30-year-old Maureen Omamo was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2017. She is halfway through her treatment, and is hopeful as ever. The loving wife, mother of two and engineer by profession shares her journey with Karen Muriuki.
Tell us about your diagnosis.
About three years ago, around the time my son was born, I developed a wound on my right nipple, which I assumed was a bite from him while breastfeeding.
The wound kept recurring, but I ignored it simply because there was no pain, blood or discharge. In September 2017, my husband became insistent that I should go to the hospital and have the wound checked out, but I kept postponing the doctor appointments.
In December 2017, I decided to go to the hospital mostly because I wanted a prescription to help the wound heal. When I checked into the hospital, on a Thursday, the doctor said that they needed to run a few tests and sent me to the breast clinic.
While there, I was told that a biopsy would be done, but I had no idea what that was. It was a minor surgery where they removed a small part of the wound on my breast. I was asked to come back for the results in a week.
For some reason, I requested my husband to accompany me when I went back for the results. I am glad I did because he was there with me when I received the news – the results showed that I had Paget’s disease of the breast. What the doctor was saying in simple terms was that I had been diagnosed with cancer.
How did it feel immediately the news was broken to you?
I was not ready at all. It was too much. I saw death. I started thinking of my children and how they would grow up without me. As much as my husband was shocked, he comforted me.
In the past, I had done several of the recommended self-examination breast massage and had not found any lumps. Cancer was out of the question.
Little did I know that there are many more signs of breast cancer; like my nipple wound, inversion of the nipple as well as breast colour and size change.
We did not enjoy the Christmas holiday, instead, my husband and I threw ourselves into cancer research ahead of my appointment scheduled for January 2018.
What happened after your diagnosis?
Doctors ran a few more tests including another biopsy, an MRI and a CT scan, which confirmed that I was in stage one of R2+, a type of breast cancer.
January came and I went for my appointment with an oncologist, Professor Nicholas Abinya, at the Nairobi Hospital. I came out of that office a different and hopeful person. I really appreciate him because he took his time to explain my condition.
He gave me hope by telling me that cancer is not the end of life and that I could beat it. He then referred me to the Nairobi Hospital Tumour Board, where specialist doctors, radiologists, nurses and professors meet to discuss a patient’s case.
We received a lot of feedback and recommendations from the board. Prof Abinya then referred me to Kijabe Mission Hospital, where I underwent the mastectomy and reconstruction on January 29, 2018.
What happened after the surgery?
They concluded that the cancer was invasive and aggressive after testing my breast post-surgery. Based on these findings, the doctors recommended chemotherapy. I started chemo in March. I also needed to be on Herceptin, a monoclonal antibody used to treat breast cancer.
One session of this treatment costs Sh400,000, and I needed to undergo 18 sessions. I heard that it was free at Kenyatta Hospital, so I requested my oncologist to refer me so that I could secure a slot in the programme. I never got it, and the doctor advised that we seek other options since we were racing against time.
I went to Moi Referral Hospital in Eldoret where I have been receiving treatment to date.
What is the progress so far since you began your treatment?
I had my seventh session last week, and will hopefully be done by next year in April. Thankfully, I completed the chemotherapy sessions.
How has your diagnosis altered your life?
I have come to truly appreciate the value of life. Being able to wake up and breathe is a blessing. I spend more time with my family now, quality time with my children who do not quite understand the magnitude of my illness. I believe that cancer does not kill. Inasmuch as I am yet to finish my treatment, I do not foresee death as I did before my diagnosis.
Where do you draw strength from, both emotionally and physically, on your journey?
My immediate family – husband and children – my boss, who is very understanding, and my colleagues. Also, the Limau Cancer Connection, which I was introduced to by my friend Nancy. It is a group of cancer patients, doctors and caregivers who visit other cancer patients and create awareness on the disease. In that group, we connect and share. It has been a great emotional pillar for me and I am glad I joined it.
MORE ABOUT PAGET'S DISEASE
According to the Breast Cancer Organization, Paget’s disease of the nipple is a rare form of breast cancer in which cancer cells collect in or around the nipple.
This causes the skin on and around the nipple to become red, sore, and flaky, or scaly. In most cases, Paget's disease affects one breast, not both. The symptoms begin mildly and are on and off. However, the symptoms worsen over time and may include:
- Itching, tingling, and/or a burning sensation
- Pain and sensitivity
- Scaling and thickening of the skin
- Flattening of the nipple
- Yellowish or bloody discharge from the nipple