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'Harmless' swelling turned out to be cancer

Achieving Woman
 Winfred Bwire is an actress best known for her role as Dida in the TV series 'Sultana' 

Winfred Bwire Ndubi is an actress best known for her role as Dida in the TV series ‘Sultana’.

Despite the fame she now has, life hasn’t always been rosy for the star, at one time diagnosed with cancer. 

For Bwire, it was just like any other period. The swelling under her armpits was not a major concern. “It started with the lymph nodes under my armpits swelling up a bit and throbbing during my periods,” says Bwire.

The mum-of-two went to a doctor who told her she had a general infection and gave her drugs for the swollen lymph nodes under her armpits.

“After three months my periods could come and go with the pain, but on my third period I felt the pain in my armpits linger even after my period had gone,” Bwire says.


Her mother advised her to see a gynaecologist, who realised something was wrong and referred her for screening.

“After a biopsy, I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a rare type of cancer that involves the presence of abnormal cells in a milk duct in the breast.”

According to the National Library of Medicine, breast cancer is a leading cancer among women in Kenya and a significant contributor to early mortality.

Globocan 2018 statistics show that the breast cancer incidence rate in Kenya is estimated at 40.3 per 100,000 with a mortality rate of 17.8 per 100,000. The annual incidence of breast cancer in Kenya is approximately 12.5 per cent of all new cancer cases and the annual mortality is approximately 7.7 per cent of all cancer deaths.

By 2025, the annual incidence of breast cancer in Kenya is projected to increase by 35 per cent and the annual mortality for both is projected to increase by 35 per cent.

“I was extremely shocked by the results, but I am a solution-oriented person, so I took my time to deal with my anger and come to an acceptance of the results I was given.”

She explains that she changed her lifestyle while waiting to decide what kind of treatment she wanted.

“The people around me took it positively and we started the journey of treatment, which was not easy, but with a supportive family everything is possible”.

She underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy and the effects of chemotherapy started to take their toll. “From memory loss to hair loss, night blindness and it took away the joy and peace of life.”

Access to the drugs was one of my biggest challenges, because for chemotherapy you have to see your oncologist to get the drugs, but for targeted therapy, it’s quite expensive.


“Our government needs to take a look at this situation medication for cancer patients because it’s one of the most expensive medications you can ever find in the country, although the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) helps a lot in terms of the treatment process, more still needs to be done to make medication cheaper and easily accessible.”

Society’s view of cancer patients is very discouraging and also very judgmental towards those who have cancer.

“Like you can be walking in the street and a person would look at you sympathetically and not even treat you like a human being, it’s almost like when they see you they see this “thing cancer” that they like to seize you to exist and these things are in your place and so they will treat you like it, their decisions and comments are it”.

Changing my diet and lifestyle has also been one of my biggest challenges to make sure my body is in its balanced form and also to make sure it’s working well and it’s also very straining financially.

“It has affected my home life in the sense that I cannot do the heavy lifting like I used to because my arm has problems from the infected lymph nodes, so I have to eat healthier every day.

“My productivity has not been affected that much because I could go for chemotherapy, rest for a day and go to work the next day, I tried to make sure that my body was active as much as possible. If the drugs made me feel tired and wanted to sleep or lie down, instead of doing that I could go for a walk and when I came back my body could forget that I wanted to rest,” she says.

She set up the Bwire Ndubi Warriors Foundation to spread the word about cancer and encourage people to get screened.

“Bwire Ndubi Warriors Foundation was born out of the challenge I experienced during this journey, I felt it in my heart to stand in the gap for these people and I set out to help people who cannot afford the cost of treatment and to spread the word about cancer,” says Bwire.

Not everyone has a supportive family to fight alongside them, so we needed something that would be with them throughout the treatment process.

“The main goal is to make people aware of the existence of breast cancer and encourage them to go for screening so that we can detect it as early as possible and even prevent it because there are earlier signs and symptoms of cancer that people don’t catch,” She adds

They work with the Bamburi Cement Cancer Centre at Coast General to identify needy patients, fund their treatment and sometimes food.

“We stand in the gap for them as much as we can,” she says.

Bwire has been at the forefront of raising awareness since her diagnosis, and her new plan to work on a film about cancer is raising even more awareness.

“We are calling it Scare the Scar, with the motive to tackle cancer in a different way in the film, while creating awareness and also showing our lifestyle, how we live, what we eat,” she says.

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