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Four years ago, I felt a lump on the left breast. My left breast was also unusually larger than the right breast. I visited two rural hospitals where a test revealed a lump. A hard immobile lump. The doctors referred me for further tests. I was only 34 then. In the one week I awaited diagnosis, I had nightmares and hallucinations. I truly thought I would die. Mammogram results confirmed first stage breast cancer. Being a nurse, I knew too well the course of treatment and I was worried that my child was going to be left motherless. That brought me so much stress. I could not bear to use a mirror. I didn't want to see the diseased breast. Many times, I would drive to work and totally absorbed in my turmoil, I would pass my office only to realise when I was miles away.
My distress began showing in my work too. My performance waned. I didn't want to let anyone into what I considered my secret. In my experience, I know that breast cancer is associated with many myths including use of family planning. This creates so much stigma and It weighed heavily on me. So much that I attempted suicide twice.
I made the decision to start my treatment and sold my only piece of real estate to cover some of the costs. My doctor advised on a lumpectomy since the cancer had been caught early. The surgery removed the cancerous bits leaving most of the breast intact. I underwent chemotherapy then radiotherapy thereafter. In the course of my treatment I lost my fine mane, my skin darken and my lips got so flaky. I did not want anyone to see me in that state and so I became a recluse.
Blessedly, In 2014, I was declared cancer free and by 2015, I felt like my old normal self. I have had to adjust my lifestyle though. My diet is much cleaner now. I make sure to eat many antioxidant rich foods like red beet, turmeric, black pepper, vegetables, radish, carrots, soursop and thorn melon among others. Due to back surgery I had a bit later, I can't do physical exercises. I would advise anyone who knows someone with a positive diagnosis, to offer them as much support as possible. It is a very lonely journey to walk alone.
WHEN SOMEONE YOU KNOW HAS CANCER.......
Besides the physical and health changes that a newly diagnosed cancer patient has to deal with, there is also some psychological trauma that they experience.
Major questions many patients grapple with are;
1. Will I die?
2. If I die, how will my family cope?
3. How will we pay for all the treatments?
4. How does the quality of my life change after this?
They are often faced with uncertainty, despair and hopelessness about their future. Trauma counsellors liken it to a lesser form of PTSD experienced by soldiers.
According to a cancer care handbook, there are certain ways you can help lessen their burden.
1. Respect their privacy. If they disclose their diagnosis to you, don't share it without their permission. And respect their wishes about their course of treatment.
2. Assure them that you will always be there for them. That the diagnosis changes nothing.
3. Don't leave them out of any activities. Let them opt out if they want to.
4. Listen to them when they need to talk. Don't interrupt. Sometimes they just want a sounding board.
5. They will have some great days and some really hard ones. Don't take any affronts personally.
6. Seek out support groups. If In Nairobi or its environs, seek out Faraja Cancer Support located in Parklands Nairobi. They offer free counselling, yoga, and other rejuvenating therapies for cancer patients.
1. Don't give unsolicited advice.
2. Don't tell them "I understand how you feel," because you really don't.
3. Don't avoid talking about the disease. They can sense when you aren't being upfront with them. In the same breath, don't let everything you do revolve around the sickness.
4. Don't let your friendship change. It could be the one thing they hope remains the same about their life.
5. If suffering from a bout of illness, no matter how trivial, stay away. Their immunity is compromised while undergoing treatment.