Maximum Hope for Maximilla

Maximilla does not talk much for a 19 year old girl. When you speak to her she stares back with a silent gaze as if to say,” Leave me alone, I do not want to socialise.” It took a lot of proding to get her to speak to me.

“I do not like talking because it makes people stare at me and I do not want people staring at me now.” She admits after much jostling. I understand and ask her if she would like to sit outside. We are currently seated at the Faraja Main Wellness Centre within HCG-CCK Cancer Centre at Nairobi’s Parklands area. The Centre is a bustling hub of activity, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. She gladly obliges and shuffles quickly to grab a seat at the terrace. It is a warm day and it is evident that Maximilla is enjoying the warm caress of the sun as she drops her guard and stretches a leg.

“So, how did it begin?” I ask. Almost whispering, Maxmilla says that a swelling on the neck and a migraine did not prepare her for the diagnosis that would follow her hospital visit.

Before November of 2019, Maxmilla was a typical teenager, pursuing her high school studies and hanging out with her friends in her home town of Elgeiyo Marakwet. It started with a terrible headache, then a swelling on her neck, followed by a lack of appetite.

Her parents took her to a hospital in Iten, where she was referred to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret. After conducting a battery of tests, Maxmilla and her parents were asked to go for counseling in order to deal with the diagnosis.

It takes a lot of prompting during this interview for Maxmila to say what the diagnosis was. Eventually, she whispers,

“Cancer…nose tumour.” She cannot pronounce the medical diagnosis nasopharyngeal cancer which is a growth in the the upper part of the pharynx, connecting with the nasal cavity above the soft palate. Maximilla’s parents were distraught and asked an uncle if he could help.

“Two years ago I got a baby while in school. My parents have still not forgiven me and now this .” She laments while trying to hold back tears.” So when the cost of treatment was given to my uncle, I knew this was the end for me and I would not live to see my baby grow.”

Maximila found out about Faraja through her uncle who called a friend that works at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) for advice. The uncle’s friend referred him to Faraja where he quickly filled in the financial assistance form and left it to God. “When my uncle told me I was a beneficiary, I was happy and sad. Happy because there was hope and sad because I would be leaving my little boy behind. He is only 2 and I take care of him alone.”

“Is that why you look sad today?” I ask. “I have always looked this way since I heard the word ‘cancer.’ The day I will smile is when I will be healed and can go back home to my baby.” I nodded and admired her steely determination and her ambition to get better for her sake and that of her son’s. I conclude the interview by asking her what her hopes for the future are. “I want to be a nurse so that I can treat others.” she quips. I make a joke and say, “You have the right attitude for the job.” and for the first time in 30 minutes, Maxilla breaks her melancholy and flashes a two second smile, what a glorious sight.

“I have always looked this way since I heard the word ‘cancer.’ The day I will smile is when I will be healed and can go back home to my baby.”

By Faith Karimi- Faith is a freelance journalist and a volunteer with Faraja Cancer Support Trust.

Beating the odds: A survivor’s story about Faraja’s services

I first heard about Faraja while I was still in hospital soon after I had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I have my friend Anne Mawathe tKevino thank for texting me about the centre. From my hospital bed, I did my research and knew that it would be one of my first ports of call once I was discharged.

Faraja. It loomed large in my head. I didn’t know what to expect. In my head, I was going to a place full of cancer patients. I was going to a place that supported other cancer patients. I was going to be identified as a cancer patient among other cancer patients.

Being within the centre forced me to face the reality of my cancer. I would look at other fighters and wonder what their stories were and how they’ve managed to get thus far. There is strength in numbers and being at Faraja felt like that I was having my burden shared. My attitude changed. I was in a place not just for the wounded but a place of acceptance.

I made appointments with the nutritionist, devoured the relevant literature that was present, had a massage a couple of times and dived into the breathwork sessions conducted by Vinny – Vincent Oloo. It was during these sessions that I felt most vulnerable. But it was also here that I got strength, inspiration and the rest to fight this disease. I was getting mended.

By this time, I was wearing a brace that kept me upright. It had an aluminium frame that supported my upper and lower back. It gave my core a square-like shape. It was the most cumbersome and uncomfortable thing to wear. It wore me down physically and mentally. It reminded me that I wasn’t well. But on Tuesday, this didn’t matter at all. The session brought lots of relief to my body. I don’t think I was the best student, and Vincent can attest to that. This is because five minutes into the session I was fast asleep. It was the one time in the week that I had my best sleep. I had to trust the body to take in what it needed at the time. Vincent’s wise, gentleness and healing approach to was restorative. I will always be grateful for those sessions.

There were days when I didn’t want to be reminded about my disease, see another patient nor hear another cancer story. But these feelings are part and parcel of the journey. And there were days it would take a lot of strength to walk into the building and let alone the centre. But I did walk in.

There is something about a space that connects to you, other kindred souls. In such places, there is no room for judgement nor discrimination. These are places where empathy, respect and kindness are proffered in liberal portions. This is where broken bodies, searching souls and where laboured minds can harbour for hope. And it is true, baada ya dhiki faraja (after hardship comes relief).

Story by Kevin Mwachiro – Kevin was diagnosed with the blood cancer multiple myeloma in 2015. He has been in remission for over two years now.

Learning about cancer treatment from an Expo: Rosemary’s story

Rosemary noticed a change in her menstrual flow and frequency, sometime in March of 2019. She went to the hospital and the nurse that attended to her told her that the bleeding was caused by the type of family planning that she was on.

“But I had my tubes tied a while back and I was not on any family planning method,” Rosemary says, adding that her youngest of six children was eleven and that she had not had this abnormally heavy and prolonged bleeding before. She was given some medication, which eased the bleeding but only temporarily.  If anything, when the bleeding started, it seemed much heavier than it was before her hospital visit. She sought a second opinion at a different clinic, where they told her that they could not tell what her problem was. After three months of misery, she decided to get to Kiambu County Hospital.6a563a0a-cd17-4ef0-bf21-a10a8b83309c

“I felt that the clinics were not helping me, but a big hospital like Kiambu might help,” Rosemary says that by then, even though the bleeding was painless, it was continuous and heavy. She could no longer have normal sexual relations with her husband. It also became hard to continue going to work. She was a tea lady at a small office.

At Kiambu County Hospital, she was referred to a gynaecologist. The doctor sent her for tests, including a biopsy that revealed that Rosemary had cervical cancer, stage one. She referred Rosemary and her husband to Kenyatta National Hospital.

“When we came to Kenyatta, we were informed that the machine was broken down and to check after two weeks.” It was only after the fourth week that they got to have more tests done at KNH. A colleague mentioned that there was a seminar going on at the Sarit Centre about cancer. Rosemary did not hesitate to attend. Upon meeting other people that had cancer and were on treatment, Rosemary felt that she too could get treated.

The Sarit Expo also came with hope for Rosemary. “I learned about HCG-CCK. Very early on that Monday, I came to enquire more about treatment.” She was at first stunned by the cost of treatment but thinking about the patients that she had met, who looked fine, Rosemary was determined to get help. Her husband, a worker at a construction site, held a mini fundraiser and Rosemary was able to get her first treatment. Her family and friends also supported with finances, but still, this could only manage a few cycles of the chemotherapy. She later learned about Faraja and applied for financial support, which, to her great relief was approved.

Rosemary is a strong advocate and is very keen to educate people about cancer.  “Many people don’t know that cancer has treatment.” She says and adds that she learnt of another lady with cancer and called her to appeal to her to seek medical help.

She says this of Faraja: “They listen. They take on your problem like their own. Here at Faraja, they do not know tribe, race or class. There is no discrimination. They help from their hearts. I just want to say thank you to Faraja. I am grateful.”

Rosemary lost her job, where she worked as a messenger cum Tea Lady. She says that her husband and brother have been supportive in this journey, something that she does not take for granted.

Interview conducted and story written by Faith Karimi

Photography courtesy of Paul Obuna

 

When strangers stand with you: Elsher M Nyaronyi with her son and caregiver, Francis Odira

IMG-20200411-WA0005Francis, the third born child and only son of Elsher, noticed his mother was ailing from August 2019. She started with stomach pain which did not go away with over the counter medication. The nearest hospital to them was in Mbita, Homabay County. Tests revealed a stomach ‘issue’ which did not get better and Francis decided to take his mother to Homabay County Referral Hospital. She was admitted and a biopsy came back with a cervical cancer diagnosis, stage 3.

Elsher, for many years, had experienced similar pain, long before Francis was even born. But it had disappeared on its own and she, therefore, had hoped this time too would be the same. It had not, and after the diagnosis, they were referred to Kenyatta National Hospital for radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Neither Francis nor his mother had ever been to Nairobi before. All along, Francis had financed the medical care from his earnings as a bodaboda rider. But this time, he did not have the money to travel to Nairobi and pay for their accommodation.

“I had hoped that they would admit her in Kenyatta for the treatment. I had planned to sleep on the grounds of Kenyatta.” But they learned that chemotherapy and radiotherapy were carried out as outpatient services.

“It has been a long journey and very tough. I went to Safaricom and got a pay bill number and appealed for funding from the public.” Francis says. He remembers his very first visit to Nairobi. They had arrived by night bus and gone straight to Kenyatta National Hospital. They did not get treatment on that day but after queuing up to 6PM, they were given an appointment a week from the day. They had called a distant relative who lived in Nairobi and had promised to house them, but when they called him, he did not pick the call. They stayed at the bus stop, until 11PM when someone connected him to a friend from Homabay who lived in Ngong. This friend graciously hosted Elsher. Francis got hold of another friend who hosted him in Dandora.

For treatment, Francis would travel from Dandora to Ngong to pick his mother and then they would queue at Kenyatta Hospital. He would drop her and go back to Dandora. This was their routine Monday to Friday. His friends chipped in but he soon ran out of his meagre savings. He thought hard but did not want his mother to see his desperation.

As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. A fan of Milele FM, Francis could only think of Alex Mwakideu the Breakfast host as his only hope.

“I found out where the Milele FM offices were but the security did not let me in.”

Undeterred, Francis sat outside the offices, his eyes fixed on the entrance. He was rewarded by the presence of Mwakideu, who graciously listened to Francis’s story and even took a snapshot of the medical documents that Francis had carried. Mwakideu posted Francis’s appeal on Instagram. It proved to be the miracle that Francis had prayed for. His appeal raised Ksh79,000 from well-wishers. Francis could now afford the Ksh 3,600 per session of radiotherapy for his mother, plus the transport to and fro.

There was still the brachytherapy treatment pending and the money was quickly running out after the chemotherapy and radiotherapy. After the post by Alex Mwakideu, a well- wisher advised Francis to visit Faraja. At Faraja, Elsher and Francis went through counselling and learnt a lot about nutrition. Elsher especially enjoys the massage therapy as she can sleep well after a session.

They also received financial support from Faraja for brachytherapy and the remaining radiotherapy treatment. This is a huge relief for Francis, whose 80-year-old father also depends on him for upkeep. In addition, Francis has a young family of his own who look up to him.  He feels immensely grateful that strangers can show up to stand with him and his family at their time of need.

“I just thank God for everyone. Faraja, Alex Mwakideu, Kenyans who don’t know me -like this lady called Faith Chebichi who always helped us with transport. Thank you.”

As a caregiver, Francis admits that is has been a hard journey. He has lost appetite and weight and struggles to balance between the needs of his young family back home and that of his ailing mother.

“The counseling at Faraja has helped me a lot. I feel hopeful.” Francis admits that love from other people has sustained him.  In turn, he has learnt that a cancer patient needs a lot of love.

“It keeps them motivated so that they can recover.” He admits that a lot of time, he has had to hide his pain from his mother.

Asked what she would advise someone who is diagnosed with cancer, Elsher has this to say;

“After coming to Faraja and getting the counseling here, I can advise someone to be strong. Having cancer is not the end of everything.”

Interview conducted and story written by Faith Karimi

Photography courtesy of Paul Obuna

Sadness is Silent: Yusuf’s Story

What started as an itch on his left eye, in early 2019, grew into painful discomfort for young Yusuf. At first, his parents attributed the itching to dust since he lived in the North-Eastern part of Kenya, known to be arid and dusty.

“No one ever imagined that this was cancer. We didn’t even know that there is the cancer of the eye,” exclaims Ibrahim, Yusuf’s caregiver a friend of the family.

Faraja-21Yusuf’s parents took him to a local clinic to seek treatment but the pain in his left eye became intolerable. They sought help at the Mandera County Hospital and were finally referred to seek specialised treatment at the Kikuyu Eye Hospital in the outskirts of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. It is then that  Ibrahim, who lives in Nairobi offered to take young Yusuf into his care, given that Yusuf’s parents lived in the village and could not afford to pay for the treatment nor afford transport and living costs for any length of time away from home.

At the Kikuyu Eye Hospital, tests revealed that Yusuf had cancer of the eye. He was put on treatment, but his condition did not improve.

“It was then that the doctor advised us to have his eye removed. His parents were shocked but soon accepted it for the sake of their son’s health. ” Ibrahim says.  Amazingly enough, Yusuf’s health significantly improved after surgery and he went back home to Mandera, he even resumed school.

Sadly towards the end of October 2019, he started experiencing the pain in his left, now hollow socket, once again. His parents reached out to Ibrahim who arranged for Yusuf to travel on his own to Nairobi to see the doctor. The doctor recommended chemotherapy to stop the cancer from growing. “When I received the bill, the cost of the chemotherapy was prohibitive. I had spent a lot of my money already and could not afford the tests and treatment needed to make Yusuf better. I also had to factor in my family needs and came to the quick conclusion that I could not afford to maintain both.” exclaims Ibrahim.

There was nothing else to do than to start fundraising. It took Ibrahim a month to raise the money for chemotherapy treatment but they still had to raise funds for radiotherapy as his treatment was concurrent.

“Yusuf’s parents are very poor, even affording transport to come to Nairobi is a problem for them, so I shared my concerns with the staff members of the institution that Ibrahim was having chemotherapy done, HCG-CCK Cancer Center. Their medical social worker advised him to seek support from Faraja.

“When I applied for financial assistance, I thought I would have to wait two years but in two weeks, we received the news that Yusuf’s radiotherapy treatment would be fully covered by Faraja. Faraja came through!” Ibrahim says. “It has been a very long journey and honestly, this was the highlight.”

At this point, Ibrahim looks at young Yusuf, who all along has been a silent listener. For a ten-year-old, he is very quiet. “He has no one else to help with this,” Ibrahim says and adds that Yusuf was once a playful smart boy but he is not the same now.

Faraja-22“You can tell he has been through hell. He doesn’t talk much. He is very sad. Yusuf misses going to school. We leave it to God. He decides.” Ibrahim says. Yusuf’s parents were to travel to Nairobi to apply for the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) cover, but due to heavy rainfall earlier on in the year,  the road from their village to the nearest bus station caved in and they could not travel.

“The child is ours. We will do our best and God has helped us this far,” says Ibrahim encouragingly. ” I do not understand the full diagnosis, but I am hopeful that with Yusuf’s age, the prospect of recovery is high.”

Interview conducted and story written by Faith Karimi

Photography courtesy of Paul Obuna

 

Mistaken for a drunk driver

On the night of 8th June 2017, Paul Kamau Gitau 46, was awaked by a sudden sharp sting in his head. It felt like an electric current had gone through his head. He ruled out a snake or insect bite as the sting was inside his head. The sting was followed by a fever so high that he got drenched in sweat and had to lay naked on the cold floor. He woke his wife who lay next to him. To his shock, he realised that he could not speak. Since it was close to morning, they waited for daylight and went to a nearby hospital in Kitengela a town located North East of Nairobi.

By now, he had to communicate through writing. He was given some tablets to take. His friends advised him to seek treatment in a bigger hospital as this could be a symptom of a bigger problem. Paul got a contact of a neurologist in Nairobi, who carried different tests on him. The tests alone came to KES 35,000, excluding medications. Paul, a Matatu driver did not have this kind of money, but his colleagues pooled funds together to help him settle the bill.

Despite undergoing treatment for a whole year,  Paul never fully regaining his speech, and with the onset of other symptoms, he decided to seek a second opinion. Lethargy, paralysis on one arm and memory lapses became frequent. One afternoon, while cruising on Mombasa road towards Kitengela, with the minibus packed with passengers, all the symptoms struck. Paul’s arm and leg went limb, he lost control of the vehicle and became disoriented. It was the guard rails that brought the car to a halt. The irate passengers, believing that the incoherent, wobbly Paul was drunk almost beat him up. It was one passenger that said that Paul looked sickly. Thankfully, a fellow driver reached them and assured the passengers that Paul was indeed unwell and under long term medication.

After this incident, Paul gave up his driving career.

“I realised that I would end up killing people with this unpredictable illness,” Paul says. The second doctor recommended various tests, which Paul underwent. The tests showed that Paul had a tumour in the brain. Urgent surgery was required. By this time, Paul had not worked for six months and was completely low on cash. His wife was unemployed. He applied for NHIF card, which would take months to mature. His friends and extended family held a fundraiser which raised the money for surgery.

Paul KamauAfter the biopsy, Paul was diagnosed with stage two brain tumour, which required him to start therapy treatments. The doctor, who had by now walked with Paul and understood his financial stress, referred him to Faraja Cancer Support Trust.

Paul applied for financial support from Faraja. In addition to NHIF and the fundraising by his colleagues in the Matatu sector, he underwent successful surgery and chemotherapy.

“God really is real. May the Lord bless Faraja. I have gone through a long hard journey. But I know that all shall be well now.” Paul says.

 

God Opened a Door Through Strangers

Jane, 60, had long forgotten all about menstrual bleeding, until one day in March of 2019.

“I was shocked and even embarrassed to go buy sanitary pads at my age,” Jane says.

But the bleeding turned out to be nothing like she had experienced before during her menses. The bleeding was so heavy that it quickly soaked through the sanitary pads, so much so that it interfered with her normal routine. It was painless and so for the first few days, she did not worry about it.

Jane Wanjiku Manga.jpgBut when the flow did not reduce by day five,  her gut feeling told her that something was not right. At the same time, her youngest son, who is also an adult, was unwell. Jane, a widow, worked as a farmhand. Her salary could only afford medical care for one person. She opted to first take her son for treatment before attending to her bleeding situation.

It was only after her son was well that she went to a nearby clinic. By then, it had been three months of nonstop bleeding. It would dry up for a few days but resume again. At the hospital, a nurse sat Jane down and firmly told her,

Jane Wanjiuku Manga, 60, had long forgotten all about menstrual bleeding, until one day in March of 2019.

“I was shocked and even embarrassed to go buy sanitary pads at my age.” Jane says.  She had, out of the blues started bleeding that afternoon.

But this bleeding turned out to be nothing like she had experienced before during her menses. The bleeding was so heavy that it quickly soaked through the sanitary pads, so much so that it interfered with her normal routine. It was painless and so for the first few days, she did not worry about it.

But when the flow did not reduce by day five, as was the norm with her monthly period decades back, her gut feeling told her that something was not right. At the same time, her youngest son, who is also an adult, was unwell. Jane, a widow, worked as a farmhand. Her salary could only afford medical care for one person. She opted to first take her son for treatment before attending to her bleeding situation.

It was only after her son was well that she went to a nearby clinic. By then, it had been three months of nonstop bleeding. It would dry up for a few days but resume again. At the hospital, a nurse sat Jane down and firmly told her,

“Do not take this lightly. You must go to a main hospital and speak to a doctor. This is not period bleeding.”

“What is it then?” Jane asked the nurse, who hesitated but insisted that Jane must see a doctor as a matter of urgency. Jane insisted to know what the nurse thought her issue was. “I cannot say without a proper diagnosis. But it looks like the early stages of cancer.” Jane broke down. Cancer was not an illness she had associated with this bleeding.

“I’d rather have HIV than cancer!” She was distraught. It took over an hour to counsel her and she calmed down. She is grateful that the nurse was patient with her.

At the referral hospital, she underwent different tests. She was diagnosed with cancer of the cervix, stage one. Her doctor told her that she had to start treatment immediately, which included surgery.

“How much is treatment?” Jane asked, concerned that the treatment was more than over the counter pills. She had exhausted all the money she had from her salary and from her friends. When she got the quotation, she had another breakdown.

“You see, I have nothing to my name, no property and my salary is less than ten thousand.” Jane told the doctor. She had signed up with the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), but the card had not matured. The hospital gave her a discount and booked her for surgery. Unknown to her, her friends pooled together and raised the funds, which paid for the surgery.

But she was once again distraught to learn that there were chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments that she had to undergo, in addition to the medications and the iron rich diet that she was prescribed.

She was referred to MP Shah Hospital. But Jane was not able to raise the money needed to do more tests and start her treatment. After three months, the doctor called her and told her that she had to start treatment, otherwise her condition would deteriorate. By then, her employer had dismissed her. Jane got into a depression. She locked herself in her small house and waited for death to take her.

It is her friend, who after unsuccessfully trying to fund raise swore that she would find help for Jane, whatever it took. She got Jane out of bed and they went for treatment with the little money that they had. It was while at HCCG that Jane got to learn about Faraja Cancer Trust. She did not hesitate to apply for financial assistant.

She was overjoyed when Faraja extended financial assistant. “God opened a door through strangers. If I remember how my employer dismissed me, telling me that I was on my way to death, I know that God lives.” An emotional Jane says. She says that she has no words to express her gratitude to Faraja for being there for her at her hour of need.

“I am so grateful. Thank you, thank you Faraja!”

 

“What is it then?” Jane asked the nurse, who hesitated but insisted that Jane must see a doctor as a matter of urgency. Jane insisted to know what the nurse thought her issue was. “I cannot say without a proper diagnosis. But it looks like the early stages of cancer.” Jane broke down. Cancer was not an illness she had associated with this type of bleeding.

“I’d rather have HIV than cancer!” She was distraught. It took over an hour to counsel her and she calmed down. She is grateful that the nurse was patient with her.

At the referral hospital, she underwent different tests. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer, stage one. Her doctor told her that she had to start treatment immediately, which included surgery.

“How much is the treatment?” Jane asked, concerned that the treatment was more than over the counter pills. She had exhausted all the money she had from her salary and from her friends. When she got the quotation, she had another breakdown.

“You see, I have nothing to my name, no property and my salary is less than ten thousand,” Jane told the doctor. She had signed up with the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), but the card had not matured. The hospital gave her a discount and booked her for surgery. Unknown to her, her friends pooled together and raised the funds, which paid for the surgery.

But she was once again distraught to learn that there were chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments that she had to undergo, in addition to the medications and the iron-rich diet that she was prescribed.

She was referred to MP Shah Hospital. But Jane was not able to raise the money needed to do more tests and start her treatment. After three months, the doctor called her and told her that she had to start treatment, otherwise her condition would deteriorate. By then, her employer had dismissed her. Jane got into a depression. She locked herself in her small house and waited for death.

It is her friend, who after unsuccessfully trying to fundraise,  swore that she would find help for Jane, whatever it took. She got Jane out of bed and they went for treatment with the little money that they had. It was while at HCG-CCK Cancer Center that Jane got to learn about Faraja. She did not hesitate to apply for financial assistant.

She was overjoyed when Faraja extended financial assistant. “God opened a door through strangers. If I remember how my employer dismissed me, telling me that I was on my way to death, I know that God lives.” An emotional Jane says. She says that she has no words to express her gratitude to Faraja for being there for her at her hour of need.

“I am so grateful. Thank you, thank you Faraja!”

Editor’s Note: Faraja paid for Jane’s chemotherapy and brachytherapy treatment. She is currently doing well.

 

Trapped Breast Milk: A story of misdiagnosis and eventual quality care.

“I had no idea that the lump in my breast was a problem,”

Tabitha says, shaking her head as if still surprised that a painless lump would prove to be so ominous. When she discovered the lump she didn’t give it much thought at first. This was mainly because what she knew about cancer made her believe it was a ‘far fetched issue affecting only wealthy people’. But when the tiny lump kept growing, she got concerned and went to a nearby clinic. The first diagnosis she received at the hospital was that it was breastmilk trapped in the duct. This was shocking to Tabitha because her last born child was then in high school in Form One.

“Breastmilk for a mother who has a child in Form One? ” She asked the medic bewildered. The medic explained to Tabitha that this happens many times and that she should take antibiotics to stop any infection.

When she went home and told her family, they laughed it off but still stood by the diagnosis, after all, doctors do not lie and if they say it is trapped breastmilk, the medicine will untrap it.

Sadly, the lump didn’t respond to medication and she returned to the clinic only to be told to massage the lump daily.  When nothing changed, she decided to seek an alternative opinion and went to another hospital in Thika County. Unfortunately, this was the time when there was a nationwide Doctor’s strike and she could only get tests done in a private hospital.  “That was the first time I heard the word biopsy and cancer. I never thought it would come to this after being told I had trapped breast milk.”

Tabith was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2017 after tests confirmed the lump she had discovered in her breast was malignant.

“Now that we knew what it was, we quickly moved on from our misdiagnosis and decided to seek proper treatment. ”

Operations resumed at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) and Tabitha was able to undergo a mastectomy which was covered by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

After healing from her surgery she began chemotherapy treatment but to her shock and horror, the wound swelled afresh.  “The doctors said there were additional lumps that had not been successfully removed from the surgery.  I was given more chemo to clear this.”

“NHIF was only covering 6 cycles of chemo, the additional ones we had to fundraise from friends and family members,” says Tabitha as she twiddles her thumbs. When she finished chemo, she was placed on the long waiting list at Kenyatta and given a date after three months. Her family did not want to wait,  fearing the lumps would re-appear. That is when they were referred to HCG-CCK Cancer Center for radiotherapy.

Tabitha was overwhelmed at this point; she looked at the cost per session for the radiotherapy treatment, in addition to a PET scan examination, and knew that she was in all sorts of trouble.

“We could not afford my treatments any longer,” Tabitha says matter of factly. Her husband paints houses for a living. Sometimes, the paint jobs are not forthcoming. They had held a fundraiser for the initial treatments and could not imagine doing another one. They also had two children in secondary school. She contemplated her situation and decided she would forego her medical treatment.

Then one day her friend convinced Tabitha to leave the house and accompany her to a support group meeting. There, Tabitha met a lady called Bonnie who, after listening to her plight, insisted she continues with treatment and referred her to Faraja. While at Faraja, Tabitha took a step of faith and filled in the financial assistance application forms. “I then went home and got busy dying.”She laughs “I had already resigned myself to a negative response and had given up on life.” Two weeks later, Tabitha received some good news, Faraja would pay for her entire radiotherapy treatment at HCG-CCK cancer center.

“Let me tell you! I have seen God!” “Faraja imenisaidia. Mimi nashukuru Mungu sana. Afadhali kutoka ujue vile watu wanasema.”

Tabitha MwihakiTabitha has become an advocate, telling anyone willing to listen, to stop wallowing in their homes. She believes that getting out of the house, talking to people and sharing your tribulations is a doorway to getting the help that one needs.

“I am a changed person. I get energized by talking and sharing with other people. If I had stayed in my house, I would not be alive today, talking with my husband and children.” Tabitha remarks that she never thought she would feel hope again, but that surrounded by kind and considerate people at the Faraja, she found it.

Tabitha urges others to seek out people who could be resigned to their homes because of illness. She says that many people die in hiding, not knowing that they could have been treated.

She has successfully finished her radiotherapy and regularly attends our monthly breast cancer support group. She also participates in the alternative therapies offered at Faraja, her favorite is reflexology.

Interviewed by Karimi Gatimi, Photography by David Kariuki (Kiki)

N&N: A Story of friends who fight by day and play by night.

Monica’s Story

Monica Tekelow, 40, mother to Napot says that he used to cry a lot as a newborn. She has other older children, but they were not as fussy as Napot when he was a baby. “He will calm down when he grows up,” she would say to herself and true to form he stopped crying until August 2018, a few months after his third birthday, he started crying again this time day and night.  Frustrated by his inability to identify what his problem was, Maureen one day stripped him naked him and checked him all over. She noticed with horror that his stomach had a lump, a hard mass that she had never been there before. She informed her husband who advised her to take him to the women in the village for a tummy massage, a common cultural practice.

Monica chose to take him to the hospital instead.  Accompanied by one of her older daughters, she went to the nearest hospital in Kapenguria, West Pokot County.  After a physical examination, the medical personnel referred Napot to another hospital in Kitale. They went back home, borrowed busfare and went to Kitale the following day. In Kitale, they did a thorough physical assessment and referred her to Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) in Eldoret. Monica called her husband and together, they sourced for money and travelled to Eldoret.

At MTRH, Napot was admitted and had tests done. The results revealed that he had cancer of the kidney known as nephroblastoma, a common cancer among children. He went through surgery to remove the tumour and had 6 cycles of chemotherapy treatment which was catered for by government insurance ( NHIF).  His consulting doctor however advised that he should have radiotherapy treatment done which, at that time,  was only available in Nairobi.

Caroline’s Story

In September of 2018, 5-year-old Naima was her usual playful self, running around their home in Busia town, Western Kenya, when she fell down. She could not stop crying, saying that her stomach hurt a lot.  Her mother, Caroline Adhiambo, 34, believed that a stone might have hurt Naima and that the pain would eventually subside. It did not. After a night of crying, Caroline took Naima to the hospital the following morning. Naima was still crying in pain. Tests did not reveal anything, though the doctor noticed a lump on Naima’s tummy.

A different doctor, on examining Naima recommended further tests at a different hospital. She informed Caroline that she suspected Naima had cancer of the kidney but that this would be best diagnosed at MTRH  in Eldoret. The doctor ordered an ambulance to take them from Busia to Eldoret, where tests confirmed the kidney cancer diagnosis. Thankfully the ambulance was covered by NHIF.

Naima stayed in the hospital for six weeks and underwent surgery and chemotherapy treatment. Caroline is a housewife while her husband is a casual worker. He had taken the NHIF cover which paid for Naima’s treatment. But when they were informed that they needed to pay for radiotherapy treatment in Nairobi, Caroline and her husband felt helpless.

The meeting of in Nairobi

Faraja works closely with a social worker at MTRH called Sandra. Sandra referred both Napot and Naima’s case to us for possible consideration of funding. After review from the Faraja Medical Support Fund panel, our Patient Support Manager Phillip called Sandra and gave her the good news, their entire radiotherapy treatment would be catered for by Faraja.

“There was no way to raise the money for radiotherapy. We also did not know anyone in Nairobi. When we got the call from Faraja, I felt like God gave me another chance to raise my son again. I can only ask God to bless the Faraja family because they gave me hope. Without their intervention, I know things would have been really bad.” Says Caroline.

“The thought that my son will look healthy again gives me peace of mind and I know that he shall be completely healed,” Monica says, adding that Faraja should continue touching more lives.

Caroline and Monica met for the first time at a bus stop in downtown Nairobi at 6am on 7th November 2018. Since they were housed at the same hostel, they became close friends and their children even closer. During the day, Napot and Naima would hold hands as they walked into the hospital, smiling shyly, as they sauntered to the nurse’s desk. At night, they would play together until late, much to the chagrin of their sleepy mothers.

As per the date of publishing this article, we learnt that Naima is doing well but sadly Napot’s tumour recurred and metastasized to the brain.

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Napot (left) Naima ( center) Grace ( right) Grace is our crafts for cure co-ordinator

Faraja Cancer Support Trust through the Faraja Medical Support Fund fully paid for Napot and Naima’s treatment at HCG-CCK Cancer Center in Nairobi. The children both had 14 sessions of 3D radiotherapy and were housed at a nearby hostel for 20 days. The entire cost of treatment including their meals, toiletries and transport to and from Eldoret was Kshs 123,750. 

Ronald- on his diagnosis as a teenager and his plans for the future.

“When we walked through the corridors of KNH, people would not only stare but also give me a wide berth thinking I was contagious. It didn’t bother me because I was sure that I would be cured.”

Ronald was looking forward to joining Kabete Technical College in September of 2018 to study a course in Engineering. But in July of 2018, his left eye became constantly itchy. He used home-based remedies, thinking it was only an allergic reaction but the itch became worse and his eye started to swell causing his vision to become blurry.  His father took him to Lion’s Eye hospital in Kikuyu and he was prescribed special lenses, which he wore for only four days.  As the swelling became progressively worse, he sought a second opinion at another private eye hospital and was asked to do a CT scan.

The results indicated that Ronald had a growth from the nasal sinuses and it was finding an outlet through his left eye.  He was referred to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) for a biopsy and was diagnosed with stage 2 Sinonasal Undifferentiated Carcinoma, also known as SUNC.  SNUC is a rare cancer of the nasal cavity and/or paranasal sinuses.

Something interesting to note about his histology report, it indicates that he is 99 years old!  Ronald laughs at this as he was only 19 at the time, his optimism is a true testament of his character. When asked why he says, “Because the medics could not believe that this type of cancer, common with much older people, would be diagnosed in a teenager.” He also mentions how grotesque his eye looked but he was adamant not to cover it up.

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“When we walked through the corridors of KNH, people would not only stare but also give me a wide berth thinking I was contagious. It didn’t bother me because I was sure that I would be cured.”

The first thing his family did was seek help from the National Hospital Insurance Fund ( NHIF).  Since his cancer is rare, the cost they received for his chemotherapy drugs was expensive(  about Kshs 90,000 per cycle when NHIF was only catering for Kshs 13,000 per cycle).  Worried about not completing his treatment, he confided in his cousin who referred him to Dr. Mbogo and Dr. Vijay at HCG-CCK Cancer Center. After additional scans and medical tests, the reports indicated that his cancer had moved to stage 3 but was still localized, meaning, it had not spread further. Ronald had to be put on treatment immediately to arrest the spread.

Ronald’s father, Patrick is a civil servant and Judy his mother is a housewife. Patrick being the sole breadwinner was already strained in meeting the family’s daily upkeep. He shakes his head as if lost for words when asked how he managed to pay for Ronald’s numerous laboratory tests.

“What do you do? You borrow, which we did, but it just wasn’t enough and we still had to do chemo. It was a trying time for all of us.” Patrick says.

Left without any choice, they started chemotherapy at MP Shah Hospital using the NHIF rebate and funds from a crowdfunding event Harambee. During Ronald’s second chemo, a Faraja volunteer approached him and his family and told them about Faraja and our free complementary therapies. Ronald’s father decided to ask about financial assistance and went ahead to fill the application forms without hesitation

“Faraja offered us support for the remaining 3 chemos.  It has been such a relief; I cannot explain how grateful we are as a family.” Says Ronald’s dad.

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Ronald is committed to complete all his treatments and be a witness to dispel the myths that cancer is a death sentence.

“I am grateful to Faraja for their support and to all those people who have supported our family in different ways. I want to educate people that cancer is treatable. One must remain positive, trust in God and not fear to seek medical treatment.”

 

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