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Warriors’ inspiring stories on how to face cancer

Sunday August 25 2019

cancer

Caregivers should contribute a lot to the well-being of a cancer patient. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ELVIS ONDIEKI
By ELVIS ONDIEKI
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KAREN MBUYA MURIUKI
By KAREN MBUYA MURIUKI
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People react to cancer diagnosis in different ways. While some may seek a way out, others take it as a death sentence.

Take the case of Purity Muthoni, 40, who committed suicide on August 1 in Naivasha after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Or Tabathia Mugambi, 65, who ended his life on August 10 in Laikipia County after a cancer diagnosis.

However, others have chosen to fight on and have come out to declare that cancer is not a death sentence. They stay positive throughout their cancer battle. Here are their inspiring stories:

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Ruth Wanjiku: “Cancer is not a death sentence”

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Ruth has only one leg and one lung due to cancer. It started with a swelling on the back of her knee in 2014 when she was 17 years old.

In January 2015, the swelling was found to be cancerous, caused by a cancer that originates from the bone. “I remember the shock I felt when the doctor broke the news to me.

I had only heard of cancer. I never at one point thought that it would ever happen to me,” she told Nation earlier this year.

The leg was amputated in March 2015. Medics overlooked the importance of administering chemotherapy and as a result, she was found to have cancer in her left lung in 2017.

“Results showed that it was cancerous and at Stage Four. The recurrence was a big blow to me.

"My doctor explained that the cancer had spread to my lungs because no chemotherapy or radiation, which normally eliminate cancer cells, was done after my amputation,” she said.

After medication and removal of the lung, she was told that she was cancer-free in February 2018.

“Truly, there is no better feeling than having a huge load lifted off your back. I still experience the fear of recurrence. Any feeling of pain, even as small as a toothache, scares me greatly. My faith and trust in the Lord keeps me going,” said Ruth.

cancer

Ruth Wanjiuku. Ruth has only one leg and one lung due to cancer. PHOTO | COURTESY

Ruth shared with Lifestyle her message to those battling the disease: "Many people think of death right after a cancer diagnosis. And it doesn’t help that many of the doctors who break these news lack empathy for the patient. Suicide also comes about when a patient thinks of how expensive the treatment ahead is going to cost.

Coming from a poor background, I also had suicidal thoughts after the diagnosis. This is why we are fighting to have cancer declared a national disaster.

I would urge the society to accept the patient wholeheartedly. Stigma is also another cause of the rising suicide cases.

To the cancer patient, cancer is not a death sentence. Embrace the love around you and within you. It’s the first step towards fighting this."

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OMONDI OCHUKA

The 29-year-old has seen cancer in almost all its colours.

Nine years ago, he was diagnosed with primary liver cancer that was in Stage Two. The test was done after he passed out while chatting with his university classmates.

“The doctors were very empathetic and professional. The team comprised a psychologist, oncologist and a counsellor. It didn’t take away the bad news, but I was very pleased with how they handled it,” he says of the team that disclosed the news to him at the Aga Khan University Hospital.

The tumour in his liver had done considerable damage to the vital organ. To tackle the cancerous growth, Omondi underwent eight sessions of chemotherapy, 40 sessions of radiotherapy and numerous pills from February 2012.

He completed his medication in March 2013 and his body began recovering from the side effects of the hard-hitting treatments.

SUPPORT SYSTEM

But just when he thought he was out of the woods, doctors found that cancer had formed in his brain by May 2015.

“I resigned to fate at this point. I gave up,” Omondi recalls. “To me, it was a matter of time before I died. I stopped my treatment and went to my grandmother’s home in Nyakach.”

His family however marshalled resources with the assistance of a local insurer and took him to India for treatment in November 2016.

There, medics administered various types of medication to deal with the cancerous cells in his liver and brain.

He returned to Kenya in mid-2017 and to his shock, the cancer recurred in 2018. He says that was not “such a big deal”.

“Cancer had become a huge part of my life story. I had accepted it wholly. It spread to the blood and the bone, and this is where I stand currently. I’m still on medication,” he says.

“Aside from my family and friends, I am my greatest support system. Through my journey, I have come to learn that I am a very strong and resilient person. My doctors, support groups, as well as strangers, have also been really supportive of my journey,” adds Omondi.

CANCER

Omondi Ochuka. He says he is his greatest support system. PHOTO | COURTESY

With that long experience with cancer, Omondi shared a guide to others who may be in a similar situation, which we reproduce below:

Since cancer is “life-altering”, many newly-diagnosed people tend to develop resistance and still find themselves stuck, wanting their normal lives back.

The idea is to build self-acceptance and find ways of coping with the treatment. This way, living with cancer can seem limiting in many ways, yes, but the acknowledgement and acceptance gives one a fighting chance.

Many therefore experience loss and might have feelings of hopelessness. This can be managed through “grief counselling”.

A lot of patients grieve over their lives. Try these: Learn your flexibility curve. In a way, cancer diagnosis demands that one has some sense of acceptance of the nature of what lies ahead and the path to be followed.

Knowledge: What can be done? What are the available options and the possible outcomes? What cannot be done?

There needs to be a general understanding of the treatment (and/or recovery) journey.

Good planning: With the docs. Treatment calendar. Therapy. Financial obligations. Nutrition. Work. School.

Finding the right “tribe” or support system: Not all such help groups may be helpful, and it can take time while trying to find the one(s) that work for you.

They say no one knows a condition better than those experiencing it. They can act as safe spaces. That can be in church, AA-like meetings, online, or cancer support groups.

Open communication and honesty: This rounds back to breaking of stigma. Such life changing experiences often lead one to start facing life more openly and put affairs in order.

Be vulnerable enough: Ask for help when you need it.

TERRY MIANO: “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Terry is a mother, wife, counsellor, and above all, a cancer warrior.

She began offering counselling to cancer patients and caregivers after noticing the need for the service during her diagnosis and treatment.

Her journey started in March 2016 when she felt a lump on her right breast.

She was later diagnosed with Stage One cancer — the earliest development stage of a cancerous mass in the body.

“The breaking of the news was the hardest part. My husband was away on a work trip so I had to go in alone,” she says, adding that there was no pre-counselling.

Having received her results, she went to the priest at the hospital’s chapel, who readily granted her audience.

“We prayed together afterward and I felt relieved and courageous, knowing that I was not in this journey alone,” Terry narrates.

VICTORY
The breast was later removed surgically, and she later underwent chemotherapy to ensure all the cancerous cells in her body were vanquished.

“My hair started falling after the first round of chemotherapy. I decided to shave it altogether instead of having to see it fall off every now and then,” she recalls.

She had the last session in December 2016 and today, she is confident that she has overcome the disease.

“I have no fear of reoccurrence. I am very positive and focused on the important things in life. I left all my burdens to God,” she says.

Terry also had a message to those who might feel they have hit a dead end after being informed that they have cancer: The suicides that have been happening of late are a tragedy, for lack of a better word.

COUNSELLING

They happen because of a number of reasons, most of which are psychological.

Terry Miano. She had the last session in

Terry Miano. She had the last session in December 2016 and today, she is confident that she has overcome the disease. PHOTO | COURTESY

The word cancer in itself is traumatising. Doctors break the news without preparing the patient psychologically. They end up not knowing how to move forward.

Psychology is a vital element before, during and even after treatment. The preparedness is very important. Lack of it causes depression.

Poverty is also a contributing factor to the suicides because the patient gets depressed, not knowing how they will cover their medical costs.

Poor palliative care also makes the patient hopeless. Caregivers should contribute a lot to the well-being of a cancer patient.

They should treat them with kindness. Nutrition is a key element in treatment, and caregivers should ensure that they offer it well.

To the cancer warrior, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Keep your hopes up.

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