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.
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.
Monica Buluma’s Story
Financial support to cancer patients is one of the pillars of Faraja Cancer Support Trust having sponsored up to 20 patients to date to undertake chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments at various hospitals in Kenya.
Monica Buluma, a 27year old mother of one is one such beneficiary. She was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus in 2012 at Kenyatta National Hospital but due to the high number patients seeking cancer support services at the hospital, she could not secure a slot for surgery despite the urgency required in her condition. She was thus referred to Kijabe Mission Hospital where she successfully underwent 2 surgeries. The first surgery being to enable her feed as her condition was so bad that she could not swallow her own saliva. stories,
She was also underweight at the time weighing only 37kgs making it difficult for the doctors to operate. However 3 months after the first surgery, she had gained 5kgs and hence ready for the second major surgery- esophagectomy which was done to remove the cancerous cells in her oesophagus. In the operation ¾ of her oesophagus and the upper part of her stomach were removed as they were severely affected by the cancer.
After a month in hospital under intensive care, she was discharged and referred to MP Shah Hospital, Cancer Care Kenya for chemotherapy and radiotherapy to totally get rid of the cancerous cells. Here she was given a quotation of Ksh500, 000 which she could not afford having come from a poor background with her surgery having been financed by well-wishers. With no hope, she visited the Kenya Cancer Association to request for assistance and was on referred to Faraja Cancer Support Trust.
‘We met representatives from Faraja whom we explained to our financial situation and after 2 weeks we were called and told that our plea for medical support had been approved. I have never been happier in my life, ‘
She was introduced to the therapies at Faraja and has been able to benefit from all from Yoga to panic healing to the nutritional advice.
‘…after my surgery I used to walk while bending but now I can walk straight once again……I never thought that this was possible…’‘Faraja saved my life, and I will forever be grateful for their support. It has become like a second home to me and I cannot let a week pass without visiting.
Like many Cancer patients, Monica was not spared from societal neglect and stigma which is often as a result of poor knowledge on cancer. Some communities consider the disease a curse and believe that it is contagious. This has led to the alienation of several patients further contributing to the deterioration of their condition with some becoming fatal.
‘My family had given up hope and my relatives thought I was cursed and a bad omen to the home. But through various counselling sessions at Faraja, my husband was able to stand by me. The information at the Faraja Resource Centre was also very helpful and informative and supported my family in dealing with my condition.’
She however still experiences the side effects of radiotherapy treatment with high fluid retention in her body. However, Faraja has continued to help her manage the condition with regular Lymphatic drainage therapy.
‘I still get pain due to fluid retention, but I am never worried as Faraja staff are always there to help, going an extra mile to slot me into one of the therapy sessions at the shortest notice. These therapies are usually very expensive in the spas and none of my friends believe that I get them for free,’ she says amid laughter
‘‘I will continue to volunteer my support to Faraja in whichever way I can because they gave me hope when I had none, strength when I was weak and above all accepted me as I was. …………. I now believe that you can achieve your dreams after Cancer ………,’ concludes a joyful Monica.