An overzealous doctor led to an early diagnosis

Mohammed , 43 Years

Swelling in the leg between the groin and inner thigh, did not at first concern Mohammed much, because it is a common occurrence indicating an infection in most people after an injury. However, this specific swelling was not painful, and Mohammed had not suffered any sort of injury. He first noticed the swelling at the beginning of 2020, but it soon disappeared, then reappeared a month later, looking bigger than it had been. When it became noticeably large, he sought medical attention. An attentive doctor carried out tests and insisted on a biopsy.

“I thought the doctor was going overboard with the test requests, which were very expensive.” The doctor referred Mohammed to a testing center and insisted he, Mohammed, should look for funds and have the tests done. “I managed to raise the fee and did the tests.”

When he brought the tests back to the doctor, he expected that the story would end there. “But I cannot read, so I did not know that the tests were not good at all.” The doctor informed him that he needed to do a repeat test, just to verify what the current results were indicating. It was then that Mohammed realized that the swelling, even though painless might have been a symptom of something bad. A security guard by employment, Mohammed’s salary could not afford him the numerous tests and surgery that were to follow. He got his friends and family to support him while part of the inpatient bill was catered for by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

The second results came back and confirmed an esophagus cancer diagnosis. “The journey became tough because chemotherapy, the accompanying medication, and transport to and from became extremely expensive.” He was also weak from the treatment and had to be accompanied by his wife or a friend to the chemotherapy sessions, which doubled the fair. “We were turning beggarly.” Mohammed says, “but God is good because a relative who had gone through cancer treatment called me and told me about Faraja.”

That relative is called Nooria, one of Faraja’s first beneficiaries from the Faraja Medical Support Fund. Nooria was only 21 years when she walked through Faraja’s doors asking for support for her radiotherapy treatment for jaw cancer.

Mohammed did not hesitate to seek assistance from Faraja, to which he qualified, and was immediately put on the remaining treatment regimen, courtesy of Faraja.

“In fact, the treatment was better because it suited my body and I did not suffer severe side effects. In addition, the financial stress was now lifted since Faraja took over from where NHIF could not. “My treatment was complicated. I needed 8 chemotherapies, each costing about Kshs 50,000 ($500). My NHIF cover only catered for Kshs 25,000 so I had to top up every time eventually running out of money on my third cycle. I had to take pre-chemotherapy drugs which were very expensive. Before Faraja came in, I would tell the hospital to administer treatment without the pre-chemo drugs which is why the side effects were harsh on my body. But when Faraja stepped in, they paid for everything and I would leave the hospital feeling like a human being. What I want people to know is that the emotional strain due to financial stress is a big contribution to making this illness worse. I could now breathe and I felt healthy without the money stress.” Mohammed says, adding that if he could, he would support Faraja to continue with their work.

He completed the treatment and followed through with the post-treatment testing.

“I am grateful to God that I am now in remission and not begging in the streets, thanks to Faraja.” Mohammed also went through counseling, which he says was important in his healing journey. “Put your trust in God, every time, all the time,” Mohammed concludes.

Mohammed and his niece Nooria are both beneficiaries of the Faraja Medical Support Fund (FMSF) which was launched in 2016 with the aim of supporting patients through treatment. It is an endowment fund whose interest is used to cater to cancer treatment in Kenya. So far, the fund has supported 500 patients at a total cost of Kshs 50 million ( USD 422,000). Funds donated to FMSF come from donors and well-wishers.

Confronting doctors led to a right diagnosis

Rosemary , 42 years.

Who would have thought that a backache would be a precursor to cervical cancer? Not Rosemary, who thought that her back pain was because of overworking. The back pain started towards the end of the year 2020. It persisted, leading Rosemary to seek medical advice. She was given some painkillers and advised to rest. The pain reduced, but a few months later, in January of 2021, she experienced bleeding that was far from her usual menses.

“The bleeding was extremely heavy, and it came back with even more serious back pains,” Rosemary says that she felt like her body was no longer hers anymore. She went back to the hospital, where they told her that her symptoms indicated that she had a sexually transmitted disease. She was put on medication, but despite the treatment, not to mention the tension at home with her husband, she did not feel any better. The back pain reduced but the bleeding continued.

Rosemary went back to the hospital. But this time, she became angry when she was once again told that her backache and bleeding were due to overworking.

Rosemary received chemo at KNH and radiotherapy at HCG-CCK. Both treatments cost Kshs 130,000

“I demanded lab tests. I told them to test the blood and take x-rays of my back!”

She chose to seek another hospital and this time, after giving her full medical history, told the doctor that she was tired of the bleeding. The doctor asked her to undergo an ultrasound test, which they said indicated that she had fibroids that were the cause of the heavy bleeding. With the ultrasound results, however, the doctor referred her to Kenyatta National Hospital for a biopsy.  But the waiting line was long, and her bleeding had made her seriously anemic. Her husband, a casual laborer could not afford the private hospital fee and Rosemary had closed her small grocery business. Her family held a fundraiser and they managed to raise the prerequisite fee for the biopsy, which revealed that she had cervical cancer.

“I was grateful that at last, a diagnosis was found,” Rosemary says. She also met a doctor who finally prescribed a medication that stopped the bleeding.  Rosemary was informed that the treatment entailed chemotherapy, which required a lot more money than she had imagined. To make matters worse, this treatment was not available in the smaller local hospitals.

“We have young children who were home for lack of school fees. How was I to raise money for chemotherapy?” Rosemary asks, then quickly adds, “I told God to take charge. I had nothing else to do.”

It is medical personnel at KNH that directed her to Faraja.

“After we appealed to Faraja for help, I went home and dedicated three days to fasting and the rest to prayers. When Faraja called her to confirm that she had qualified for financial support, I was overjoyed.”

“This, to me was a miracle. I could not stop crying for joy and thanking God for the miracle.” She was now able to undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. She is looking forward to starting on brachytherapy and the other alternative therapies at Faraja, such as nutrition sessions.

“I am now an encourager. I speak to patients and tell them not to ever give up.” Rosemary says.

Never ill before, until cancer came calling…

Joshua , 49 years

As far back as he can recall, Joshua had never had an illness that warranted a hospital visit, leave alone an admission.

“Even when I got sick, like with malaria, I would simply buy medication from a chemist and get on with life,” Joshua says, contrasting this with his recent situation of prolonged hospital stays.

It all started one day in early April 2020, with a bout of what he assumed was malaria combined with a tummy bug.

Faraja paid for Joshua’s chemotherapy treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital.

“I started by throwing up, followed by diarrhea, then general body weakness.” As usual, Joshua got over-the-counter medications. But the symptoms, especially the running stomach did not abate. He then assumed that he was suffering from typhoid, but when he noticed blood in his stool, he finally decided to pay a visit to the doctor. He was diagnosed with typhoid and prescribed the same medication that he had earlier bought himself. After two separate visits to the doctor, with no change in his bowel movements, he stepped into a third hospital and asked for laboratory tests of the stool.  The tests did not indicate anything, even though his symptoms took a turn for the worse when he now had frequent urination.

“It is hard for a man to disclose such matters to another man, but one day in church, I kept stepping out to pee. My friend noticed and wondered what was going on.” Joshua says that he opened up to his pal about his uncomfortable situation. He went to a fourth hospital, a bigger one, where they diagnosed him with H Pylori and ulcers. The rectal bleeding continued, and he went back to the hospital. This time, he encountered a different doctor who advised him to have a colonoscopy and a biopsy. The results finally revealed to Joshua what was ailing him.

“I met a good doctor who started with counseling me, educating me, and then he told me that I had the early stages of rectal cancer,” Joshua says that the counseling helped him so that he did not get too shocked about the diagnosis.

“In fact, what shocked me was to discover that I would need long-term, expensive treatment. I thought I would just get medication and go home.” He had to undergo immediate surgery and stay in hospital for a while. He called his family and friends to help raise the Kshs 130,000 that was needed for the urgent surgery. All his networks managed to put together 30,000shillings. Joshua is not in full-time employment and had not been updating his National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) payments, but his friends were able to promptly update the insurance card from the minimal funds raised.

“I would tell every Kenyan to get NHIF. If I had it updated, this money would not have stressed me so much.” The doctors had compassion on Joshua and tried to waive a lot of their fees, but he still had a huge bill by the time he went through the surgery.

“Then I got another shock shortly afterward, that there was another treatment called chemotherapy. Very expensive!” He asked the doctor to discharge him since the bill was already piling up and his NHIF insurance had only managed to pay about 70% of the bill.

“I did not have the money to start chemotherapy.” Joshua has a child who also needs regular medical care after an accident. As a dad, he had to make the choice about his life or that of his child.

“My wife would just cry all the time, watching me bedridden and watching the children, sometimes sleeping hungry.” It was a doctor, during one of his clinic visits who advised him to seek financial help from Faraja. He was able to apply for assistance from Faraja, who, thankfully came through for him.

“In fact, I felt my health come back the day they announced that they would support me.” Joshua says, adding that being diagnosed with cancer made him familiar with hospitals, something he would not wish on anyone.

His only challenge is the colostomy bag that he has to use for life.

“It is expensive. I panic every time I have a few left because I cannot live without them.”

Joshua is grateful to Faraja, and to all his friends and family that have stood with him throughout the ordeal of cancer illness and treatment.

“This is not a disease that you can manage alone. Please, Faraja, continue standing with us. We would not be here without your help.” Joshua says, adding that Faraja also helped him deal with the additional costs of radiotherapy. “Doctors don’t reveal to you, in the beginning, how expensive this journey will be.”

Joshua has no source of income.  But to give hope to his family who was used to seeing him leave home early, he still makes it a point to wake up early and get out.

“I sell groundnuts. It does not bring much, but I will be depressed if I stay home the whole day, sleeping.” He also appreciates group therapy, especially for people using colostomy bags like him. “They understand and will not stigmatize you.” Joshua appeals to Faraja to not tire supporting cancer patients.

Around the world in 1,100 days

Brian was born in 2017. His grandmother Caroline only remembers it as the election year in Kenya. “There was something wrong about everything, I could feel it from the time his mother was pregnant with him, I just wasn’t settled in my spirit.” Brian’s mother suffered frequent headaches that were so severe that she had to have an emergency Caesarian Section to bring Brian forth.

Sadly, his grandmother’s premonition came true because Brian’s mother not only had a difficult pregnancy but an even more difficult birth and so was the immediate aftermath. She passed away when Brian was only 1 month old. Brian’s grandmother painfully recalls, “His father is my son. I knew from the day that we buried his wife that he could not cope. He just wasn’t strong enough to raise a child alone.” For the second time in a very short span, what she’d feared came to pass. Brian’s father abandoned him and his elder brother Elvis on the pretext of a job search in Eldoret town.

When Brian was 2, he started developing fevers regularly. His grandmother, ever superstitious thought that whatever took her daughter-in-law to an early grave had come back to take Brian. This time she would not wait. She rushed Brian to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. The nurse at Triage noticed that Brian had an unusual swelling to the right of his torso. Before booking him to see a doctor, they asked Caroline to take him for a CT scan. The result was a swollen right kidney. He was immediately admitted to the Shoe4Africa Ward and started on chemotherapy treatment for the ensuing 6 weeks. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. All medical resources were diverted to assist the growing number of Covid patients in need of critical care. This meant that Brian who was scheduled to have an operation to remove his failing kidney had to wait for another 6 weeks to see a surgeon.

In January 2021 he was prescribed 10 sessions of radiotherapy at Equra Centre ( a private treatment clinic, the state hospital’s machine was not yet up and running). When Caroline saw the bill, her heart sunk. She had been Brian’s sole caregiver for over a year, meaning that her maize farm had gone unfarmed since he fell ill. There would be no harvest to fund his treatment. Caroline is from Mount Elgon, a region in the North Western part of Kenya that was also experiencing tribal clashes which meant she had to stay put. “My whole family is scattered, I gave Brian’s brother Elvis back to his father because I could not cope. ” says Caroline as she smooths off some folds on Brian’s oversized red knit sweater.  All she had was her government insurance (NHIF) which would only cater for a fraction of Brian’s treatment at a private treatment center. She recalled a nurse had hinted to her about Faraja and the assistance they give to cancer patients when Brian was undergoing chemotherapy. “I applied and waited. After 3 weeks, I got the call that Faraja would cater for Brian’s radiotherapy treatment.”

Brian and his grandmother Caroline talking to Maureen, Faraja Eldoret’s former administrator.

“I am happy that Faraja came to our aid. I am now also taking care of Brian’s brother Elvis who is helping me care for him. I can now go about my business as  a casual labourer knowing that Brian is well looked after. I see him smiling, eating, playing and I know that all will be well. That funny feeling I had before is slowing going away and I hope it never comes back.”

Brian is one of the many beneficiaries of Faraja’s Medical Support Fund that was set up to assist children and adults with cancer in Kenya. The Medical Fund is a corpus of funds that is invested and the equity raised used to support patients. Radiotherapy treatment is now available at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital.

It’s the optimism for us…

Written by James Rogoi

Johnny Carsons , 20 (JC)

As a kid, he loved playing football, the thrill of dribbling and scoring, his only care being a good time out on the pitch with his friends. Over time, however, tackles to his legs as is part of the game started to hurt more than they would before. The pain was so sharp that he couldn’t take it anymore and had to sadly say goodbye to the beautiful game, at least the part with him on the field.

In Form 2, he noticed his right leg was unusually swollen. He shrugged it off as a calf injury from his footballing days. On further scrutiny, it turned out it wasn’t his calf but his shin bone that had the swelling. A visit to the school dispensary and some pain medication didn’t ease the pain and he then had to seek leave from his studies to seek further attention on an increasingly worrying situation. He was wrongly diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis, a condition characterized by blood clots, usually in the legs. He went on a treatment regimen for just over a year with no relief to the then increasingly debilitating pain.

Through consultations, he was referred to Tenuwek Hospital in Bomet for an MRI which finally revealed the real cause of the unusual swelling and pain – Osteosarcoma, bone cancer.

Thus started the long journey of cancer treatment which started at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) in Eldoret in the year he was to sit his KCSE exams. He recalls this period in November 2018 as a difficult time. The high demand for Oncology Services put him at the wrong end of a six month queue for Radiotherapy. JC, as his friends couldn’t wait that long with the agony he was in and begged his father to seek finances for treatment in a private facility.

His heart sank when a doctor said, to save his life, they had to consider amputating his leg, and that before the start of treatment. In his mind, this wasn’t an option. He dragged his father to different hospitals in search of a second opinion and hopefully on a solution that would treat him without meaning the loss of his leg. That’s how JC met Dr. Opakas, on his second stint at MTRH where he was expedited as an emergency case for radical treatment.

The three month high dose chemotherapy treatment took a toll on his body, leaving him feeling worse than before. He persevered, only to be faced by the additional challenge of financing radiotherapy treatment. At a cost of Ksh 9,000 a session and needing 15 sessions, the cost was simply one his family couldn’t bear. Even with the National Hospital Insurance Fund catering for part of the treatment, JC’s family still couldn’t fill the gap. When his father mentioned their struggles to Dr. Opakas, the family was referred to Faraja Wellness Centre in Eldoret where they filed a request for financial assistance.

Delays is in commencement of treatment in 2019 rolled into the next year and JC would only start his radiotherapy in April 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic which led to further delays due to enforced lock-downs at the time.

All these challenges aside, JC’s treatment commenced and today he’s a happy 20 year old back in school pursuing an education for himself and his family. He jokes about it but is proud of himself for the milestones. He weighs in at 60 kilos from a paltry 42, a fact which brings a smile to his face. He’s excited to have the sensation back in his toes, even though his walking gait has changed. 

Asked about how he feels about the looks his new found walk gets him, “ I don’t like it. Most people don’t ask me about my walking style but when I walk I see the odd stares and it makes me feel bad.” He’s ever the optimist though and further chimes in, “Considering that the leg was to be amputated, I don’t mind them. I feel it is better having that leg walking that way than not having it at all. So I see relief in it. I just wish they could know what would have happened if I didn’t undergo the treatment.”

With regards to the state of mind and general mental well being of one going through cancer treatment, JC says, “It is not normal to be sick but it is part of life, it is a challenge, it’s just about how you handle the disease. If you see impossibilities then that is all you will think about. There is always an end, cancer is treatable if caught early. I am feeling fine and everything is okay. I started my treatment in 2017 and I am not dead, people recover from cancer”

“I want to thank my parents and even my pastor who would drive me all the way from Homa Bay to Eldoret for treatment. I will never forget I had a birthday on the same day I was scheduled for chemo and all my friends came to support me. I also want to thank Faraja for saving my life and saving my leg.”

Giving Hope, Help and Life to Children and Adults with Cancer in Kenya

Angels do not live up in the sky, they walk amongst us…

Joyce was pregnant with her third born child when she noticed a lump just below her breast. The lump seemed to grow with her advancing pregnancy.

“This worried me. I told my sister about my fears.” Her sister told her not to worry too much about it and hopefully, with breastfeeding of the new born, maybe the swelling would dissipate.

But when she got the baby, Joyce noticed that the lump did not dissapear with breastfeeding. Worried that this swelling was not a normal breast engorged with milk, she sought medical help. She noticed the doctor’s concern when he told her,

“This one looks serious. We have to do a biopsy.”

Joyce did not like the sound of that. Besides, the swelling was not painful.

“I told them that I did not want the lump to be cut, that I woud squeeze out the milk from the breast.” With that, she went away, trying to ignore the nagging fear that grew as the lump did and sure enough, with the lump relentless in its growth, Joyce once again confided with her sister. This time round, her sister accompanied her to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).

“At Kenyatta, they did some xrays and scans and I took that to the doctor.” By then, the lump was noticeably big and her breast looked distended.

“When the doctor looked at the scans and the breast, he warned me about going home in my state.”

The doctor performed what he called an operation that cost her Kshs 50,000. What she did not anticipate was the crater created by the surgery. She now had to content with having a hole in her breast and a further bill of KES 3,000 per day to dress it. She stopped breastfeeding her newborn, fearing that the baby may get infected. During this period, the Covid -19 pandemic had begun in Kenya making KNH inaccessible. She opted to have her wound dressed at a private clinic in Thika town.

“In that clinic, they said there was still a mass growing and I needed to do a biopsy.” Joyce says. For the first time, she thought of cancer. “I cried so much on that day.”  She was also worried about the medical expenses. Her kiosk was running dry as she had already used the money that was meant for replenishing stock. With a medical condition taking all of her time and money, and three young children to mind, Joyce eventually closed her shop.  To compound her problems, the results came back, indicating that she had stage two breast cancer.

By then, she had no coin left, had rent arrears and had also not paid her househelp in three months.

“For one month, I was numb. I would wake up, sit on a chair and did not even know what to tell God.” Her pastor would visit and pray with her. One evening, the pastor’s wife called Joyce.

“Switch on your TV.”  Joyce did, selecting the channel the pastor’s wife had recommended. There was a woman talking about her journey with breast cancer and how she had been treated and healed. Joyce felt a flicker of hope light up in her. She took the contacts of the woman and immediately the program ended, Joyce rang her.

“I had so many questions and she patiently listened to me and responded.” She got the most important information.

“Yes, cancer is treatable, go to MP Shah Hospital.” The woman advised Joyce. She even gave her a doctor’s contacts. The doctor directed Joyce to HCG-CCK Cancer Centre.

When I arrived there, the place looked welcoming. I was asked to find seating at Faraja and from the moment I walked in, I was treated like family.

I just broke down and told her my entire story. A lady approached me and asked how she could help. I just started crying. I told her how I had cancer, how I had bills piling and how I couldn’t breastfeed my baby and now I could’t afford to buy the baby milk.”

She had carried all her medical documents and the lady at Faraja told her that she could apply for financial support, which Joyce did on the spot. Within a week, she received the phone call with the good news. She had been offered the financial support for the chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In the course of the treatment, Joyce also had a session with the nutritionist, one of the alternative therapies offered at Faraja. What surprised her the most was also the fact that Faraja would occasionally call to check on her. This helped her a lot as she had once contemplated killing her children and herself, when she felt at her lowest.

“Faraja calling me, a stranger, just to check on me made me realise that people care, that I am not alone. I asked God to forgive me for those negative thoughts.” Joyce says, looking pensive.

Joyce receiving treatment at the MP Shah outpatient clinic located within HCG-CCK Cancer Centre

“It is strange that I always would support other causes and charity runs by buying T-shirts. I did not know that’s how my support helps someone else, just like i was now getting the support from Faraja.”

Joyce is conviced that no help is too little to support a cause.

“Even if it means not running the marathon, but just buying the T-shirt or that notebook, just do it. Without Faraja’s help, I and my children would not be alive today.”

She feels that God is not finished with her yet. She is now optimistic of the future and is keen to counsel others and encourage them to seek treatment and not to live in fear because of a cancer diagnosis.

“In fact, the other day, my brother-in-law mentioned that he had some pain in the abdomen. I told him not to hesitate but to go see a doctor right away.” Joyce says, adding that it turned out to be nothing to worry about. The only thing that has disappointed her is the experience with the medical personnel at large.

“They keep you in the dark. You don’t understand the things they are doing, they don’t even bother to educate you about the basics of the treatment regiments.”

And what does Joyce have to say about Faraja?

“The idea to start an organisation like Faraja came from God. It is His way of helping people like me. Through Faraja, my family is today intact.” She has tears in her eyes. She takes a long pause before continuing, “If you hear of people dying, it is not because of the cancer. It is because of fear and the worry about hospital bills. This disease is expensive.”

She says the idea of turning to beg for upkeep when someone was once a financially indepedent business woman is very debasing.

“You never know who God can use to help you. Angels are not up there in the sky, they walk amongst us.”

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

%d bloggers like this: