I 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.
“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.
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