the ability to do something that frightens one.2. strength in the face of pain or grief.
Josephine Onchieku’s eyes are the first to greet you when you meet her. They speak with her and for her. The other things that you notice about her are how easily she laughs and the quiet confidence that comes across when she speaks. You’d think she is timid; she is far from that. Don’t mistake her gentleness for meekness. She knows her life will never be the same again after having been diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2016.
She and her family live a simple life in Kisii. Their small piece of land comfortably supports her husband and their three children.
As she narrates her story at the Faraja Cancer Trust offices, you can’t help but admire how she has taken her cancer diagnosis head on. She doesn’t hide the fact that she has undergone a mastectomy and is currently having chemotherapy.
“Mimi siogopi. I’m not afraid to show the other women my scars. I tell them that even though I may not have one breast, this has not stopped me from living my life,” she says. She points out that folks back in Kisii are more fearful of cancer than HIV/AIDS, and there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the disease. “It is difficult to explain my journey to members of my family. They wonder why I have been in Nairobi for almost six months. Some even dare to say that I have run away but my husband is very supportive.”
Josephine’s journey began when she went to see a medical officer about a cancer screening exercise that had taken place in Kisii town, blissfully unaware of the lumps within her. The medical officer on examining her breast felt the presence of the lumps and referred her to Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital ( KTRH). She was examined and was told to wait a few weeks for a “big clinic” that was coming to town . This was the free cancer screening that was being conducted by Faraja. The screening, she was told, was an extension of her “clinic”. Josephine remembers how eager she was that morning and was the fourth person to arrive at the Stadium. That is when she received her second confirmation of breast lumps. Fortunately for her, the lady examining her was a breast cancer survivor who was empathetic to Josephine’s plight and encouraged her.
“When the lady told me that I should not get stressed because she too had cancer at one time and had overcome it, there and then I purposed that I will get through this,” she recounts.
Josephine shared her news with her husband and her family, and she remembers how she was the one offering them encouragement and telling them not to worry and whatever will be, will be.
November 7th, 2016, is a landmark date for Josephine. This was the day that she underwent her mastectomy. Unfortunately, soon after this she, like many other Kenyans, fell victim to the nationwide doctors’ strike. She was forced to recuperate at home and without further treatment, hoping that the doctor’s strike would end soon. February 2017, another land mark day for Josephine, is when she received a phone call from Faraja, following up on her status. She was advised to come to Nairobi for chemotherapy and radiotherapy as her breast cancer was early stage and was treatable. A sense of hope and joy emanated from Josephine’s stomach as she packed her bags and said good bye to her young family. “Utarudi lini? When will you return?” asked her young son. “When I get better and I promise to return only when that happens.” She confidently retorted.
Faraja Cancer Support Trust with support from Nakumatt’s “Let’s Fight This Battle Together” campaign paid for 8 cycles of chemotherapy and 35 sessions of radiotherapy treatment in Nairobi. Her every smiling face and piercing eyes became a common feature along the corridors of cancer care Kenya. Josephine has also had the pleasure of expressing Faraja’s free complementary therapies including nutrition, exercise, reiki and our monthly breast cancer support group which meets every 4th Tuesday of every month. Shaira, Faraja’s Founding Trustee, caught up with her on the day she finished her radiotherapy and she joyfully quipped, “mimi niko sawa. I am ok and I feel strong! ”
Josephine is just one of the many beneficiaries of the LFTBT campaign. Other residents of Kisii town who presented suspicious cases were successfully treated at Oasis Medical Center in Kisii due to the doctor’s strike. Of all the cancer screenings Faraja has undertaken, Kisii County not only recorded the highest turnout (2,186 people in two days) but also had the highest number of men screened for both breast and prostate cancer (1070).
Watch Josephine’s video here