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A cancer survivor's 'tenth life'

 Dr Susan Ngure the author of "My Tenth Life" during the interview in Nyeri, October 9, 2023 [Courtesy, Mose Sammy/Standard]

Guess what a cat has nine but Dr Susan Ngure has ten? If you said lives, you’re right.

Dr Ngure, a lecturer at Dedan Kimathi University, is the living embodiment of resilience. In a newly released book, ‘My Tenth Life’, she opens up about her remarkable journey of survival, resilience and triumph over breast cancer.

The book tells her personal experiences with striking imagery. With inspiring honesty, Ngure recounts the obstacles she faced and her unwavering determination that drove her towards a new lease on life.

In the autobiographical book she compares her life with that of a cat’s lives as her life has been characterised by luck and circumstances.

Her tenth life is about endurance, survival and many times escaping near death encounters. She calls these challenges her nine lives, her tenth life is the life after she was diagnosed with cancer.

She borrows her imagery from a cat’s resilience and ability to bounce back from adversity.

Born in Ngamwa village, Mukurwe-ini, Nyeri County, Dr Ngure was the ninth born in a family of 11. Siblings can be handful, and with 10, Ngure had to quickly develop a degree of toughness.

Her life has never been a bed of roses as she frequently missed school due to illness. 

“One particular time when I was about seven years old, I felt unwell at school, followed by a scary dizzy spell, the teacher asked me to go and lie under a tree, I started nose bleeding shortly after I thought I was losing a lot of blood so I tried to prevent it from flowing out by swallowing it,” she says.

This was not the only obstacle she faced, at 13 years, a relative tried to trick her into having sex. She fled.

This was not the first time she faced sexual harassment. While at Kenyatta University a friend invited Ngure along to visit her brother at the Moi Air base. By 9pm, her friend was nowhere to be seen and she was stuck with a stranger who demanded to have sex with her. 

“I had to spend the whole night hiding in the toilet,” she says.

But more was to come, with a life changing hit at 43 years old.

In 2010 when she had travelled back to Kenya from Australia, where she had gone for further studies, she felt a lump on her chest.

“While in Kenya, I noticed that any time I slept, I felt like there was something on my chest pressing me on the bed, I did the breast self-examination that I had learnt at the National Youth Service, and yes there was a lump but I decided to wait for sometime hoping it would go away, I did not have a family history of breast cancer,” she says.

When the lump persisted she visited a doctor after flying back to Australia, who said there was nothing to worry about.

“He explained that lumps were common at my age and hopefully, I was okay, I was asked to return after six months if the lump persisted,” she says.

Despite the reassurances from the doctor, she couldn’t shake off the feeling that there was more to it. Determined to find answers, she decided to seek a second opinion.

“In April I could not wait any longer and I asked the GP (general practitioner) to order a mammogram, I had noticed that the lump was increasing in size, at the radiologist’s clinic they informed me that the mammogram showed a mass of tissue and that I needed a biopsy,” she says.

 The cover of "My Tenth Life" authored by Dr Susan Ngure [ Courtesy, Mose Sammy/ Standard]

Ngure scheduled an appointment with an oncologist specialising in breast cancer. The doctor ordered a series of tests, including a diagnostic mammogram and biopsy. Then she settled into an agonising wait.

Finally, the day arrived when she received the phone call that would forever change her life. The diagnosis confirmed her fears; she had breast cancer. It was a daunting moment.

“My intuition had warned me to brace myself for the bad news, I was alone, he started with small talk and then informed me that my results were positive for breast cancer, she says.

She had terrible thoughts of death, then came the bruising battle with the disease. Luckily she had supportive family and friends.

She underwent surgery to remove the tumour, followed by a series of challenging chemotherapy sessions.

Throughout the entire process, she never lost sight of her determination to overcome the illness and inspire others.

“The lump was too heavy to carry around, it doubled in size every 100 days, two ladies let me cry on their shoulders,” she says.

Now, as a thriving survivor, Dr Ngure has made it her mission to inspire and uplift others facing similar battles. She actively engages with cancer support groups, both online and offline, where she shares her story and words of encouragement.

“To many people, a cancer diagnosis is a death sentence, it sends shivers down the spine of not only the patient but the family too, treatment is long, it is vital to support a patient and family as feelings of depression and helplessness abound, I want everyone to know that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean the end of one’s life,” she says.

As October is the Cancer Awareness Month, Ngure aims to spread a message of encouragement, reminding others that there is hope and life beyond a cancer diagnosis.

Dr Ngure stands strong as a breast cancer survivor, armed with newfound wisdom and a desire to change the narrative surrounding cancer care for young patients.

She encourages individuals to seek second opinions if they have doubts about their initial diagnosis and urges patients to proactively communicate with their healthcare providers to get accurate information.

“I want young patients to know that their voices matter, we should never be afraid to ask questions and seek clarity. I hope that my advocacy will contribute to a healthcare system that prioritises accurate diagnosis, reliable information, and effective communication and by raising awareness,” she says.


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