Mr Nkosinathi Mncwabe graduated with a Master’s in Medical Sciences in Public Health.
Supervised by Drs Themba Ginindza and Khumbulani Hlongwane, his ethnographic study explored cancer patients’ experiences of living with cancer in palliative care and support group settings in KwaZulu-Natal.
The study documented patients’ experiences of living with cancer, and explored their knowledge, use of local therapeutic rituals and discourses about the sickness as well as their cultural construction of illness.
The study population comprised adult cancer patients and their families at five study sites in Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
‘Patient-centred ethnography is important to improve understanding of cancer patients’ needs, both medical and non-medical, as they struggle to restore their wellbeing. Furthermore, this research demonstrated how the interpretation and understanding of illness can both alleviate as well as increase suffering,’ said Mncwabe.
Four themes emerged during fieldwork: reliance and trust towards health care providers; poor treatment from health care centres; local therapeutic rituals vs. Western medicine; and stigma. ‘Each is imbued with power and meanings within local worlds and thus extends our understanding and the meaning of illness,’ explained Mncwabe.
The study showed that cancer is a complex illness and that patients experience great suffering and stigma. ‘Apart from the structural conditions of community areas and the experience of illness, patients were also affected by their wider social and familial circumstances. Thus, patient suffering should be viewed within the context of a wider spectrum of adversity,’ he said.
Mncwabe added that new methods need to be explored to address the adversity faced by those living with cancer. ‘I suggest that emotional support is the most effective way to cope with the illness. The study will contribute to the ways that illnesses such as cancer can be best understood. It will also inform interventions to improve patients’ and health workers’ knowledge about the treatment of cancer.’
Mncwabe is currently the Project Officer in the Discipline of Public Health Medicine and is working on his PhD. ‘My goal is to expand on the gaps identified in my masters. My proposed research topic is Medical pluralism in the treatment of cancer in KwaZulu-Natal where the conversation will be between the oncology specialist and traditional medicine practitioners.
Words: Nombuso Dlamini