TALES OF COURAGE: How my mother’s cancer diagnosis changed my life

Wednesday November 08 2017

Florence Kitsao , who lost her mother to cancer in 2013, addresses the media in Kilifi town on her way to Tana River during her cancer awareness campaign in September 2017. PHOTO| SAMUEL KAZUNGU


Once upon a time, 49-year-old Florence Kitsao did not need to beg to live. She had a well-paying job and supplemented her income by keeping poultry.

Until her mother Juliana Mwenda was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in 2012.

“I sold everything to treat my mother until eventually I had nothing. Everything was exhausted.”

Oesophageal cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide.

In 2010, her mother was brought to Kilifi county hospital unconscious with some blood patches in her urine, and was first suspected to be cervical cancer.

But when she took her for further check up at a private hospital in Mombasa, the results only showed that it was constipation. She was treated and discharged.


Two years later, she started to develop chest pains and lack of appetite, turned pale and grew thinner as days went by.


“She had difficulty in breathing and at one time collapsed twice while she was still at the village in Kaloleni.”

According to Florence, her mother underwent surgery in December 2012, a procedure that involved inserting a tube from the oesophagus to the stomach to aid her in feeding.

The oesophagus was almost blocked. This was at the height of the nurses’ strike so the procedure had to be done in a private hospital in Mombasa.

She said that although there were other siblings in the family, the burden of footing medical bills for her mother was put squarely on her, a task she said proved too tough for her but she soldiered on.

“They said I could foot the bill since I had a well-paying job in the city even though I pleaded with them to help. I raised Sh30, 000 through friends to enable my mother get admission for the procedure at the private hospital. The cost of the operation stood at Sh230, 000 during the time of discharge.”

Through the help of a friend, she managed to secure a loan of Sh200, 000 from a bank and her mother was discharged.


“For a whole year, my mother survived on liquids, and whenever she fed on solid foods, she had to take a soda (Coke) to clean the tube.

Unfortunately, my mother lost the battle and died in December 2013.”

Apart from the pain of losing her mother, Ms Kitsao had to endure with the brunt of clearing the loan she had acquired to treat her mother.

At the time of her mother’s death, the debt had accrued and by 2014 it stood at Sh1.5 million.

“My fortunes began to dwindle because for the whole year after surgery, I had to buy painkillers for her at a cost of Sh18, 000 every two weeks. By then I had lost my job and my poultry business was struggling.”


Florence said she was depressed, lacked concentration at work and was openly confused. She eventually lost her job.

She turned to her poultry business as her only source of income but this dependency eventually took a toll on the finances of the business and it, too, collapsed.

“It was the same business which I used to educate and pay fees for my children. It had a net worth of Sh120, 000 per month. In fact I was about to buy a canter truck but it was not to be. The business crumbled and I was heavily in debt.”

Burdened by the situation and lost for thoughts, and after failing to get any other means of settling the loan, she decided to sell a piece of land where she had constructed the residential house she was living in.

She is currently writing a book on her experience with cancer.

“The pressure of debts was mounting and I had to think and come up with a solution. The only asset I had was my house and plot where I lived and ran my poultry business. I asked God to open my eyes and see what I had that I would sell and the only option would be my house and my plot.”

She in the end sold the property at a cost of Sh1.2 million and she was paid a lump sum of Sh700, 000.

The remaining amount was paid in installments for two years. She used all the money to service the loan but it was not enough.

She lost hope after the financial institutions she took money from started putting pressure on her to pay.


With pressure mounting on her and life becoming unbearable she decided that life was no longer worth to her and the only remaining option was to end it.

She twice attempted to commit suicide and she was rescued several times as she was about to jump from a cliff into the Indian ocean near the Kilifi bridge.

In September 2014, while still at work and unable to bear the frustrations of life, Florence resolved to go and throw herself off the bridge.

 “I was about to go out when the thoughts of leaving behind my second born son who was in Class Eight tucked my mind. I wrote a text message to my former colleague which read in part ‘Stella Nimechoka’ (Stella, I’m fed up) and I switched off my phone. Minutes later, Stella came looking for me where she found me crying in an isolated room at work. She counseled and later took me home. I was down trodden and never saw anything good in life.”

In December 2015 at Chakama near river Galana, Florence again attempted suicide, this time around, she was armed with two litres of petrol and a match box ready to set herself on fire.

“I had planted three quarters of an acre, full of tomatoes and they were ready for the market but it suddenly rained in the afternoon and my farm was flooded. The products were soaked in water and I got losses amounting to Sh300,000. I thought to myself that God had abandoned me.”

Before taking the drastic move, she called a neighbor who came to her rescue and she was once more taken into a counseling. She abandoned the farm and returned to Kilifi and she has never been to that area again.

“I could not go back to my maternal home after a spat with my siblings over their negligence to cater for her mother’s hospital bills. My matrimonial home did not serve as an option either because I had separated with my husband or life was not making any sense at all. All I needed was to die.”

But through the financial help of friends, she managed to rent a single room where she now lives with her three grown up children-the first born completed high school while the other two are in high school.

The children’s school fees are currently also being paid by well-wishers.


Currently the debt stands at Sh1.8 million. With the debt burden and her urge to create cancer awareness, Ms Kitsao started a cancer walk that covered 421 Kilometres from Lunga Lunga in Kwale County to Hola in Tana River County.

Her aim is to raise funds to create awareness for the cancer menace and also clear the debt she is laden with.

Their walk involved making several stopovers to talk to people about the cancer problem.

Her target is to raise Sh8 million to support her organisation, Elite Hope for Change. She said that her journey, though successful, did not yield much funds she needs but was optimistic that the message was well received.

“There is a reason for the things that happen to us in life. Even the bad things happen so that we can learn something.”

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