In 2016, Emily Chelang’at developed an incessant cough. She also had sharp pain in the left side of her chest cavity. At a health centre in Moi-Bridge, Uasin Gishu County, she was first diagnosed with chronic pneumonia and the treatment that was prescribed, helped relieve the coughing. Then the coughing recurred, this time accompanied by blood and a small piece of what looked like meat.
She sought a second opinion at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) in Eldoret, where a CT scan showed she had a lump in her left lung. However, she didn’t have the Sh195,000 required for surgery, even after the National Health Insurance Fund offered to pay Sh60,000, so she went back home without treatment.
Three weeks later, the hospital called her in for treatment through the lung cancer programme at AMPATH. Doctors removed the meat-like pieces from her lungs, then Chelang’at was got six chemotherapy sessions.
“The pain is gone and so is the coughing. I am now back to my normal weight and life, and I can even perform chores that had become difficult,” she says, adding that most patients opt to seek help from herbalists because they can’t afford to pay for cancer treatment.
She is now reaching out to area residents because she worries that there are many like her, who might have been misdiagnosed with pneumonia, while in fact they could be suffering from cancer.
According to Lawrence Atundo, manager of the Ampath lung cancer programme at MTRH, they have screened 154 patients and done biopsies on 76. Of this number, 42 were diagnosed with lung cancer.
“Most patients have gone to health facilities up to 16 times and are diagnosed with pneumonia or tuberculosis. This slows the early detection and treatment of lung cancer. Most patients come to us when they are in Stage Four, when their health has really deteriorated,” he explained, urging health workers not to assume that persistent cough can only be tuberculosis.
“It could be lung cancer. But most facilities lack the equipment to make this diagnosis, so we urge them to refer the patients to us for thorough investigation,” he added.