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Cancer patient recounts ordeal

By | February 5th 2011

By Alex Ndegwa

My name is Dismas Karenga. I am a 59-year-old social worker and father of five suffering from tongue cancer

It began as a toothache. I ignored the pain hoping it would go away. But when it became unbearable I went to see a dentist. The ‘bad tooth’ was pulled out. However my problem did not end as the pain worsened.

At one point I was worried that maybe the dentist had pulled out the wrong tooth. After countless visits to various health facilities in Lodwar and neighbouring areas without cure, I ended up at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret.

Dismas Karenga suffers from tongue cancer. Photo: Ann Kamoni/Standard

After pathology tests (analysis of biopsy tissue) I was referred to Kenyatta National Hospital in September last year where news of diagnosis for cancer of the tongue turned my world upside down. I was dazed, startled and in despair.

Surgical removal

The doctor said I had to undergo an operation to remove the cancerous tissues in the tongue. You see the doctors cut me open from here (gestures into the mouth) all the way down the neck. (A glossectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of the tongue performed to treat cancer of the tongue).

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Owing to the surgery, I was told it had become necessary to repair the tongue so the surgeons took a piece of skin from my left wrist together with the blood vessels that supply it. (He pulls up the shirt to expose the scar on the left forearm where the skin graft to cover the hole in the tongue was removed).

This explains why I am barely audible. But whatever you can’t hear me properly, don’t hesitate to ask me to write it down.

After the operation I had to embark on radiotherapy sessions. I was shocked to discover that these services are not available even in Eldoret. I have had to withstand the punishing journey from Lodwar to Nairobi. And I am told I will have to become accustomed to this torturous routine for six to eight weeks.

The Cancer Treatment Centre is the only facility in the whole country. But we have to depend on one machine because they say the other broke down. I didn’t know so many people have cancer until I came here. I’ve found so many of us on the queue. I have been here since early morning. Now it’s past noon and my turn hasn’t come yet.

Donate equipment

It would help if there were more machines so one wouldn’t have to wait for too long in pain. People are suffering. God forbid if the only functional machine were to ground to a halt. Why won’t the Government do something? Can’t they even consider inviting other organisations to donate these equipment for the sake of patients?

KNH is the only place ordinary people can afford. Here we pay Sh300 per day. But if you go to the private hospital you’ll be charged Sh80, 000 per week. Who can afford that kind of money? And that is not all. The drugs too are expensive. Then there is money for transport, accommodation and food if you are not lucky to have relatives to put up with in the city. Every time I am in Nairobi I spend Sh2,060 daily on accommodation, meals and fare to the hospital. In a week this comes to Sh14, 420. Add this to the Sh25, 000 I parted with in the preliminary stages of treatment. This disease sucks you dry.

It gets worse if you are a breadwinner for your family, like me. I have five children, three in secondary school and two in primary schools. One is about to join Form One and the timing could not have been worse for me. I sold 10 camels and 12 cows to try and lessen the financial burden. It is not easy coping with the expensive medication to treat cancer and educate the children. But I am determined to give them good education, somehow. At the moment I am hesitant to take a loan because I wouldn’t want to die and leave my children behind suffering in debt.

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