His being a high-profile job, admission of frailty in his person is a gamble, given the competitiveness of his niche. But here was a man admitting he is a mortal like everyone else, going on TV to tell the whole world in deep details about his battle with a rare kind of leukaemia.
And on Friday at a breakfast meeting with journalists, he admitted there were times he was too weak to even stand. But he was keen to ensure that the take-away message was that he is now firmly back on his feet and that even if he has low immunity and is on a restricted diet, he is taking all in his stride.
His style contrasts that of Bishop Allan Kiuna , the head of Jubilee Christian Church.
After spending months abroad undergoing treatment, Bishop Kiuna returned to the pulpit on July 8, but he did not disclose what had been the cause, only saying in a televised address that he had been fighting the battle as a way of preparing him for greater things in future.
Bishop Kiuna’s move is understandable as health matters are private and being a spiritual father of multitudes, it is hard to tell how his congregation could have taken it.
The refrain was that his body might be a 50-year-old’s but he is feeling younger after the experience.
To share or not to share about a serious illness?
That is the question that emerges from those two examples.
What if the whole of Germany knew Adolf Hitler was battling Parkinson’s disease? Could that have diluted his voice and changed the course of World War II? Had Steve Jobs let the public know that he was battling pancreatic cancer, would the perceptions towards Apple, the company he co-founded, be the same?
New York Times columnist Bruce Feiller tackled the topic of disclosure in a March 2017 article, where he gave the example of his mother, who decided to keep secret her going for a major surgery.
One of the explanations the mother gave was: “I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, and I absolutely don’t want to listen to all their medical stories. It’s just so wearying.”
Again, a very relatable matter. Feiller’s mother in the US is in no different an environment from that in Kenya, where if someone were to open up about a medical condition, the reactions would be varied.
There are those who will be genuinely concerned, but there is always the risk of feeling over-pitied and viewing oneself as a specimen that will receive all manner of recommendations from all and sundry.
Imagine a young man in the village who comes out as being HIV-positive. I bet things will not be the same, whether he is a preacher or a scoundrel; a rich man or a lowlife. He will definitely be stigmatised and be the topic of most gossip sessions.
That is why, I tend to believe that witchcraft becomes an easy scapegoat. It is easy to find someone who can be blamed for another’s misfortunes, and hell only knows how many people worldwide have been accused of bewitching and causing the deaths of persons who actually succumbed to known diseases.
Politicians are among the most secretive people when it comes to sharing health status, and it is after death that Kenyans often learn, with shock, that someone has been battling a certain disease for years. At times the disease is not even disclosed even after death.
I remember a recent incident where a friend wrote a newspaper article about how cancer claimed his father’s life. However, not everyone in his family approved of the move, and from discussions they had in a WhatsApp group, you could tell some felt cancer is an embarrassment to be associated with the family.
But as Feiller wrote in his column, sharing about your ailment can have benefits. One instance is a website called Patients Like Me where a person who has been diagnosed with a certain disease can network with others with a similar condition so they can discuss how best to manoeuvre through the everyday challenges. By Friday, there were more than 600,000 members signed up. Social media can be another platform for sharing one’s battles with serious ailments, but that needs precaution because of the design of such platforms.
So, unless you are fundraising and need to disclose why you need money, would you tell the world that you have been diagnosed with a serious illness?
Email: [email protected] Elvis Ondieki is a ‘Nation’ reporter. Caroline Njung’e’s column resumes soon.