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

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 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.