A Personal Account of how Cancer Drains

It all started out back in 2007 when my brother was in high school, on their closing day he was found lying unconscious on the ground and rushed to the hospital, nothing concrete was diagnosed and he was discharged from the hospital. We all forgot about the incident till a few years later when he was in University when it all came back to hunt us. I remember vividly like it was yesterday, it was the Christmas of 2010, my brother and I had been busy the whole morning preparing different meals for the day, we used to joke and tease each other a lot and after a sumptuous lunch, we all sat down as we caught up in what was happening in our lives.

He was a great story teller I must say, he narrated how he used to get sick while in school, the fainting, the painful headaches and the hospital visits, he narrated in such a manner, we all laughed, him included. After catching up, it rained and he went to lie down in his room. We were inseparable, after a few minutes I followed him and began teasing him, mostly about the girls he was chasing, that as the first time I witnessed it all. “It is happening again, this lightheadedness is not a good sign” he said, before I could even utter a word, he was clinching his head and screaming. At first, I froze, I had never seen someone go through such pain, I rushed out of the room and called on my dad who came rushing. We didn’t know what to do, it was raining outside, it was Christmas day most good Doctors were off duty and cell phones switched off. I sat next to me and held his hand, that’s all I could do, my eyes just closed and I whispered a prayer, “Dear Lord, ease his pain, Amen” five minutes later the pain was gone and he opened his eyes and he asked if it was over.

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Strength of a Woman: Victory Over Ovarian and Breast Cancer

1_nI was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and ovarian cancer five months later. The breast cancer was detected early enough so I only underwent radiotherapy since a mastectomy was thus not required.

Eight months before the ovarian cancer diagnosis, I had noticed a lump next to my belly button but did not give it much thought as it was not painful and disappeared three days later. My menstrual cycles became irregular and prolonged. The first doctor I visited said it was hormonal imbalance, which was common in teenagers my age. It resurfaced four months later but this time, it came with hours of intense abdominal pain and stomach bloating. I was generally fatigued and could not engage in half as much activities as I used to. I visited a doctor and after several scans and a biopsy, the cancerous tumours were detected.

Through sessions of chemotherapy and surgery for ovarian cancer, I was debulked and my appendix removed. Chemotherapy led to loss of  hair, major throat ulceration and inflammation. Eating and talking became a problem. The most difficult part of my experience was the realisation that I would not be able to give birth to my own children as a result of the treatment. Losing a uterus and ovary was never on my bucket list. It left me hollow.

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Akoth during #MoveCancerKE

 

 

 

“I know that tomorrow is truly not promised. That life can change in an instant, and that it is up to me to make a difference.”

 

 

 

 

It is so easy to give up. The pain was unbearable. I remember kissing my best friend goodbye days after my first surgery but she would not let me give up. I had such a solid support system that influenced my decision to face the disease head on. So I fought with all I had. I was not only fighting for myself but for those I love too. They became my drive. If I was going to die, it was not going to be because I gave up. My coping strategies included research and understanding my disease. The more I learnt, the more determined I was to beat it.

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Akoth, third from left, with her friends during free cancer screening event in Kisumu County.

Cancer completely changed my life. Owning it truly healed me, inside and out. It taught me to revel in the small little things, living life moment by moment. Each day is a blessing is a blessing that carries with it hope. Hope is essential to the will to live. I still go for scans and blood tests once in two months. Years down the line, I am here, I am alive, I am still fighting but nothing beats this gratitude I have.

~Akoth Otieno, Volunteer at Africa Cancer Foundation

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Always Seek a Second Opinion

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My cancer journey began in 2000 when I noticed that I was unable to walk in heels and that my knees would wobble when I walk. Earlier on I had experienced unexplained weight loss and gain but I did not pay much attention to it. In 2001 I fell off a stationary bus and got slightly injured. I visited the hospital and while there I noticed that there was a lump in my throat and I had it checked. The doctor advised that it was benign and the only reason for removing it would be cosmetic.

In 2008, I was hit by a mkokoteni (hand cart) but in my opinion, I was not badly injured. Thereafter, I started experiencing excruciating pain in my leg thus prompting me to visit the hospital. The doctor said it was just soft tissue injury which would heal in a couple of days. Three weeks later, I was still limping and I decided to get a second opinion. On visiting the second hospital, the doctor noticed that there was something ‘eating’ my bones and he concluded it could only be cancer. I was referred to an oncologist who conducted numerous tests and the diagnosis. The diagnosis was thyroid cancer.

I started treatment in 2009 which included 10 sessions of radiotherapy and surgery to remove my thyroid glands. Instead of chemotherapy, the doctor advised radioactive iodine treatment. The oncologist felt the radioactive iodine treatment would be more effective than chemotherapy. I was admitted into KNH for 5 days. The treatment was in the form of a capsule which I swallowed and was then put in the isolation ward for 5 days. I was not allowed to interact with anyone during this period. I had to drink lots of water so as to flush out the treatment. The only side effect I experienced was that my face was swollen the day after receiving the treatment but the swelling reduced gradually.

At the time, I was employed in a very good company and my medical insurance paid for all my treatment. I still go for checkups once in a year but because I do not have a thyroid gland, I take artificial thyroxine and calcium tablets on a daily basis.

I would like to advise people to always seek a second opinion.

When I went to have my thyroid removed, the surgeon told me that had it been removed in 2001, I would not have gone through all the cancer treatment. Once you notice a growth have it checked and not once, twice or even thrice, seek out specialists. This would have been nipped in the bud in 2001 had I sought a second opinion.

~EUNICE GICHURU

I battled the disease and came out victorious – cancer free.

Doris MayoliI was diagnosed with breast cancer on September 2, 2005 and I felt as though I had been handed a death sentence. I battled the disease and came out victorious – cancer free.

Two months before the diagnosis, while taking a shower, I felt a lump in my breast. I thought it was hormonal so I decided to give it a month or so to see if it would disappear. One month later, the lump was still there and so I had a mammogram done and, on advice from the doctor, I got a biopsy done too. The  result, breast cancer! I was horrified and distraught! I was advised to see the doctor before the end of that month to discuss the next course of action. I did not want to die and I kept thinking about my children as I wanted to be there to see them grow.

I had read about the DIEP flap reconstruction where they take a flap of skin plus whatever else is used to reconstruct a breast and this could be done immediately after a mastectomy. I could not imagine being one-breasted though of course I would not opt to keep it if it meant I would die.

I consulted various doctors for a second and third opinion; the first consultation was with a pathologist who did the test, then an oncologist who informed me that there was possibility of saving my breast. Through the oncologist I was directed to a surgeon, who checked and concurred with the diagnosis. To know if the cancer had spread to other parts of my body, I had to get bone scan and chest x-rays done. Thankfully, it was in just that one lump and in some of the nodes in my armpit.

On 29 September I got the results of the blood count, the red blood cell and haemoglobin count were within normal range, however the white blood cell count which was at 1.76 was below the recommended 3 required before commencing chemotherapy treatment. I needed the cells to multiply so that by the next blood count, they would be at least at 3. I resorted to prayers.

My hair became wispy and I started wearing a wig to work; it felt like I had lost all my femininity. Everyone consoled me saying it looked great but it was not convincing enough and I sought my strength from the Bible. Once I took paracetamol but I was unable to swallow as the chemotherapy treatment had resulted in corrosion of my throat.

After the first sessions of chemotherapy, I went for surgery. I remember the surgeon injecting some blue dye into the tumour in order to see exactly where the cancerous cells were situated and thirty minutes later I went into the operating theatre. After the surgery I had a few more chemotherapy sessions and it was after this was over that my spirits were truly lifted.

With a group of other people affected by cancer, we decided to start the Twakutukuza Trust. The Trust has facilitated musical concerts with a view of spreading hope. Whereas I was fortunate to be able to afford treatment both within and outside the country due to the generous donations from friends and family, my heart goes out to the majority of patients who are unable to get help.

Twakutukuza Trust supports cancer patients financially and most importantly gives emotional and moral support to families. My passion is to raise funds to facilitate the treatment for these less fortunate patients.

Doris Mayoli-Breast Cancer Victor

“ All this time my mum was with me…”

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I was diagnosed with cancer of the breast in October 2005. I had found a lump on my breast while doing a self examination which I did not do often. I promised myself that I would go to the doctor that week but the lump disappeared and I thought it was a false alarm. However, about two weeks later the lump reappeared and this time the left breast started swelling and I panicked and went to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital for an examination.

I went for a mammogram at the Nairobi Hospital, a fine needle test and later a biopsy at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. I was not ready to tell my family about the tests and took my friend Edith along for the biopsy. I waited for about a month for the biopsy results from a laboratory in South Africa. The waiting was agony but my doctor kept on reassuring me that the swelling could have been caused by many factors and the tests had so far been inconclusive and they wanted to eliminate all the possibilities.

The day of the results came and I was feeling brave so I went to the Doctor on my own hoping against hope that it was not cancer. The doctor told me the verdict that they had detected cancer and I needed to make quick decisions to have a mastectomy because I think that he said that it was a stage 4 cancer although it had not spread to my lymph nodes. I was completely numb and I think this news hit me really hard. He sent me to talk to a counsellor immediately at the hospital.

It was a Thursday. I slept for two days without telling anybody what was happening but just cried in my bedroom and shut myself trying to think but not coming up with any solutions or course of action. Then I called my elder sister to my house and told her what was happening and the next person she called was my mother who rushed over after two days to be with me for the journey that I was about to start.

I had my mastectomy at Nairobi Women’s Hospital, then my doctor referred me to an oncologist, Dr. Musibi, who took over my chemotherapy regimen. I had six chemotherapy sessions which were three weeks apart.

During the chemotherapy sessions, my boss had given me the time off and I also took sick leave to be able to go for the sessions every three weeks. When I completed the chemotherapy sessions, my mother was now sure that I was ok and would be okay on my own so she went back to her life at her rural home.

I went straight to the radiotherapy treatment regime at the Nairobi Hospital and finished the recommended radiotherapy sessions. These sessions left me tired; it would put me down for a few hours as they were administered daily for about 1 month.

I have been required to go for check-ups every year after that and I have faithfully done this until 2010 when I became scared to go for the tests as my oncologist had told me that she can only tell me whether I am cancer free after 5 years. I have been very scared to go for the check-up but after going through my counselling sessions, I am now ready to do this. Thanks to all who have stood by me and have helped me through this journey.

Pamela Dede {Breast Cancer}

 

That gut feeling

I never thought the occasional trip to the “nyamachoma” joint would cost me part of my colon or even take me through rigorous therapy. That was ten years ago.

Mbugua Kamau

It all started with unexpected bouts of diarrhoea, an embarrassing symptom that was treated with antibiotics. The numerous visits to doctors all around Nairobi yielded no results as all they gave me were antibiotics.

As this happened I was losing a lot of weight, from 89 kgs I now weighed 50 kgs. All the doctors were treating were the symptoms. My deteriorating health affected my performance at work, which lead to me losing my job and with that went my health insurance. With no job and no insurance cover to cater for my medical expenses I was stuck.

It was only much later that I was advised to seek to seek help from India, and there to my disappointment I was diagnosed with a colon infection which would turn cancerous if not taken care of soonest possible.

I was scheduled for surgery to remove the infected bit of the colon. This was in order to eliminate the cancerous masses in my system and ensure they don’t spread to other parts of my body. I was afterwards put on a strict diet, along with special medication to ensure recovery was at its optimum.

I believe that if this had been diagnosed early enough, it would have eliminated the need for hiving off part of my colon, if only the doctors acted much earlier, the story would be different. All is not lost though and I thank God for my recovery because I know with better lifestyle there is a high possibility of preventing cancer infection. I wish everyone would understand the importance of a fruit and vegetable diet and moderate the use of sugar and red meat.

Mbugua Kamau

My fight is over, and I am alive!

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In 2009, at only 19 years, Chepng’etich was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma with only 6 months to live.  She had just completed her first year at in Moi University, Eldoret when she started losing weight and sweating a lot. This drastic weight loss got her mother worried and she went for malaria and typhoid tests. She tested positive for typhoid and was put on medication immediately. However, she got worse with the night sweating even more severe.

In June, a friend noticed some swellings all around her neck with one protruding abnormally. Thinking it had something to do with her thyroid gland; she decided to go to a physician. He sent to her to a surgeon, who immediately recommended surgery to remove one of the many growths for pathology. The results came, and it was a teary eyed mother who had to tell her that she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

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A series of intensive chemotherapy, radiotherapy and physiotherapy was done, after which subsequent tests showed there was complete tumour resolution. “The fight was over, and I was alive”.

The Caregiver

During our journey with cancer, we had to do a lot of research on cancer and its side effects to understand what was happening.

Care giving to a cancer patient is never an easy task, and especially to a loved one. One has to give up their life to dedicate time to their loved ones. When you think you have given it your all, you are required to dig deep and give more. The whole process left me weak physically but I emerged a stronger person than I was before. The experience taught me the value of family and friends. Friday nights were our times together to sit and laugh at our suffering. Remind ourselves of the pain we went through when he was sick. As the days went by, we began to feel normal again, there were of course a few hiccups but we were fine

Care giving is a selfless act. You have to give it your all and try your best to cheer the patient up. This can be hard when they are in pain. Our job is to make sure that we listen and assure them that there is a brighter day. Whenever they are feeling better, make sure they enjoy every moment of that because you never know how long it will last.

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“it is the will and effort of the caregiver that gives the patient the will power to fight on.”-Gertrude Bandari

 

 

 

 

 

Information is fundamental. Research all you can on the type of cancer, the medications and alternatives and ask your doctor anything and everything. This is important as the journey is not only for the patient but also for the caregiver.

Cancer drains the caregiver emotionally, physically and financially. Nevertheless, it is the will and effort of the caregiver that gives the patient the will power to fight on. Even though the journey was painful, taking care of my brother was an honour. Time makes the load lighter. One becomes more grateful for the time you got to spend with the loved one. It was an intense experience I will never forget.

The journey-Rhabdomyosarcoma

ACF blog

It all began in 2007 when my brother was in high school. During their closing day he was found lying unconscious on the ground and was rushed to the hospital. Nothing concrete was diagnosed and he was discharged from the hospital. We all forgot about the incident and it was business as usual, until a few years later when he was in University. I remember that moment vividly as though it was yesterday. “It is happening again, this light headedness is not a good sign” he said, and before I could even utter a word, he was holding his head and screaming. At first, I froze; I had never seen someone go through such pain. I rushed out of the room and called my dad who came rushing in. We did not know what to do. I whispered a prayer, “Dear Lord, ease his pain, Amen”. Five minutes later the pain was gone.

The following day he went to see a doctor and on doing all the tests, my brother’s health was found to be good. He was found to be as fit as a fiddle. However, sometimes bad results are better than no results. I wished the cause of the headaches could be established.

There was only one solution to the problem at that time, to treat the symptoms rather than the underlying problem. His blood pressure was of great concern and he was put under medication. He was then diagnosed with a rare type of epilepsy. The pain was now in the head, the legs and lower back. The pain killers we were given did not seem to ease the pain.

When the scan results were out, the tests revealed that a lump had grown on the side of his belly. Chris, my brother, had cancer- Rhabdomyosarcoma. The doctor assured us that it was an easy to treat cancer as it responds well to chemotherapy.

The shock on everyone’s face was one that I will live to remember.  This was now the beginning of our journey to recovery and the hospital became our second home.  Chris had to undergo radiation therapy and then chemotherapy for four days. The side effects of the treatment kicked in; nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite and even corrosion of the mucous membrane of the food pipe. His chemotherapy lasted for one year.

What amazed me was that Chris insisted on going back to school even though the drugs were weighing him down. He wanted to be normal and continue with his life. He had a passion for law, he loved what he was doing and that was enough to divert his mind from getting depressed. He went back to school, did what his normal friends did except when he was feeling weak, tired or in the hospital.

When we went for his monthly checks, the joy doubled as he was declared cancer free. This was the best news one could ever hear during their fight against cancer. We celebrated and thanked the Lord.  However, our joy was short lived. In 2011 the left side of his face began to swell. The doctor informed us that the tumour had moved from its primary source to the eye pelvis and this meant that Chris had Stage Four Cancer. He began chemotherapy sessions and this affected his kidneys. He had this queer cough and irregular heartbeats, a chest x-ray was done and the results were not good.

As we took him for admission in the hospital again, he broke down and vented all his frustrations and he refused to see any doctor. His doctor was the only person who convinced him to be taken back to his room. When the results were out, cancer had rapidly spread to the lymph nodes, kidneys, lungs and the cornea. Unfortunately, Chris succumbed to cancer the following morning on the 15th of January 2012. Cancer had taken a young boy of only 20 years.