that she did a biopsy and was told her breast cancer was at Stage Three
After chemo, she said she had a mastectomy where her whole breast was removed. She later underwent radiotherapy at Gaborone Private Hospital.
Even though chemo kills cancer, Mbaembae points out that it also destroys white blood cells, which are required for the body’s immune system. As a result, she had to eat a wholesome diet to boost her immune system.
As if losing her breast was not enough, the chemo made her nauseous and she would sometimes throw up.
She pointed out that all that time, she was still going to work but due to the support system she got from home and work, she managed to pull through. Her family was terrified because she was the first case of breast cancer in their circle.
“I lost my breast and at first I was uncomfortable, but it came to a point that I now appreciate life and thank God for giving me a second chance in life.
“Moreover, I thank God for Journey of Hope Botswana who were introduced to me by Onica Lekuntwane.
“They gave me a nice portable bra and prosthesis for free.
“Now you cannot tell that I don’t have one of my breasts.”
Mbaembae says while the country’s awareness of breast cancer is good, it needs to be taken to another level so that everyone can be educated on the matter. She feels that some doctors need to know the seriousness of the matter and not make patients wait long to get the right diagnosis.
“Breast cancer awareness month for me individually means saving a life.
It is very significant to do it so that we can spread the message of awareness. “Breast cancer patients need support emotionally, mentally, spiritually and financially.”
Besides Journey of Hope Botswana, Mbaembae is also part of the Fighters Support Group founded by Patricia Letlape.