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Survivors: Cancer can be conquered

By David Odongo | November 1st 2012


By David Odongo

Ten-year-old Princess Rose Nasimiyu’s triumph over cancer this week has breathed fresh air into the fight against the deadly disease.

Those who have beaten the disease attribute their success to early diagnosis and the importance of having annual check-ups.

Indeed every October is dedicated to cancer awareness and many hospitals and other health organisations provide free screening for cancer.

Over the years — and due to the successful campaigns for screening — many people now know about the disease.

Alice Asige is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and immediately started battling the disease — and conquered it. Eight years later, she is still cancer free.

What helped her, and indeed works for other cancer survivors, is the fact that she went for yearly check-ups.

End of my life

“I am lucky the doctors caught my cancer when it had just started. When I was told I had cancer, I cried for three hours in the doctor’s office, thinking it was the end of my life,” recalls Asige.
Then she wiped her tears and sought a second, third and more opinions.

She settled on a doctor at Kenyatta National Hospital where she began chemotherapy immediately.

Asige, like many others, was shocked by the cost of treatment.

“I had Sh10,000, hoping it would cover treatment but to my horror, I needed Sh34,000 to start off. I nearly gave up.”

Later, she raised the money and underwent chemotherapy.

“Until you actually have the disease and start treatment, you will never understand what patients go through. The nausea and hair loss can make one depressed. For me, the fact that I could lose my breast left me in despair,” says Asige.

She thought she was going to die and lost interest in everything.

Then in December that year, 23 members of her church choir perished in a road accident and that made her stop thinking about death and focused on living.

“I became positive. Curiously, my body started responding to the treatment. In less than a year, I was fully healed.” Asige is among the lucky survivors. Many have succumbed to the disease.

Dr Medhat Amin, an oncologist at Kenyatta National Hospital says cancer, if detected early, is treatable.

“I would like to tell Kenyans that cancer is treatable. Go for regular check-ups. If it is detected early enough, then you have a 90 per cent chance of recovery,” says Dr Amin.

Clear away

He explains that when the disease is at the first or second stage, medication can clear away the cancerous cells.

There are more than 300 types of cancers in the world today and certain types of cancer like pancreatic cancer and brain tumours are almost incurable if not detected early.

Nahashon Kirwa survived prostate cancer. He says he was diagnosed last year when it had reached the second stage.

“I immediately consulted with doctors and went for surgery in the US. Even then, I still really had to struggle to pay the expenses,” says Kirwa, adding that the one important thing that cancer patients require is support.

“Support from family, friends and colleagues kind of cures you mentally.”

He was declared cancer free in January. The most unfortunate thing about cancer treatment is that there are few oncologists in the country. According to the Kenyatta National Hospital’s Cancer Unit’s report published last year, there are only five clinical, four medical and eight surgical oncologists in the country. Nearly all these practice in Nairobi.

Training one clinical oncologist is estimated to cost at least Sh8 million.

A report published last year by the Kenya Medical Research Institute indicates that cancer is the third cause of death after infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases.

The report further identifies the most common forms of cancer as cervical cancer and breast cancer in women while men are affected by cancer of the prostate, oesophagus and neck.

Blood cancer, or leukaemia, is mostly common among children.

Maggy Odonde, who is fighting ovarian cancer after being diagnosed four months ago, is optimistic she will overcome the disease. She has already been operated on and is now going through chemotherapy sessions.

“Cancer can be beaten. I am going to beat mine and emerge victorious,” says Odonde.

Kenya Cancer Association vice-chairman, David Makumi says having cancer doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road.

The Ministry of Health says cancer causes18,000 deaths annually. The figures could be higher as there are no proper records on the disease.

Besides, figures from rural areas are scanty as all cancer treatment facilities are in Nairobi.

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