Cancer is a monster but it is only those who have met it and walked the walk who can talk the talk, and at just 25 Emmanuel Otieno aka Jadudi, is among the bravest men Kenya has come to know. He came to the limelight a year ago when writer Jackson Biko wrote about his struggle with a brain tumor. Jadudi has thus far undergone five brain surgeries to remove the tumor.
We take life for granted many a time especially when we are fine.
If you have ever been 21 years old and in campus then you remember how normal it was to suffer a headache or two and at times, depending on what courses you were taking, numerous aches and pains. But then at 21 you can get away with washing down pain killers with a few beers and calling it a night.
If the headaches keep recurring then you may make an appointment to see the campus matron, and if symptoms persist, maybe even a doctor. Usually, Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) will be the destination.
If the doctor orders a head scan then you may call your girlfriend and maybe best friend for moral support. If five hours later they are calling for your relatives then you know things are thick.
That is exactly what happened to Jadudi in 2012.
'I am a simple guy. I like travelling, making friends, cooking and travelling. In late 2012, I felt a weakness in my right hand. It was exam time so I figured I was just nervous. But then I started losing my memory and that bothered me more, especially because I had been having very bad headaches. I decided to consult the University of Nairobi (UON) doctor who sent me to KNH for a CT scan."
That scan spotlighted a tumor in his head, which lead to a series of surgeries that have affected his speech. Now he is like a toddler learning everything afresh. But I do not pity him... I admire his resolve.
Doctors found the tumor when he was just 21 years old and full of life. He has no idea what he could have done to warrant the large mass that was growing in his brain.
As far as he was concerned he was God-fearing, paid tithe and looked forward to being a great civil servant. He might have drunk too much once in a while but what 21-year-old didn't?
From the minute he was diagnosed, he tells me, everything went into slow motion. His parents, both retired at the time, had to look for money to have the first surgery done.
Luckily it happened without much fuss and his recovery was almost miraculous. He even hoped he would go back to college but that was not to be - another tumor was spotted and Jadudi now 22, had to undergo another surgery.
"Resources were scarce and I had to travel miles while partially paralysed," he says. "I was the worst experience in my life.. I had lost all sensation, my speech was non-existent and the cash was not forthcoming, I almost lost hope."
But God comes to those who seek Him, Jadudi says. He met Zawadi Nyong'o online and she decided to help him. He also reached out to Jackson Biko via email. Together, Zawadi and Biko organized an online campaign that raised about Sh6 million, which paid for his next three surgeries in India. But controversy followed when questions arose about exactly how the money was spent.
"I think sometimes we just want to tarnish good people's names," Jadudi says. "Those two have been nothing but angels sent from above. They asked for nothing yet gave me everything. I am forever grateful."
All through our conversation even though it is hard for him to speak, Jadudi does not complain. He tells me that he wakes up at 6am daily to attend his numerous therapies and then goes to the oncology clinic to support other cancer patients. In the evening, he walks for an hour and every Sunday he goes to church without fail.
His current focus is supporting the Kisumu City Cancer Support Centre, a community based organization at the lakeside.
What he hasn't been able to do is resume his studies. "Unfortunately I have not been well enough to go back to school but I believe I will beat this monster and graduate," he says.
Jadudi has been nominated for a Cancer Warrior of the Year Award and he is elated. He hopes that success stories such as his will go a long way in sensitizing people about early detection and management of the disease.
On a happier note, his girlfriend has been by his side from the start. "She has been with me through it all, which is why I believe that sometimes, miracles do happen."