June is the month we celebrate cancer survivors. Often we don’t hear about the good that lies within bad events even those such as cancer.
Today I wish to celebrate and share with you a person who has looked cancer in the eye and defeated it twice.
I first met Udie Favour Soko in her office early in 2017. One of my acquaintances had advised me to get in touch with her as she was about told hold an event that raises funds and awareness on cancer. From the onset she struck me as a very careful individual digesting each of my words until she understood what was being discussed. A persistent question – how does it benefit cancer patients? Occasionally throwing in a joke about her ‘chemo brain’ when we had to discuss things twice.
Her story has been featured in local media (print, radio and tv). What makes Udie so special? Well Udie is a person who took something devastating and personal and made it a good thing for the next ordinary Zambian person. She formed the Zambian Cancer Society, which has been in existence for over 10 years now. She is very motivated, versatile and thinks ‘out of the box’, embracing anything that will help the next person.
The irony of Udie’s story is that she got her second cancer, breast cancer, when she was already founder of this society. Some words that have stuck with me that she shared in one of our frequent conversations is that when she heard she had cancer again, she felt like she had let down all those people she encouraged. It always makes me wonder why. However, it didn’t keep her down. She underwent the full bouquet of treatment to see another day as a cancer warrior. The primary purpose of this feature is to highlight exactly what Udie and Zambian Cancer Society are doing for cancer patients in Zambia. How this angel touches lives from a misfortune of her own?
One of the most prominent activities that Zambian Cancer Society is doing is called Zambia Active. Zambia active promotes healthy lifestyle (which is a well established cancer prevention measure) while raising funds to support laboratory tests for vulnerable patients. So far K 27 000 has been raised of which 13 200 has been used. The age range of the patients helped? 2 months to 67 years! Check out her Facebook page and LinkedIn profile to get more information and help save lives.
The Zambian Cancer Society also runs a Hope desk, which is an information centre for cancer patients and their caregivers. It is based at Cancer Diseases Hospital.
Recently through funds raised by Zambians in the UK to promote professional education, she sponsored a radiographer based at Cancer Diseases Hospital to attend a Conference where he could network and gain mentorship to develop skills in advanced techniques. The total award of this scholarship was K10 000.
Another recent activity was donation of uniforms to the Zatu Foundation. If you see the look on these happy children’s faces its amazing.
The Zambian Cancer Society with support from Rotary Club of Lusaka also donated equipment to help establish a screening service at the Cancer Diseases Hospital.
Udie also gives talks to cooperate entities to raise money for various society activities. The tenacity displayed by Udie to raise funds for causes related to cancer is amazing. I often joke with her that she has a PhD in cancer survivorship. Whenever I attend talks with her the power of a survivor sharing their story hits me fresh. Udie had her first cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, at the age of 23. At the time in Zambia there was no dedicated cancer hospital and generally no adult cancer specialists. She tells stories of how disheartened her mother was not knowing what was going on with her precious daughter. Fortunately for her she was able to access treatment abroad. This was not a wasted chance considering the amount of work she is now doing for cancer patients today in Zambia. The treatment she got involved radiating her chest, which invariably put her at a risk of a second cancer in that field. However, everybody reads the risk of this and that but nobody ever thinks they will fall in that percentage being described. Unfortunately for Udie the risk became reality when she was diagnosed with breast cancer short of her 50thbirthday. She describes that period as a devastating one. I mean in Udie style she had lined up a whole list of things to celebrate her jubilee but instead she was faced with walking the journey she has come to fulfil as a supporter rather than the main actor.
Udie cannot stand being told she is brave and strong but unfortunately those are adjectives that belong to her so behind the cover of print I shall say it. In my mind I often think, the first time she had cancer she was a novice, no idea no vast interaction. However, this second tome she knew exactly what it meant. Being the founder of Zambian Cancer Society, she had seen all sorts of stories both good and bad. Which one was hers?
In fact when we talk about stories, Udie has had a fantastic book published called Nthano Zathu aimed at breaking the silence and eliminating stigma associated with cancer. The stories in the book are told by cancer survivors, care givers and even medical personal and how they relate to this disease.
Zambian Cancer Society also recently launched audio guides for breast cancer patients and their caregivers. This is a major milestone as it is in available in some local languages as well.
In March this year Zambia hosted the Women Empowerment Cancer Advocacy Network Summit. Women from all over Africa attended this very important meeting and shared ideas how to be effective players in cancer control.
With Udie the amount of work she is doing for cancer patients is boundless and cannot be contained in an article so for more information please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.