Cancer survivors’ journey of hope in face of hurdles

Friday, October 30th, 2020 00:00 |
Officials of the Cancer Survivors Association of Kenya Jane Frances Angalia (secretary), Catherine Kariuki (treasurer), Haika Mary (vice-chair) and Prisca Wanjiru (chair). Photo/PD/Harriet James

Harriet James @harriet86jim

Cancer has stalked Mary Jane Kariuki’s family for years, but her resilience in the face of adversity inspires hope.

 Karuiki lost her husband in 1992 to stomach cancer and six years later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

“I developed a lump on my breast in 1997 and went to hospital. I was only given medicine.

But when I went back the following year, they told me that the infected breast would have to be removed as it was the only way to save my life,” she narrates.

She broke the news to her family and was admitted to the hospital for an operation. 

“I thought I would die just like my husband, but God is gracious because the operation went on smoothly and I went through chemotherapy and continued taking drugs.

They only did one operation and I was told to continue with the drugs for five years,” she said.

Statistics show there are around 28,000 new cases of cancer are reported  annually. with at least 22, 000 people losing their lives to the disease each year.

This means that 78.5 per cent of the victims don’t survive, making cancer the third leading cause of death in Kenya, after infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases. 

 However, Kariuki, 74, is proof that with the right kind of treatment and attitude, one can survive cancer. 

It is now 22 years since she received treatment and the artificial breast is the only constant reminder of how far she has come.  

 Within this period, Kariuki has lost other relatives to the disease. In the year 2000, two years after her diagnosis, her 35-year-old daughter and a mother of three, was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

After 16 years of being cancer-free, her daughter passed away after the disease recurred. 

“She would complain that her leg was paining, but we never knew that it was cancer. By the time we knew that it had come back, it was too late.

She passed away in 2016, leaving behind three children,” she explains.

In addition, Kariuki has also lost a brother to leukemia and two sisters to liver cancer and cervical cancer. She also lost a niece to breast cancer last year.

 “Most of the people don’t know about cancer and make many mistakes because of that. That’s why I go to churches, colleges, women groups  to educate them on cancer.

If they have it, they should just accept and know that it’s not a death sentence. You just get treated and life moves on,” she concludes. 

She shared her experience at an event organised by the Cancer Survivors Association of Kenya (CSAK), a national outfit bringing cancer survivors together to encourage and support each other. 

Being a breast cancer month, the event was organised to give hope, save life through information and also support the survivors who face a lot of challenges such as lack of financial and emotional assistance. 

According to the organisation’s secretary general, Jane Frances Angalia, such groups are vital as they enables the patients get psycho-social support and counselling to beat all odds that come with cancer treatment.

No regrets

“Some of them are in denial that they have cancer and don’t know that it’s not a death sentence.

With moral and financial support, and that with reasonably priced treatment we can survive cancer.

This support should come from family, friends, religious groups,  chamas,  cancer groups, and even government and private sector, especially those companies selling cancer drugs,” says Jane Frances.

The 54-year-old woman is a Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) survivor.

This strain of the disease is considered to be one of the most aggressive cancers since it grows quickly and is more likely to spread faster when its diagnosed.

To survive stage 3B aggressive triple negative cancer, she was advised by her oncologists to take five-year leave of absence from both lecturing and PhD studies and she has no regrets for doing so. 

“I’m alive because I listened to my doctors. I lost my lecturing job and income but now I have found a larger classroom reaching out, educating, informing cancer patients about the ailment,” she says. 

To get cash for treatment in India and Turkey, she had to sell her land. She currently earns her daily bread through growing and selling herbs in flowerpots. She has been cancer-free for six years now.

Boost immunity

“I changed lifestyle by observing a good nutrition. I eat more vegetables than red meat.

I also take alot of fruits and herbs, which I drink daily and also cook all my meals with. I also do exercises, both physical and breathing (yoga and meditations),” she explains.

To boost immunity she also takes orgeno gold ganoderma, mushroom supplements, kombucha, Eden and apple cider vinegar. When she can afford, she buys vitamins C, D3, 12, salmon and fish oils.

Miriam Wambugu, another breast cancer survivor in the session, says she has made it so far because of support she gets from other cancer survivors.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and the fact that she didn’t know anything about cancer, left her confused.

Miriam was also worried about her children as she was a single mother. Their father had gone to the US and remarried leaving her to take care of them. 

However, being in the Cancer Survivors Association ensured she got the correct advice that assisted her to get treatment. She went for treatment in India and did chemo, surgery and radiotherapy. 

“Some people die and others remain; not because we are special but because we have an assignment to complete.

If you hear someone tell you that there is medicine other than the doctors, advise them that it doesn’t work since it hasn’t been proven,” advises the mother of three. 

Joan Wangare, a pancreatic cancer survivor for five years has ensured that she has joined several groups for support.

When she was battling the disease, most people deserted her thinking that she would die or infect them.

Only her husband, family, friends and church supported her until she was declared cancer-free. She now has a daughter who’s now four years. 

“I maintain myself through my strong faith in God and have also found a supporting system through various cancer organisations where we meet and share our experience,” she says.

“I recently climbed mount Kenya with a group of other cancer survivors and this helped me a lot in both mental and physical fitness which is crucial towards maintaining good health,” adds Wangare.

She also watches her diet and avoids canned and junk food and drinks. 

“Cancer patients are a vulnerable group because their bodies are weakened by too many drugs, surgeries, chemotherapies and radiotherapies.

Thus, to mitigate against covid19 we request all organisations with CSR programmes to support our 1000 registered patients via our #COVID19 Feeding programme, help pay their annual 6k insurance, help them buy monthly hormonal therapy and palliative care medications,” concludes Jane Frances.

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