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Home / Health

They gave me 25 days to live three years ago

 Ruth Wanjiku. She's battled three cancers 

The little painless pimple on her left leg bothered her. Many would have ignored it, but not 17-year-old Ruth Wanjiku. At 13, she had started working as a domestic help in Nairobi to support her siblings.

And due to life’s circumstances, she had developed an unmatched sense of independence; at least compared to her peers. And if nothing else, she had learnt that if her gut instinct was niggling, it was best she sits up and listens.  

“I wanted an ointment to get rid of the pesky pimple and that is why I went to see a doctor. I also wondered why unlike the other pimples I had elsewhere, nothing oozed out when I pressed it.”

That decision would inadvertently be one that saved her life.

“The doctor asked me to get the tissue tested-- a biopsy, he called it. I got it done.  I remember wondering what the fuss was all about. I thought I just needed an ointment,” she recalls.

The test results would show that she had osteogenic cancer. Young Ruth didn’t understand what that meant. What she didn’t know was that the hospital was about to become a regular haunt.

According to Dr Primus Ochieng, an oncologist, oestrogenic sarcoma also called osteosarcoma, is a cancer that is common among teenagers and it affects the bones.

“We see it a lot around the knee region. It can also be on the shoulder or in other bones of the body. The cause isn’t really known, and despite the widespread belief that it is caused by either exposure to radiation or genetic reasons, that isn’t always the case,” he explains.

The doctors explained that Ruth needed to get immediate treatment as the cancer was at early stages and was yet to spread.


“I didn’t have the money for treatment, and the cheaper option was to get an amputation. What choice did I have? So, on that day in 2015, I walked into hospital an able-bodied person and walked out a one-legged woman with a bag of painkillers,” she says.

Ruth did not do any chemotherapy or radiotherapy after the surgery. The amputation was deemed sufficient. And so she went about her business, selling sausages on the roadside in Nairobi’s Kasarani but this soon became unsustainable because of the stigma that she experienced.

“Answering people’s questions about my leg was painful. So I decided to change businesses. I moved to Gikomba market where I started selling shoes.”

Two years would pass by quickly, and by then Ruth was almost at peace with her new lot in life. But then, one morning, she would get a new jolt.

“I woke up with a stinging pain on the right side of my chest. Not one to ignore anything, I went to the hospital and was told that it was pneumonia. I insisted that they do an x-ray and that’s when they saw a mass in the lungs.”

Further tests showed that it was cancer of the lungs at stage four.

“I was devastated, and began crying right there at the hospital. I did not know who to call. I felt like I had just gotten a death sentence,” she recalls.

This time, she shored up the money needed for chemotherapy. It all amounted to Sh157,000. But after a while, the doctors learnt that the treatment wasn’t working. They needed to take out the diseased lung.

“I had lost 38kg in two months. I was gutted that the chemotherapy wasn’t reducing the tumour in my lungs. But I had learnt that one could live with one lung. I was hopeful.”

But the worst news was yet to come.


“They cut out the diseased part, but the doctor gravely informed me that I had 25 days to live. I was supposed to prepare for the end. That was in 2017.”

The 25 days would pass by; then a month, then two, and Ruth would make a decision to stop waiting for death and simply live.

“I even bought a car I would use for Uber. I wanted to live, and I was ready to make the most out of an uncertain life. My life was starting to come together again, until last year, when I felt a strange pain in my tummy. I didn’t want to think ‘oh here we go again...”

A hospital trip would confirm that she should indeed worry. They found a big cancerous tumour in her ovary.

“I stayed in hospital for a month to control the pain. I am now on painkillers and medicine to shrink the tumour. I can’t drive my car anymore but I am happy the drugs are working. The tumour has shrunk by five centimetres.”

Her remaining lung is however not doing too well. Recent tests revealed nodes growing on them.

“I am due for a round of radiotherapy to deal with that. That is why I am experiencing some breathing difficulty.”

Despite her health problems, Ruth is excited about life and living.

“I turn 24 in June and I am not one to give up now. I will beat this. I have four siblings who need me to support them and that is what I will do. I continue to fight because I am a strong woman. I thank God for the far He has brought me. I turn 24 in June,” she says, a hopeful smile playing on her lips.


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