BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
Milka Gwatiringa sighs before narrating her ordeal of carrying a 12,3kg tumour for 11 years of her life and the stigma that she had to endure in her highly superstitious community.
Reflecting on how her dress size changed dramatically and how she appeared pregnant, Gwatiringa can only marvel at her “miracle”.
Last month, Parirenyatwa surgeons set a world record by successfully removing a kidney tumour that weighed 12,3kg from Gwatiringa’s bulging stomach.
She said the tumour was not only uncomfortable, but often drew scorn from her peers.
“I lived my life as best as I could by continuing to work until the day I got admitted into hospital. I was healthy and could do most household chores, though I looked heavily pregnant.
It was heart-breaking that my children always wondered why I was pregnant, but never gave birth,” she recalled.
Gwatiringa had to fight off stigma in her community with some people claiming that she had been cast a spell known as runyoka or rukawo.
Runyoka or rukawo has since attained a modern nickname, “the human central locking system” and is secretly administered to unsuspecting partners, by their jealous or over-protective spouses.
Gwatiringa said she had resolved to accept the condition but her community made it difficult for her and often excluded her from social gatherings.
“I came to accept the new me and some colleagues did the same, but the stigma was traumatic because people could not understand what was wrong with me. Socially, people had their own theories and it was unbearable to me,” she said.
There were also constraints in raising money for scans that provided better body details than X-rays, the operation itself and feeding the family.
“There was a 50% chance of survival and it was impressed upon me that there were high chances of bleeding to death, since the surgery is considered risky and complicated. My family and children went through a stressful period,” she added.
Now she says all is in the past and she is adjusting to a new life, albeit with help of scans and medications which are financially draining.
“I’m on the road to recovery and I’m slowly adjusting to this new me, my wardrobe has completely changed to two sizes downwards, so it’s another big slap financially.
Parirenyatwa consultant urologist, Shingirai Meki explained how kidney tumours develop and how best they can be treated.
“Kidney tumours develop because of loss of regulation of kidney cells, the cells become independent from body signals, hence grow without control” he said.
“The good news is that most kidney cancers are found before they spread (metastasise) to distant organs and cancers diagnosed early are easier to treat successfully. However, these tumours can grow to be quite large before they are detected,” Meki said
Kidney tumours can only be removed by surgical operations and infections can be treated with antibiotics.
The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist; they lie in the lower abdomen on each side of the spine. Their main function is to clean blood, removing waste products through urine.