The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
A fresh mound of earth covered with thorns moulded at the back of the home is a painful and recent reminder of the torture that the late Freeman Khanye (8) went through before he finally gave up the fight against cancer on Sunday night last week.
The cancer had destroyed his face and stolen his vision. Next to him is another small concrete grave of his late sister Nolwazi, who died at the same age and from a similar cancer that took Freeman’s life.
The mother, Ms Juliana Mahuni can barely look at the graves without fighting tears that voluntarily build in her eyes.
She said she had seen enough of cancer and is now scared of having more children.
“Hayi angisafisi ukuba labanye abantwana (I do not want to have any more children). Freeman is my second child that I have lost to cancer, so I do not want a repeat of what happened. I give birth to them when they are fine, they change once they are born. Nolwazi got attacked when she was just two weeks old and she turned black on the face. Freeman started to change at 11 months, he had been born fit and handsome” she said.
Last week, the Sunday News highlighted the plight of Freeman Khanye from Ntunjambili in Matobo District, who needed medical assistance to treat Xeroderma Pigmentosa, a type of cancer, unfortunately he succumbed to the disease that Sunday evening.
Ms Mahuni says there is probably a dark spiritual force behind her children’s deaths.
“We went to see prophets when Freeman was alive to get an explanation on what could be the challenge. They said it was the work of witchcraft. And I think it could be true, because look, what causes my children to turn black after they are born? It is like something licked them. I will continue to seek help from prophets because even if I do not want to have any more children anymore, I have children who will also give birth. I am scared they too can be affected so I need to seek help still,” she said.
She narrated how Freeman deteriorated following the visit by a Sunday News crew.
“When you left on Tuesday he deteriorated and could no longer come and sit in the kitchen where he usually would eat his meals. If I made porridge for him, he would ask that I bring him here and he would eat it. He also wanted me to bathe him in here too. But that suddenly stopped.
“He also stopped eating all the foods he liked like potatoes and spaghetti but he then stopped eating that and wanted sausages that he failed to eat. He requested sour milk and also did not eat it. He requested some juice that he hardly drank,” she said.
On Friday last week, she said he was groaning in pain and could not eat the porridge anymore.
“He then said to me he was going ‘home’. Mina ngiyahamba ekhaya, he said to me on Friday. And I asked him which home since we were at our home already. He was adamant that he wanted to go ‘home’ and said he wanted to go with his father. We just let him be. He was now biting his teeth so hard and would not open his mouth, he was no longer audible too.
“On Sunday morning I was cleaning the yard when his grandmother came to visit him and she advised me to cancel all my plans for the day and spend it with him. I wanted to go and water my gardens. She had seen that something was amiss,” she said fighting back tears.
In the afternoon Freeman whispered to his mother that he wanted chicken meat.
“People advised that I must kill a chicken for him, maybe he was going to eat. My chickens were nesting, the other one was laying eggs and I killed it. Freeman failed to eat that meat and I gave him only the soup, I got worried that he was no longer eating.
“On Sunday at 8.10 pm he asked for water to drink and I took some to give him. He never even swallowed and he began to shake uncontrollably, and he died in my arms,” she said.
Ms Mahuni said she never managed to take him to any clinic following his last session of chemotherapy at Harare Hospital earlier in the year.
In a Transformational Health Talk Session Dr Patience Kuona a Paediatric Oncologist at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals said childhood cancers were common and could start at any place in the body.
“Childhood cancer can start at any place in the body and spread. Any child can get cancer and you cannot quite predict it in children unlike in adults. A majority of the time we do not know the cause in children. Only 10 percent have genetic risk factors but 90 percent we do not know the cause.
Can we prevent it? Well childhood cancer is difficult as we do not know how it starts but we can manage the cancer. In Zimbabwe we have common cancers in children which affect both boys and girls the same, such as blood cancer leukemia, which starts in the bone marrow and spreads throughout the body. There is also Retinoblastoma which starts in the eyes and a child can be born with it, brain cancers are also common in children in Zimbabwe,” she said.
Dr Kuona said according to the National Cancer Registry, in 2018 close to 7 000 people were found with cancer in Zimbabwe and 290 were children.
“This was 3.8 percent (children with cancer) and we have a good Cancer Registry but we are not able to do adequate counting as there are sometimes different diagnoses and community deaths that are not reported to be cancer hence the possible disparities in numbers. Cancer in children must be treated early as possible screening is important too, children do not usually talk about what they are feeling but the parent must always check on any new things that will be growing on the body of the child,” she said.
The oncologist noted that childhood cancer is hard to treat so the best is to screen early and get treatment fast enough saying early warning signs must be noted as 85 percent of cases can be detected early and managed.