An ode to Blandina Khondowe

Blandina preaches breast cancer

"Many women have done wonderful things, but you’ve outclassed them all!” (Proverbs 31 v 29 MSG)

A few months ago, the social media was awash with a rumour that Blandina Khondowe, the former Miss Malawi had died. Shocked and in disbelief, I called someone I knew would know if this was true as I knew that it would have been ruinous to start responding to the same without verifying the claims. Luckily, the person I spoke to dispelled the rumour. A couple of days later, I decided to call her to check how she was doing.

When we spoke, she explained that she understood why those around her in the hospital had thought that she had died because there were some minutes in which she was literally unresponsive.

Vera Kamtukule
The author Vera Kamtukule (R) with Blandina (L) and Lillian Kawaza

However, she lived! But you see, at this time Blandina was in so much pain from the heavy headache she was having and my heart went out to her. At the end of this conversation, I was left with a feeling as though I was the one ailing and she had called to cheer me up, that was Blandina for you.

I was in a most difficult position at this time, because conventionally, you expect to be the one giving the soothing words to someone who was unwell, but Blandina was anything but conventional...One time before, I had her as a speaker at an international conference I was having. Many felt it was unnecessary to have someone come and speak about cancer as it was unrelated, however, two minutes into her speech,  everyone understood why we needed her there, she was given a standing ovation 15 minutes later. 

Pink Blandina
Pink to the dearth: Blandina's casket

A few days later, I called again, just to check on her progress, she picked the call in high spirits without necessarily hiding the status of her health. Again, she told me, Vera, I will beat this thing in no time, I just need to get the headache down, that's all. She did not pretend to be naive of her situation, but she was a firm believer of God's promises upon her life, and with that, anything else would not cut it for her.

You see, Blandina had earlier declared that she would live to 80. And I want to believe this is true, because though she has physically left us at half of the age she had wanted, her legacy will live on for many years to come. She believed in something higher than herself. Not that she had too much faith, but that she had placed her faith in the faithful one; the one who never lies. And as manifestly absurd as this may sound, God's faithfulness is still being made evident even in her death.

Blandina with her friend Mary Chilima and the Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara. Photos from social media

Blandina, will continue to advocate for better local cancer care, she will continue to preach her early testing saves lives agenda and she will continuously whisper in our hearts of our need to do more for those who are unable to stand on their own two feet.

There was a time I felt a lump in my breast, she quickly organised a check up for me from trusted doctors she knew would help; she kept checking up on me a few days later just to ensure i was in the clear, her words were: "Vera, you do not have breast cancer, you dont want to, I am glad the doctor has cleared you". She had a heart so big this Blandina Khondowe, most of us went to her as a trusted  cancer information source than any medical practitioner, and it was not because she had cancer, but because she had made it obvious that she was willing to use her practical experience to help us.

Her last days
Final days: Blandina with her husband and daughter in October 2020

When she was first diagnosed with Breast cancer, Blandina was defiant, she faced the disease head on. She broke protocol by changing the trajectory of bureaucratic systems until she got what was due to her; better health care.

And when the scourge of the disease visited again, she had been on that familiar path and saw enough for her to walk through it again to the other side without inhibitions of the actual impact of the same on her own life and family. I remember meeting her to deliver detoxing green tea to her at her office,  she was sweating profusely throughout our conversations, she had just gone through yet another round of painful chemotherapy sessions, but what she said changed me completely.

I couldnt make the 2019 October Think Pink walk as I just had surgery the previous day, I called her up and gave my apology, Blandina being Blandina, said, "no Vera, it is well, go on and get better, atleast you did not forget this year's pink wigs, will send you pictures".

She had a certain demeanour this Blandina, one that would intimidate you especially when you were whining about trivia. This was a girl who looked death in the eye and told it to hold on as she had work to do; not to make profit for her and hers, but to save the lives of many, some of whom she never even met.

Blandina was beautiful, remarkably smart and at times playful but not necessarily without purpose, you could always count on her when the job needed to be done. She would joke about how wonderful makeup was as it was able to hide our blemishes, she  even made wearing a head gear look so classy......

As she departs from us, she lives behind an insatiable challenge to us all, a question which must always be before us, what are you really living for?

If your life has no meaning in the lives of others, it may be time for us to realign, as we do not have much time on this earth, with each passing day, our clock is ticking and our days are very much being subtracted, it will matter therefore, how we used our opportunities, whatever that is for us. As for Blandina, she accurately identified hers, and rose up and answered the call to duty, a call to serve humanity selflessly without expecting anything, that, is a sign of nobility for which she deserves a permanent place in our history books.

Fare thee well Blandina, you remain an icon, a real force of nature...till we meet again...