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Friday, 27 October 2017



Another year is drawing to a close. October is quickly following that trend. Ribbons have been bought and worn, seminars and conversations done, advertisements on TV, radio, social media and even on my grandma’s 2G phone via the convenience or none thereof of telemarketing, and yet here we are again about to go on and on about breast cancer. Wait! Before you yawn or the guys start saying it’s a women’s problem, did you know that 4% of all breast cancer cases are men? (See what I did there? Just threw in a juicy fact for the nerds out there!) But seriously, before we purpose our intent to relegating this conversation to the era of the deliberately extinct yellow pages and go on to talk about the Hudderfield-Manchester United game which is obviously more interesting, let us have a much deeper appreciation of the facts.

Before we continue, it is important to note that the information contained within this article is not exhaustive and should not be used exclusively without the advice of a medical practitioner. Should the reader have any further inquiry, it would be wiser and more diligent to consult with a doctor or health professional.

Now back to the business at hand. The symptoms of breast cancer may include a lump in the breast, a change in shape or size of the breast, and a discharge from the breast. Breast self exams and mammography can help find breast cancer early. (Still on that note, I’ve heard that most cases of early breast cancer detections from self exams were actually discovered by the partner thus showing the importance of the husband in this regard. This obviously is a myth that some may not like debunked so we best leave it at that). Those mainly at risk are the obese, those using hormone replacement therapy (also called menopausal hormone therapy), taking birth control pills, drinking alcohol, not having children or having their first child after 35 years and those with dense breasts.

Patients with breast cancer have many treatment options. Most treatments are adjusted specifically to the type of cancer and the staging group. Treatment options are being adjusted frequently and your health care provider will have the information on the current standard of care available. Treatment options should be discussed with a health care professional. These treatments may range from the basic treatment modalities I will touch up on to more umm… not-so-basic procedures.

Most women with breast cancer will require surgery. Broadly, the surgical therapies for breast cancer can be divided into breast-conserving surgery and mastectomy. Breast-conserving surgery is a procedure that will only remove part of the breast (sometimes referred to as partial mastectomy). The extent of the surgery is determined by the size and location of the tumor. With this being said, the importance of early detection cannot be over-emphasized. In a lumpectomy, only the breast lump and some surrounding tissue is removed. The surrounding tissue (surgical margins) is inspected for cancer cells. If no cancer cells are found, this is called "negative" or "clear margins." Frequently, radiation therapy is given after lumpectomies.

During a mastectomy (sometimes also referred to as a simple mastectomy), all the breast tissue is removed. If immediate reconstruction is considered, a skin-sparing mastectomy is sometimes performed. In this surgery, all the breast tissue is removed as well, but the overlying skin is preserved.

For some patients; a small group of patients who have a very high risk of breast cancer, surgery to remove the breasts may be an option. Although this reduces the risk significantly, a small chance of developing cancer remains. Double mastectomy is a surgical option to prevent breast cancer. This prophylactic (preventive) surgery can decrease the risk of breast cancer by about 90% for women at moderate to high risk for breast cancer.

All treatment options should be carefully discussed with a health care professional prior. It is important to ask your physicians questions regarding to your health and not feel like you’re being “bothersome or cumbersome” as some are in the habit of doing. If you have received a positive or possible diagnosis of breast cancer, there are a number of questions that you can ask your doctor. The answers you receive to these questions should give you a better understanding of your specific diagnosis and the corresponding treatment. It is usually helpful to write your questions down before you meet with the health-care professional. This gives you the opportunity to ask all your questions in an organized manner.

For the tech and internet savvy, there is much information available online about breast cancer. The reader should make sure to look at reliable and nationally known resources and verify all information with their doctor. The importance of an accurate diagnosis cannot be overstated. It is the precise diagnosis that determines the recommended treatment.

And now to round-off. In case you are one of those in perpetual denial and think this can never affect you; if that is the case rather, do something for those whom it may. How you ask? Join the Pink Friday Challenge, a brain-child of the Rotaract Club of Matopos. Take video clips in pink gear, spreading awareness on breast cancer and challenge and/or tag other Rotaract Clubs and friends and post them on Facebook. The Pink Friday photoshoot will be done on the last Friday of the month. Best portrait wins $5 worth of airtime.
Also join the PinkTalk on social media, wear a pink ribbon and be knowledgeable, strike up a conversation with a colleague or neighbor on breast cancer signs and symptoms, detection, diagnosis and treatment. You could save a life.
Let’s have a conversation on breast cancer at the Pink Pitch night at Rainbow Hotel on the 26th of October. (Free snacks all around, or at least I hope so)
Till then.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Celebrating the success of a Matopos Rotaractor

One of the Rotaract club of Matopos’ very own, Sanelisiwe Emma Mlilo is a lawyer by profession and also a poet. She recently published a poetry anthology entitled “Toffee Apples and Debris”. The book is available at Vignes bookshop and the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo.
Below is a review of the book done by John Eppel poet and author originally from Lydenburg South Africa but is now based in Bulawayo Zimbabwe. He has published 13 books (so far), one of which has been translated into French (The giraffe man), created a creative writing course for the University of South Africa and published three 'O'Level and one 'A' Level literature study guide. He was awarded the Ingrid Jonker Prize for his first poetry book, "Spoils of War" and the MNet Prize in 1993 for his Novel, 'D G G Berry's the Great North Road'. His second novel, 'Hatchings' was nominated for the MNet prize in 1993/4.His works are studied in universities across South Africa.

Toffee Apples and Debris Review

In his introduction to ‘Black Women Writers’ (Pluto Press, 1985) edited by Mari Evans, Stephen E. Henderson writes that black women are the ‘victims not only of racial injustice but of sexual arrogance tantamount to dual colonialism - one from without, the other from within, the Black community’.  While Henderson’s context is African American, what he says, I feel, applies to the continental African woman, and is certainly apparent in the poems of Saneliswe Emma Mlilo.

Her poems look like stylized beetles, scarabs, which were regarded as sacred in ancient Egypt.  According to the Penguin dictionary of symbols the hieroglyph of the scarab with legs outstretched means ‘to come into existence by assuming a given form’.  That’s how these poems are made.

The first poem, ‘Affirmation’, with its insistent refrain, ‘I believe’, establishes the general mood of the anthology, one of defiance against the double bind of black women.  This mood, however, suffers a reaction in an underlying sense of anxiety, and it is this seeming contradiction, this uncertainty in certainty which gives the collection its strength.  Take, for example, ‘Black Barbie’: The note of defiance is in the word, ‘black’; the contradictory note of anxiety is in the word, ‘Barbie’, a symbol, surely, of western (white) consumer culture. Take ‘I’m Not My Hair’: the note of defiance is in its admonition to the ‘you’, the ex-boyfriend not to judge the ‘I’ by appearances: ‘What defines me is not on top of my head but inside it’; but when, in the final stanza, the repetition of the poem’s title becomes almost hysterical, I am reminded of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words to Jon Snow: ‘Black woman’s hair is political’; or her words to the interviewer of ‘The Cut’ when she was asked what  Ifemelu (in her novel, ‘Americanah’) means when he says ‘Hair is the perfect metaphor for race in America’.  Part of Adichie’s reply is ‘Hair is something we see, but we don’t understand what’s behind it, kind of like race’. Take one of Mlilo’s strongest poems, ‘To My Unborn Child’: here the dialectic of defiance and uncertainty is held in heart-rending suspension.  At one extreme we have ‘you were never a thought that crossed my mind’; at the other:

                                    And one day when I am old and grey,

                        You will sing me to sleep the way I did all those years ago

                                          When you resided inside me

                                    And this, this for me would be bliss.

Take ‘I Hate St Valentine’s Day’ where the poet asserts her disdain for cut flowers in love and death rituals.  She sees cut flowers, wreaths, as dead things:

                        When I die, do not bring me flowers,

                        Do not let me be buried with death.

However, the subtext of this poem is that cut flowers are not dead but dying.  In this sense they are a reminder that life is precious because it doesn’t last.  The message of the Valentine rose is just that; the message of the funeral wreath is just that: ‘Nothing gold can stay’ [Robert Frost].  It is the hovering subtext (oxymoron?) which introduces uncertainty to the poem, thus enriching it.

Once you have read through this stimulating collection, you realise that, for a young, professional black woman with dreams of worldly success, there is a third bond: the generation gap.  This is particularly evident in ‘Give’, where ‘they’ represent the traditional advisors, many of them womenfolk:

                        They do tell you that motherhood is a must,

            That marriage is a must, and that your husband is the head,

            They teach you how to cook and clean and how to belong in a household,

                       They teach everything you need to know to find a husband,

                                But very little on how to live a fulfilling life.

Wait, there’s even a fourth bond: the poet is left-handed:

                                    It’s the wrong hand,

                                    use the right hand.

                                    Which is the right hand?


Notice the witty pun.  

Most of these poems are written in a confessional mode, which is a recognized poetic form made popular by North American poets like Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath.  A number of them, the least interesting, in my opinion, are very personal I/you accounts of failed relationships.  A tendency to self-pity, however, is mitigated by some robust, even shocking imagery:

                                    But you’re an entrance,

                           One he has entered many times,

                          Now he parks for you’re a garage

                                    And as with all garages

            He must drive off in time to find another place to park.

The paradoxical imagination of this gifted poet surfaces in ‘The Uncomfortable Comfort of the Comfort Zone’ where the listener is introduced to ‘This quiet unrest that is your soul’s passion’.  That is how I responded to these poems: with a ‘quiet unrest’.  I look forward to Mlilo’s next collection, and, in the inspiring words of Gwendolyn Brooks, ‘Live: and have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind’.

The anthology is beautifully presented.  The cover and illustrations by Duduzile Diana Mlilo are exquisite.  Congratulations to Tracy Publishing on this your maiden (no pun intended) venture.  You couldn’t have made a better start.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Story Time

In the Rotaract Club of Matopos we have members with different talents, one of those talents is story writing,here are two short stories from our very own Peter Zowa, 

A belly full of dreams

The air has a tinge of silver. The constant dripping can be heard on the zinc roofing as a full moon peers from the window. Another missions trip. Another day filled with heart wrenching stories. My shoulders are sagged and I slump onto the modestly comfortable bed. My wife is tired but the smile on her face is warming. She draws near, smiling, reminding me of the little girl full of hope from early in the morning. This is her story she says:
On these plains of an African village, comfort is a myth and opulence for the gods. Poverty is what the people have become used to. No hope and only a future that leads them back to the infertile lands that are barely capable of sustaining crops as it is. But comes this one little girl after the visiting volunteers have given out a few sacks of meal that would be the difference between an empty belly and a night full of dreams. The little girl is obviously malnourished but the smile she wears looks alien; like it does not belong to such a pathetic looking being. But she smiles on and rushes to the front were tugs at the skirt of my wife.
"Hey. Hey." she says, "when I grow up I'm gonna be a pilot." This is rare. Such dreams in this deprived village.
"That's nice," my wife says. She really doesn't know how to respond. "You know why?" the little girl asks. "Because I'm gonna grow big and strong. My grandma says if I eat all the food on my plate and don't waste any I'll grow big. Now I'm gonna have food tonight and I'm not gonna waste any because you gave grandma food to cook for me."
The thought process is staggering. My wife stumbles under its weight and only manages to smile. How dreams are connected to the belly. The simplest form of kindest, just giving away food for a little while, being able to inspire such a dream...
As my wife tells this story I feel my own thoughts wander to a distant land. To my own dreams. I'm still tired but my heart is revitalized. I'll do it again tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. After all, that is the magic of humanity: to have one dream give birth to another.


She sits huddled up, in the dark corner of a room only illuminated by a dying candle. Her eyes; big, black and dull, are staring at a makeshift bed that has been the scene to most of her horrors. Her face is pale and her scantily dressed small frame shivers as she hears footsteps approaching. In her little mind she reminiscences times past—happier times. These are her source of comfort as well as the hard pillow that she now clutches. That is her comfort, but like the candle in her room, it is dying fast. At a distance she can hear shrieks of terror and groans of pleasure, paradoxically from the same habitation. She shudders, closing her eyes and wishing it away. The pain is all too real for her. As the tears stream from her face she can feel the rhythm of her heart changing; from a soft lub-dub to the ferocity of an Olympic athlete. These past two nights the boogeyman did not come. Could it be that because every time she had heard the footsteps she closed her eyes real tight, concentrated hard and wished him away?
Whatever the reason, it had spelt a temporal reprieve for her. The dying lights cast long shadows on the dirty wall. Its colour is indescribable, the stench within the confines of its wall unbearable. Nonetheless, this is what has become to her a 'home', one that she gratefully shares with a few rats. She spends most hours of her day within these walls, mostly on her back. The pain in her limbs and organs is excruciating but numb compared to the damage done to her little heart. She can feel the hollowness and darkness creeping within but she continues to fight it. She still needs to believe, even in the craziest of fantasies like freedom. A horrifying scream permeates through her deliberations and sends her heart racing. Her chest tightens and she struggles for breath. She closes her eyes again and makes another wish. This seems to have a calming effect on her. It has been long since she saw the sun and bathed in its radiant beauty. The days of the calendar have ceased to have any significant meaning and the nights have been especially longer. Yet in the midst of her darkness she still holds on to her ray of hope- that one day, if she believes and does not give up, she will be free.
A new set of footsteps approach. They seem to be getting louder but the voices more muffled. Again her heart rages into a violent storm. Quickly she begins her ritual. This is followed by the sound of keys rustling in the key-hole. A long shadow enters and approaches. The boogeyman has finally come. With her eyes closed she weeps, if ever she is going to be free it will not be tonight.