When Joan* was diagnosed with cervical cancer, she thought her world as she knew it was crumbling. She was now looking at how to break the news to her family, wondering who would take care of her babies, not sure of how her husband would react to the idea of her not having her reproductive organs any more [the doctor had recommended a full hysterectomy – removal of the entire reproductive tract from the cervix though to the ovaries]; but top on her agenda was how she was going to raise the needed KShs 25,000 needed for treatment.
A practical woman, she knew she would sell what she had in her name to raise funds for her medical bills. The family cow– Molly, her companion
Now for those of you who grew up in the village, a cow means a lot. They identify your home as the home with the cow, mom sells some of the milk to get an income, it also keeps you all busy, because the cow has to be fed – fostering responsibility in young children; above all, a cow is a source of a cup of milk tea every morning. The difference is clear between kids who have milk regularly and those who don’t.
So, we can all agree that a cow in a village homestead is a status symbol; a source of family pride, economic empowerment, tool for raising responsible future citizens and of course provides nutrition.
This strong woman was willing to give up Molly, to raise money to beat cancer.
We as an organisation would hear none of it, and so we raised funds for her to be treated at Kenyatta Hospital. And therein begun our journey of learning together how to help cancer patients live beyond cancer.
A diagnosis of cancer marks the beginning of a journey full of emotional, psychological, physical and practical challenges. Stemming from the shock of a cancer diagnosis and fears about the future.
There are also physical side effects of treatment, such as nausea and fatigue; practical challenges including treatment and travel costs. More specific, emotional problems may include concerns about body image, family responsibility and periods of anxiety or depression when trying to cope.
It’s not always easy, but over time, most people find they are able to adapt to the changes caused by their diagnosis and return to the things that are important to them.
After Joan* finished her treatment, she used all she had experienced through her cancer journey to help advocate for other patients. She now serves as a volunteer patient navigator and cancer advocate, helping other cancer patients find their way in accessing treatment; while using her story to get others to seek screening for early detection and the necessary timely treatment to beat cancer early. Because, prevention is the best strategy in cancer control and management. .
She tells others, “I am now cancer free, because my cancer was discovered early. Be your own best friend, know yourself, get screened, go for treatment; and trust all will be well. And when it is all done, use your story to inspire others. It can make all the difference in the world for you and for others.”
Supporting Patients to Cope
Kenyans are a giving nation. We hold Harambees to raise funds communally to support a cancer patient. My take is, just as it is critical to help one get treated, it is also very important that we start thinking of how to reintegrate cancer survivors back into the society; as useful members who are contributing value to the community. We all have a duty to help them move on from the cancer story, to opening a new chapter of their lives.
We often find that cancer patients who are formally employed go back to work after treatment. Majority however leave their jobs or even change careers after a period of time. This is because they cannot cope with the old work schedule, the conditions are not favourable to returning to work, they are still going through some treatment, or the social networks at work have changed because people now view them differently and the pity parties everywhere do not favour full recovery.
Often, the cancer survivor wants to feel like a normal, contributing member of the society. And it is our duty to recognise, support and encourage them to reintegrate to a society that allows them self-expression.
Support of family, friends, and colleagues at work is critical for successful transition during this period since they give material, practical and emotional support.
Beat Cancer Together
During this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, join Joan* and Women4Cancer in spreading the word that prevention is key, and early detection saves lives.
More than 80% of cancer patients are diagnosed late when treatment options are limited to Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy, chances of full recovery are minimised and the cost of cancer management is very high.
The Institute of Healthcare Management in collaboration with Women 4 Cancer have organized ‘Cancer sensitization and awareness week’ running from Monday 24th October to Friday 28th October, 2016. On Tuesday the 25th of October, in SBS TransCentury Auditorium beginning at 7.30am to 9am, we will have a cancer awareness talk open to all Strathmore community. Be sure to join us as we learn more about cancer, common signs and symptoms, and tips and tricks to beat cancer.
Be sure to share your support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month by sharing this article on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn by using #BeatCancerKE.
Just in case you missed it on the social media platforms, I was nominated for Cancer Ambassador of the Year Award. Have you voted yet? SMS 3B to 21390 to #VoteBenda
My colleague was also nominated for Champion Journalist of the Year. Shiru is a volunteer with us, and I think we can give back to her what she does by voting for her too. SMS 4A to 21390 to #VoteShiro
Your vote counts to help us help Kenyans beat cancer sooner; through awareness, education and advocacy. We are on Twitter: @Women4Cancer and you can also send your questions or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms. Benda N. Kithaka is a Co-Founder and Board Chair of Women 4 Cancer Early Detection and Treatment. A Kenyan NGO helping Kenyans beat cancer sooner. Read more about is on www.women4cancer.org.