Some of you know that my husband and I have become involved, over the last year and a half, with St Albert's Mission Hospital in Zimbabwe. After many months of conversation, generally over email, but occasionally with Skype, we have been focusing on developing and supporting a program of cervical cancer screening. Cervical cancer, easily curable in its early stages, is a big problem in Africa, and health care in Zimbabwe is almost non-existent. We have worked most closely with a remarkable man named Darrell Ward who founded a non-profit called Better Health Care for Africa. He and my husband, with input from other specialists, have written a grant proposal and are hopeful that funding will soon be secured.
That is background, not the main story for today. Dr Elizabeth Tarira, a native of Zimbabwe who received her medical training in Italy, has been the primary doctor and leader at St. Albert's. Over the months we have known her, she has been very ill with breast cancer, spending some time in Italy for further treatment. Early this spring, she made the decision to stop that treatment and return to Zimbabwe to be with "her people." She died this week.
She wrote this letter for friends at the time of her return to Africa. Join me in remembering and honoring this remarkable woman.
"Unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but dies it yields a rich harvest". Jn 12 v 14
This is a plain truth that each one of us knows.
This is not a last will note but an update of my ill health. I write to you because you have been following the adventures of my health with prayers, words of encouragement and moral support for quite a long time. You also took active interest in our missionary work.
I can imagine that you have a lot of questions regarding my health, treatments and so on. Let me try to guess the questions and give the answers at the same time. You all know that I am in good hands of my spiritual family and exceptional care from colleagues and medical staff in the hospital; all trying to give me the best care they can.
Currently I have finished the 12 cycles of chemotherapy and 11 applications of radiotherapy. I still had to continue with the infusions of "antibodies" for an indefinite period or even for the rest of my life since some of the cancer antigens are still fairly high. I have declined not to continue with this medication not because it is costly, my spiritual family together with some friends were prepared to provide the treatment for some time, but the Divine providence has no limit, of this I am convinced. The side effects of the "good poisons" were many but being assured to be less in the future. [google: avastin] Once stopped this antibodies treatment, it cannot be restarted again. For me now it does not matter.
I refused the treatment because:
1. God willing, I would not like to die emaciated all alone with my drip worthy USA $10,700 hanging. This amount of money is the cost of one ampoule/dose in every three weeks! I want to die poor just like many other poor people in the world who die without even the minimum care because they cannot afford. They die surrounded by the affection and love of the other poor people. This I have witnessed so often in the mission, where a poor person though only wrapped in a torn blanket is accompanied with dignity and love by the other poor. I would not like to forget that I had the opportunity of being treated well for 10 years and yet some patients out there in the villages had the same diagnosis but are no more since many years already. I would also not like to continue benefitting from the generosity of Italy towards the indigent. The global crisis is affecting all the poor in all the countries worldwide. Even here the poor are struggling.
2. I sincerely believe that even you yourselves, would be sad to learn that this is how Elizabeth eventually died, all alone in a sterile room with tubes hanging from every opening. What a terrible and horrible death! I would like to go happy surrounded by the consolation of God and that of the poor people I will be serving at that moment. Just think! if one of you would just make a symbolic pledge of one ampoule/dose in favour of the children and mothers who die in need of simple medications to live. How many lives could be saved? In the developing world people still die of malaria, typhoid, diarrhoea, HIV/AIDS, measles etc all conditions that are preventable and curable. I do not intend to put moral pressure on anyone, far from it but only want that you understand my difficulty in continuing accessing these superfluous treatments for a chronic pathology. I am sure that you will not say- Ah stupid! She died because she refused to be treated. Who knows if I shall die of the chronic cancer or of something else when the assigned day comes?
3. Elizabeth is a woman of little faith so ask you to be like those people who carried a paralytic to be healed by Jesus Mk 2 v 2-9. But they could not get the man/woman to him through the crowd, they stripped the roof over the place Jesus was; ..Lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay. Seeing their faith Jesus said to the paralytic, "my child, your sins are forgiven... get up pick up your stretcher and walk". So I say to you my friends, bring me to Jesus and you will see miracles. Healing does not mean taking away the disease or pain, but also giving strength to carry the cross with serenity. When Jesus was on earth he did miracles but not all the sick were healed. I have friends who are believers and others non believers, each one will find a way of helping me. Even just a thought of wishing me well, thought of altruism is a form of prayer.
4. I promise you that I do not give up fighting. I shall continue taking some of the prescribed medications which can be managed in the third world.
After finishing some requested investigations, I shall return to the frontline and will continue doing my duties as long as my illness allows me to work. Having taken a firm decision I really feel free now.
We keep in touch through the mail.
With love and affection