“In August 2016, I went in for my routine annual medical checkup and was not worried since I had always gotten a clean bill of health.
After the checkup, I’d be out of the doctor’s office and back to my busy routine. But August 25th would not be a day like any other day…
During my checkup, the doctor found a lump and with subsequent tests confirmed I had stage 1 breast cancer. The news was shocking and I shut down for a couple of days before informing any of my family members.
As someone who works in the medical field, I was aware of the grim statistics of the number of people affected by Cancer. It is the 3rd highest cause of morbidity in Kenya and the cause of 7% of deaths per year. It is estimated that there are 39,000 new cases of Cancer each year in Kenya with more than 27,000 deaths per year.
I could not believe that this was happening to me.
Going Through Treatment …
Treatment involved the full cascade of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy that took 11 months to complete. It was a good thing I was not aware of what that meant in terms of the toll it was going to take on me physically, mentally and psychologically, because it was a tough process.
Initially dealing with the side effects was difficult, you wake up in the morning to find a body you do not understand and does not respond to your normal day to day routines. Treatment totally throws you out of your comfort zone.
Luckily I had a support system among family, friends, work colleagues and healthcare providers who were there every step of the way with information, meals, reminders to take my medication and a place to stay when the drugs kept me away from staying at my place and the space needed to process what was going on. This really helped in putting things in perspective and kept me going even on the dark days.
Recovery is also a process and involves not only recovering physically, but also mentally and psychologically.
I had to learn to get used to the new body that I now had. I also had to learn that it’s O.K. not to run around with 1000 things to accomplish in one day, that it’s fine to slow down and take care of oneself…and that asking for help was not a sign of weakness.
It was even harder getting over the chronic fatigue and other side effects like chemo-brain – which affects your short term memory and the tingling on your fingers /toes and darkening of your nails due to the medication. You relearn a lot of things, from what foods your digestive system can handle without causing an upset stomach and nausea.
Another side effect was losing my hair and having to get accustomed to the new look of a bald head. I remember waking up one morning to no eye lashes/eye brows and laughing with my siblings that now I can finally draw them on with an eye pencil. When my hair started growing back, they gifted me with an infant clip to hold the little hair I had in place.
The good thing was that my healthcare providers were very accommodative and always kept me informed so I was never caught unawares when the side effects kicked in and that this was going to be temporary during the treatment phase. They helped in mentally accepting and internalizing that my life was now on a different course in life.
Recovery boiled down to lifestyle adjustments that come with being more keen on nutrition, medication adherence, a positive outlook to life and routine tests to make sure I maintain a state of remission.
To be honest, I still get scared every time I go in for review since I don’t know whether the results will be fine or not. It’s a constant fear and it reminds you of the day of diagnosis.
A cancer diagnosis and the treatment affect everyone close to you, family and friends. The love and support that comes from them is however… priceless. My daughter taught me to live life every single day to the maximum. Children do not regret the past, neither do they worry about the future; they live for the here and now. I also continued to work just to keep my mind engaged throughout even though most of the time I was not too productive. Cancer was a wakeup call for me to take care of myself and stop sweating the small stuff, to live life to the fullest because we have absolutely no guarantees in this life.
The Birth of The Cancer Cafe …
During my treatment I had access to a wealth of information from various avenues, from peers, support groups and various cancer trusts. This however was mostly in hospital settings and was not as readily available to the support structures that took care of me. It was ironically that as the patient, I was their main source of information from what I was learning.
It got me thinking of the imbalance of a well-informed patient with a not so well informed support system. I wanted to take these conversations out of the hospital setting and into a laid back environment, typical of when you meet up with your girlfriends to catch up and they query on how you are doing.
The cancer café was launched in the month of September 2017 at Kafein Bistro, Marsabit plaza on Ngong road and is a monthly forum every first Tuesday of the month that is open to the public and anyone touched by cancer. It’s a space where over a cup of tea, coffee or a meal, the public gets to consult with specialists, share, learn, interact and more importantly bring back the dignity taken away by cancer.
With the Cancer Café, I’m hoping to bring back the dignity that cancer robs you of by enlightening the person and those around him/her on how to get back on ones feet stronger and more determined even after life has thrown you a curveball.
With the Café I do my best to demystify cancer – taking it out of the hospital setting and out in the public. This is because, the lack of information in the general public on preventive measures, the advantages of early diagnosis and what to do with a cancer patient contributes to a lot of mismanagement of the disease in general.
An empowered person will not be afraid to ask their healthcare provider those questions about their health. An empowered person will be able to make informed choices and know what options are available for them. Early diagnosis, acceptance of one’s condition, access to information and a support structure makes all the difference.
Please Join in & Support The Cause
My cancer journey though scary was made smoother by the access to information and support systems that surrounded me with positivity. And this is something I would like to pay forward through the Cancer Café.
Even if you are not the one directly affected, we all know someone who is affected by cancer be it a relative a relative, a colleague or friend. The Cancer Café provides space to connect with others and ask experts questions you may have – the wealth of information you will get is amazing. Attend the cancer cafes, ask those questions you have about cancer learn and celebrate life.
I’m currently looking for partners to work with on our country statistics so that the public has access to current and updated information about the cancer situation within the country. Currently, the situation is cancer registers in 2 of our public hospitals but they have a backlog of about two years. This has the effect of using backdated reports or using developed country statistics to estimate our country situation yet we can get home grown solutions for our current state of affairs. I also hope to occasionally give patients and survivors a day they can take a breather from the doldrums of treatment and have some complimentary wellness services and pamper them.
Feel free to get in touch should you wish to join me in making a difference. And remember to live life day by day, love and appreciate those who matter to you.”
WANT TO GET IN TOUCH ?
Contact me: Muthoni Mate
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone Number: 0777642953
Twitter Handle: @cancercafe254
Facebook Page: cancer cafe