Fire in her veins

“It’s like fire when it enters your veins,” Susan said quietly as her second dose of chemotherapy was administered by a nurse.

Susan is from Mul-Baiyer in Western Highlands Province.

She worked as a nurse in West New Britain Province for 15 years. During that time, she suffered constant physical abuse at the hands of her husband.

“It’s not something to be ashamed of; I’m going to tell my story so young women like you can take better care of themselves,” she said as she gently touched my arm.

“He used to beat me up, over and over, especially targeting my head. I’ve had this sore on my head for almost seven years now. I went to Port Moresby; they scraped it off but it soon started up again.

“I quit my job and stayed home for two years, then I went to the village.”

Susan, who is in her 50s, needed to do a biopsy to find out if the sore was cancerous, so she had her tissue sample sent to Port Moresby.

“I waited for months for my result and during that time, the sore kept growing. I had no choice. I looked for K500 and went to a private hospital in Mt Hagen, at Tininga. It didn’t take long. After a week, I got my result. They said I should go to Port Moresby but I said no, I want to go to Lae instead. Lae is where the PNG Cancer Relief Society is.

“I got on a K100 PMV and came down the Highlands Highway.”

Susan explained that she has temporal carcinoma, saying she is lucky the cancer cells have not spread to her skull.

“Only my skin. If it had gone to my skull, well, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”

Susan started her treatment in September this year. She pointed to the normal saline (sodium chloride injection) contained in a bag of intravenous (IV) fluid over her bed, and explained that normal saline is administered to flush/clean her system before her chemo treatment.

After the saline solution, an anti-nausea medication is injected into the IV, then the chemo drug follows. All these take hours, with the nurse saying “We are running on time”.  

“On my first week of treatment, I came in four times and received treatment. Those two bags on the IV stand make up one dosage. In total, eight of those bags were administered, then I rested for three weeks before coming in for treatment again. The other time, I had to wait for two more weeks because ANGAU had run out of normal saline.”

Chemotherapy drugs kill fast-growing cells and prevent them from multiplying, like cancer cells. But they kill other fast-growing cells as well, like cells in your bone marrow, skin, mouth or digestive tract. This explains the numerous side effects patients experience; from fatigue and diarrhoea to hair loss and even memory loss.

The Half Way House at the ANGAU Memorial Provincial Hospital was recently renovated so now, patients can get treatment in a cool and spacious room. However, there are four beds and four recliners in one room, and three beds in another room.

“Patients get turned away,” she said as we heard the nurse call out, “Full house today, sorry!”

“It’s a lonely journey,” she added. “I am living with my brother at Kamkumung block while my family is in Kimbe. I told them, ‘I’ll recover and come home, don’t worry’. But you know, going back and forth, three days a week – after my initial treatment – costs money and time. People have things to do so in this room, most of the people here came by themselves, or their children dropped them off for treatment and went back to work.

“Yesterday the sun was so hot. I could not get on a PMV at the bus stop so I walked all the way to Snack Bar. By the time I got home, half of my face was swollen.”

While we were quietly conversing, the nurse came back and advised everyone in the room that they might have to buy their own normal saline as the hospital is dangerously low on stock.

“Go to Morobe Pharmacy,” a young woman in a recliner – who was also hooked to an IV – said. “I checked the other pharmacies but they didn’t have any. Buy the K37 one. I once bought the K14 glucose bag but the nurse said it was the wrong one, so I had to go back.”

Susan sighed and smiled, handing me a prescription, dated September 22nd, 2023, for a topical cream that cost K489.90.

“I’ve been carrying this around because I don’t have the money to buy it and apply to my sore. I will need two normal saline a day for three days of treatment. That’s over K200. On top of that, I am living with my brother in the city. It’s expensive. But I am always optimistic because I trust in God.”

As I stood up to leave, Susan warmly squeezed my hand and said: “I don’t normally get visitors so thank you for coming. See you soon.”


Loop Author