She is feisty, jovial and strong-willed. Her story can be told just by browsing through her timeline on Facebook. This is where she pours her heart out – it’s hard not to know when she is happy or sad. Her timeline is her canvas where she draws all the pictures of her life.
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Meet Nancy Githoitho, the founder of Limau Cancer Connection, a cancer support group that was borne out of her desire to reach out to women whose lives have been turned upside down by cancer.
Nancy, a mother of two boys and in her late 30s, lost her mum a year ago to breast cancer. She died a few months after her diagnosis, but as cancer went on a rampage eating up her organs, her confidence and self-worth went down by the minute.
Seeing her friends talk in hushed tones whenever she approached, pushed her to the edge. When she couldn’t take it any longer, she locked herself in her house in Umoja, in Eastland’s, Nairobi. This didn’t help either.
“Things changed so fast for my mum, the moment the doctor broke the news she had cancer, she wrote herself off, she refused to undergo chemotherapy. After her mastectomy, she was no longer the ball of energy she was before, she became withdrawn and eventually moved back to the village,” says Nancy.
By then, Nancy was in the United States so she got her the best prosthetics there was and mastectomy bras.
“My mum’s greatest fear was people knowing that she had one breast. She called me one day and asked if I could get her a prosthetic as well as mastectomy bras. I was really shocked to discover that the cost of the prosthetics as well as the special bras was very high in Kenya,” she recalls.
But even after sending her the prosthetics and the bras from the US, Nancy discovered that her mum wasn’t using them - reason, the prosthetics slid out of place especially during the hot seasons. One day, the prosthetic fell off her chest as she served guests. They laughed it off but the little incident inspired Nancy to embark on a research on what other women who had their breasts cut off due to breast cancer do or use to live fulfilled lives after cancer.
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“After seeing what my mum was going through during a visit to Kenya, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other Kenyan women were going through what my mum was facing and couldn’t afford what was available in Kenya. When I went back to the US, I searched for alternative prosthetics and came across knitted Knockers and contacted the founder Barbara Demores who is also a Breast cancer survivor. She connected me to a team she had trained in Rwanda and this is how the idea of knitting the prosthetics was conceived,” she adds.
Nancy used her savings and sent one of her mum’s friends to Rwanda to learn how to knit the prosthetics. When she returned to Kenya, she trained 25 more women and they slowly embarked on a journey that has now led them to all parts of the country reaching out to thousands of breast cancer survivors who have for long hidden their ‘shame’ using pieces of clothes stuffed up in their bras in a country where cancer is a source of stigma.
“We are currently giving out the knitted ‘boobs’ for free as most of the women in need cannot afford to buy the silicon ones. We are happy that our circle of knitters is growing and comprises women and men who have been directly or indirectly affected by breast cancer. I know my mother is smiling in heaven,” she adds.
Limau Cancer Connection has and continues to restore confidence in thousands of women whose lives took a different turn after undergoing mastectomy.
“One of the things that stand out among the women who we have reached out to is the confidence they acquire after getting the knitted ‘bobbies’. We know it is good to wear those scars as badges of honour but, hey, a girl needs a well packed chest to face the world and this is exactly what Limau is doing. I feel good when I see some of our beneficiaries looking good and feeling confident again, we plan to reach out to every other woman who need a ‘boob’,” she adds.