From pastor’s wife, to production manager, Kenyans share stories of surviving cancer

Retired university lecturer Bernard Kipkemoi who recovered from colon cancer. [Photo, Courtesy]

Bernard Kipkemoi, PhD [Soil Science (Soil Fertility Management)], a Retired University Lecturer.

Recovered from colon cancer

I started experiencing pain in my lower abdomen around September 2008.

Laboratory tests showed that I had amoeba and later on cysts, but the pain did not go away. An X-Ray and Endoscopy at Ranalo Medical Imaging Centre in Nakuru showed that I had some growth and constriction in the large intestine.

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I was referred and booked at Nairobi Hospital in November, 2008. I had a colonoscopy the following day, and Saturday of that week I underwent an operation that took three hours. After the operation, the doctor told me I had colon cancer.

I do not know why, but the diagnosis did not scare me, even if he said it would have killed me in six months had it not been discovered and operated on as soon as it was. I was never afraid of death at any point.

I was discharged from Nairobi Hospital on November 20 and started chemotherapy to ensure there would be no cancer cells in my blood. There were three methods for the application of chemotherapy: tablets, radiology and intravenous, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. I opted for the intravenous method, meaning it would be administered through my veins. The process would take six months.

I underwent 12 sessions of intravenous chemotherapy, starting January and ending June, 2009. It was hard on my body. In fact, after Session 2, I wanted to give up, but I thank God I was able to withstand the terrible effects of Chemotherapy and managed to complete all the 12 sessions. My chemotherapy doctor told me many people do not complete the prescribed sessions, and give up altogether.

I remember sharing my story with my students at the university. At that time, my eyes were still tearing a lot due to the side effects of Chemotherapy, and I had to keep reminding the students that I was not crying or anything like that. I thank God the problem was diagnosed at its early stages, before it could spread to other organs of the body, and I now have a new lease of life.

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As a Christian I just thank God, and to give back, I am now involved in the construction of a church building. I sold a piece of land to support the effort and it is my way of appreciating God for what He did for me. I encourage everyone, whenever possible, go for complete medical check ups on regular basis; at least, once every year. It is possible to survive cancer, like I did, if it is dicovered early.

Carol Ng'ang'a, founder, Held Every Lady in Distress (HELD Sister) organization.

Recovered from cervical cancer

Carol Ng'ang'a, founder, Held Every Lady in Distress (HELD Sister) organization. [Photo, Courtesy]

I never had any symptoms at all when I first discovered I had cancer. I always do something special for myself every year on my birthday, so that December I went for a full check up, probably motivated by the fact that my insurance was lapsing. I was turning 27 then. I was at the salon and the salonist delayed, so I decided to go for a full body checkup at a nearby hospital. Among the tests was a pap smear. I did not even check the results until a month later when I was passing by the hospital and decided to get them.

It's only later when I started googling the terms on the results that it really hit me that I had cancer. I sought many opinions and it was the fifth doctor I talked to that finally got to treat me. After tests it was confirmed in February 2013 that it was really cancer.

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It took me a long time to decide what kind of treatment I wanted to do because my head was heavy. I was just tired of living. My doctor told me, "Caroline, you are too young. I am not losing you. If you do not decide, I will decide for you." My brother would take me to appointments. I had refused to do a hysterectomy because I just wanted to die but my mother gave me some tough love and reminded me that I had a daughter to take care of.

Eventually I realised I had to live. So I had the hysterectomy done, where they removed my fallopian tubes, my uterus and my cervix, but retained the ovaries so I still ovulate. I went though pre-menopause as a result. I had to do hormonal therapy and immunotherapy to restore my immunity.

It has been quite the journey. I resigned from my job after several months. I realized I had been very fortunate. I was literate, able to go for checkups and it was discovered early, but I could not stop thinking about other women who did not have the same advantageous circumstances.

 I would talk to women in matatus, go to church and ask for a chance to speak, just to talk to the women about getting checkups. After a few months I realized I could not do that so I registered a non-profit organisation, HELD, to create awareness. I did not have resources but I am good at speaking so I looked for partners and mobilised resources. 

In a year, we had done 53 medical camps and has screened more than 4,000 women. It is going on seven years now and I have seen the power of passion. I started providing services, started a support group, then realized most people with cancer do not know what to eat, so I started a program called Afya Harvest that focuses on nutrition in disease management. It is based on organic farming and indigenous traditional herbs. We now include other non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

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The whole experience made me a whole different person and I do not want to imagine what life would be like if I had not gone through cancer. I have such a different perspective and I found my purpose. My calling is to give hope. I work with rural women and do not earn any money, but somehow God provides. 

Wycliffe Agufa, Production Manager

Recovered from Intestinal cancer

Wycliffe Agufa, who recovered from intestinal cancer. [Photo, Courtesy]

I was living a normal life without any problems when I discovered it. I used to have some minor stomach pains which I thought were normal, so I would just take painkillers.

One day in 2006 I went to work as usual, but at around 10am I started having severe abdominal pains. I started vomiting blood. I called my wife, sought permission from work and we went to hospital. After a scan I was admitted to the hospital the same day and had to be operated on because there was some growth in my intestine.

After I left the hospital I thought I was okay, because I had no pain except from the surgery. The growth was however discovered to be cancerous after tests.

Finding out I had cancer knocked me out and I thought it meant death. I felt I was finished and stuck, but after some time, with prayer and encouragement, I got back to  my senses. I had only been able to tell my wife and the bishop of my church. At that time we did not even know what the word "chemo" meant. I was given the options for chemotherapy and chose to take tablets but it meant our life was turned upside down because it was very expensive. I had to go through six cycles of treatment, and each cycle cost between Sh50,000 and Sh60,000.

Chemotherapy took a heavy toll on me. I kept working. I am a fast walker, so the distance from my house to the bus stop would take me 5 to 10 minutes before, but on chemotherapy it would take me an hour. I could not wear shoes because of the effect it had on my feet, people did not even want to shake my hand sometimes because of the way I looked.

The surprising thing was the amount of support I got. Friends were consistently supportive and I would get calls from people I had not talked to in a long time saying they wanted to help.

I went into remission months later. I go through checkups every year to make sure everything is alright, but I have not had any problems since. I thank God for giving me a second chance. Now I reach out to other people, giving them hope. The experience opened many doors for my family. Our lives were never the same after that, so it all worked out for good.

Priscilla Musau, pastor's wife

Recovered from uterine cancer

Priscilla Musau, who recovered from uterine cancer. [Photo, Coutesy]

I had been bleeding heavily, but then I thought it was menopause, so I didn't seek medical attention.

When it became really bad in 2013, my husband and I decided to seek medical attention. The first doctor said it was something small that would go away, but we decided to seek a second opinion from a gynaecologist. I'm glad we did because that doctor would have messed me up. I work with cancer patients now and many of them have such a story, where they were told it was something small only for it to spread to other areas.

 The gynaecologist said he could see that I had degenerative fibroids, but that he also saw something else. The third gynaecologist is the one who said that it was most likely cancer. 

That day on our way home we did not talk to each other and did not know how to break the news to our children.

We were so devastated. I started getting intense pains and the test results from the biopsy later on confirmed that it was uterine cancer.

The doctor at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital treated me and I had a total hysterectomy, where the whole uterus was removed. Luckily it had only been in the uterus and had not spread, but the doctor said that sometimes cancer cells can spread without being detected, so I had to undergo chemotherapy in case that had happened. It was extremely expensive and we sold whatever we could to find the money for it. Friends supported us, but they can only support you to a certain extent.

It was terrible. I grew very thin and threw up all the time, with a low appetite. My husband never left my bedside in hospital. He would read the Bible to me and pray over me. I underwent chemotherapy for about 5 months, and since then it has not come back. I have been well, my hair grew back and sometimes I even forget I went through it. 

I am so thankful to God because I did not think I would live to see my grandson. It was a miracle. Now I go to hospitals to encourage other patients and give them hope. Some have no one. Whenever they have support group meetings I am always there.

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