The ugly face of salivary cancer

IN PAIN: Cynthia Matoteng today

For the last four years of her life, Cynthia Matoteng has spent most of her days in terrible pain.

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The 38-year-old has been fighting salivary gland cancer since 2018.

Although she remains hopeful, it is a fight she is slowly losing. On some days, she barely has the energy to get out of bed, each step riddled in agony.

Now living back in her native Chanoga, a village some 30km out of Maun, Matoteng is literally crying for help.

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Narrating her tale of woe to The Voice this week, she reveals she was working as a hairdresser in Kasane when she felt the first innoxious signs of the disease.

“Initially it was just a small pimple that one gets after a mosquito bite,” she remembers, in a soft, barely audible lisp.

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A large tumour has destroyed much of her left cheek and jaw, making it a struggle to speak. It is difficult to make out some of her words.

“The pimple was not disappearing. That troubled me and I took it to the hospital,” continues the extremely frail woman, ruefully noting she was extremely attractive before the cancer test. Pictures from her youth are a testament to this.

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Occasionally breaking her speech with laboured cough, she spits on the scarf tied around her neck, which also helps keep flies from entering the open wound hanging under her jaw.

“The doctors could not give a diagnosis. But I was operated on in 2018 at Letsholathebe Primary Hospital in Maun because of a tumour that was growing in my throat.”

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Sadly, her nightmare was just getting started.

The ugly face of salivary cancer
WALKING WOUNDED: Matoteng in 2020

After being admitted to Nyangabgwe Hospital in Francistown she was then transferred to Princess Marina for a second operation.

“It was after the 2019 operation in Marina that a doctor made a diagnosis that the cancer was in my saliva tissues,” says Matoteng, grimacing in discomfort as she talks.

Due to her condition, she was forced to quit her job on medical grounds.

She has been in and outside the hospital ever since.

“The doctors advised that I be helped with a house which has water system, where I can bath and use a toilet without having to walk outside as is the current situation at home. As you can see, I use a pit-latrine and walking is a very difficult task for me,” she says, weakly raising a thin arm to point out the traditional loo.

With her health rapidly deteriorating and with no help in sight, Matoteng is pleading with anyone who can assist her build a home that will help her fight the diseases in a more comfortable, hygienic setting.

“The doctors have told me there isn’t much they can do for me anymore. But I have hope and believe that there is help out there and in a good house, I can heal,” she concludes bravely.

Her primary care giver, her younger sister, Agisanang Matoteng reveals Cynthia’s tumour often causes her head to swell and ache terribly.

“Sometimes worms come out of the wound and she will cry in pain. When we see them we give her the mirror and gloves so she can pull them out. We don’t know what else we can do to help ease her pain or use on the wound as we don’t even know where the worms are produced, but they seem to come from inside,” says Agisanang, shyly adding the smell is awful.

The family receive a monthly food basket from government and a nurse from the villages occasionally comes in to clean the wound. Most of the time, however, it is the ailing woman’s mother who attends to it.

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