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Anyang' Nyong'o- The good professor talks about cancer, Lupita and politics

Sunday Magazine

When I called the Senator about a possible interview he took his time getting back to me.

Two days later he called, early afternoon and went straight to the point: "Why are you looking for me?"

"Because I have an interest in your cancer story, even if it is six years later," I am just as quick to answer.

"Okay, come to the Senate tomorrow."

I find him chatting leisurely with ODM Acting Secretary General Agnes Zani before joining a small group of other senators for a photo op with visiting students.

Shortly thereafter, he ushers me into the Senate Lounge and serves us both with black coffee with no sugar. He explains that diet is the most important aspect of cancer management. "You see many people imagine that they can get away with eating garbage and be just fine. Diet is one's first defense against cancer," he says.

You would be surprised to note that the only oily snack served in bunge is mandazi, the rest is yams, sweet potatoes and maize!

In 2010, Prof Anyang' Nyong'o shocked the country when he announced that he was taking a break to be treated for prostate cancer. This came against backdrop of a troubled health sector then jointly ran by Hon. Beth Mugo and the good professor himself.

I ask him if much has changed in the area of awareness of the disease.

"Not much I am afraid. I cringe about how much people do not absorb information. To date, even people I consider learned still ask very mundane questions," he says.

Like what?

"Like what cancer is exactly? But the most annoying question has to be: Are you sure you are fully cured? I was diagnosed in July of 2010 following a rise in my (prostate-specific antigen) PSA. If I wasn't so busy, I would have done the biopsy much earlier to reduce the risk of the cancer going to its secondary stage. As it would be, my doctor immediately put me on hormone therapy to stop the spread while awaiting further treatment," he says.

Fortunately, further examination in the US showed that the cancer was still confined to the prostate capsule so the senator went through intensity modulated radiation therapy and was cured.

"But here's the thing," he begins reflectively. "If we were more aware we would arrest this monster early and would not even need to undergo invasive procedures. That for me is what I would like most Kenyans to do... seek information and be in the know, it saves a lot."

Nyong'o says that when he came home from treatment in the US, he immediately began to campaign for reforms in the health sector so that the less fortunate in society could access quality care. The professor is glad that the wars he waged for universal healthcare while at the helm of that docket have borne fruit. The upgraded National Health Insurance Fund policy is now operational and cancer is covered.

But away from health matters, what does the future portend for the senator? Is he seriously seeking to become Kisumu Governor?

"Of course! I am running for that post because I figure we in Kisumu deserve better and should get better. People should not dismiss my candidature. I have served as MP for Kisumu Rural and my record can speak for itself. Being governor means I can formulate systems and policies that will propel my people to the next level. The mediocrity currently in Kisumu will be a thing of the past," he says.

The prospect of eventful party primaries does not faze him.

"ODM is a popular party and we will decide on a way to choose leaders who will win us the elections. As a founding member, I am confident this will pass. As for my own nomination, I am in it to win it," he says.

How about the presidential flag bearer, is there discord in CORD?

The Senator laughs heartily. "Never. We are having a very healthy discussion internally; there is no cause for alarm," he says.

Recently the Nyong'o's daughter Lupita was in Kenya for a Vogue magazine photo shoot and also in Uganda for the premier of her latest film, the Queen of Katwe. The professor was in attendance for both events and tells me he cannot be prouder of his daughter.

But has fame changed Lupita? "It has changed her for the better. She is more interested in lending a helping hand to the less fortunate."

Has he received any requests for her hand in marriage?

"I hope this comes soon but you guys nowadays are so independent. I will accept whoever she brings," he says. Nyong'o says that he always knew Lupita would be a star right from age 3 and that Hollywood just placed her exactly where she always wanted to be.

As I prepare to leave, I ask him how he is keeping fit at 70 years old.

"I rise early and I sleep early. Rather than read late into the night, I wake up earlier to read... to keep fit I walk a lot and my wife is a health freak anyway so I am sorted on that front!" He says laughing.

I wish this cancer survivor many more years of good health and vitality.

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