“I’d Rather Have AIDS Than Cancer”Meeting Muzne

Feet on the Ground

02 May 2010

Dar es Salaam: a teeming city set on the Indian Ocean coast in the corner of Tanzania. Choked with traffic. Congested with people. Movement and life everywhere.

Cancer is rapidly becoming a big problem in places like Dar. Minibuses and taxis belch out polluting fumes, diets are increasingly unhealthy, and the sedentary life of the city dweller are all factors leading to increased incidences of cancer in countries like Tanzania.

Making matters worse, this city of nearly 4 million people holds few options for cancer treatment.

Yet a beacon of hope can be found along Dar’s verdant shoreline. Ocean Road Cancer Institute is a small hospital, set up five years ago to offer much-needed cancer treatment to Tanzania ’s residents. At Ocean Road , hundreds of people daily are given access to radiotherapy machines, nuclear medicine, and chemotherapy drugs to fight the disease.

Walking into the center for the first time, I was struck by a hushed silence that hung heavy in the air. Young children sick with various cancers wandered about, intravenous lines protruding from their wrists. Adult patients waited for treatment, their faces drawn, exhausted from a long battle. Perhaps most noticeable, a few albinos, their faces devastated by the sun’s rays, stood out against the sea of black faces.

It had to be one of the saddest places I’ve been.

And yet, in spite of the bleakness of my surroundings, I couldn’t stop thinking of the thousands of Tanzanians out there living with cancer who don’t have the opportunity to receive care. I imagined the struggle they face with no diagnosis, no treatment options, no medicines to alleviate pain.

It’s strange to think that someone living with cancer could be lucky, but such was the case at Ocean Road.