Cancer: 'I cut off affected breast, but it still came back'

Just when Sarah Wangui thought she was cancer-free, the disease re-surfaced, crushing her new-found hope.

I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer in 2015, shortly after I travelled back home from South Sudan where I was working. When I was in South Sudan, I noticed that my left breast had become slightly pink and the nipple had also retracted. But I never gave much thought to the changes. In fact, I was happy when I noticed that both my breasts were becoming firm and that I didn’t need a bra. Never did it occur to me that they were pointers to a medical complication.

While in Nairobi, I felt a lump in my left breast. I dismissed the lump as the family planning implant having shifted out of its original position. But an X-ray found the device missing. And to my astonishment, the medic at the hospital referred me to Kenyatta National Hospital for a biopsy. Then, I didn’t know what the tests were for. I was, however, certain that the tests were related to the missing implant. Long story short, the device hasn’t been found to date.

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I paid Sh32, 000 for the biopsy which revealed that I had Stage 3 breast cancer. That revelation shocked me. I knew the disease wouldn’t spare me and that I was going to die. I left KNH that day with an intention of committing suicide. However, a security guard rescued me and took me for a two-hour counselling. I didn’t understand why I had a disease that no one else in my family had.

I went back to KNH and reached an understanding with doctors that my breast removed. Walking around with one breast was a terrible experience for me. I made balls of clothes which I fitted in my bra so people couldn’t suspect I had a missing breast. The mastectomy was followed by six sessions of chemotherapy that had devastating effects on my body. Even then, it was an arduous task completing all the sessions without finances.

When I quit working in South Sudan, I ploughed all my savings in a business which was doing well until I started grappling with cancer. And with physical marks of the chemotherapy all over my body, my clients started disappearing.  During the sessions, I remember losing all the hair on my head. Tips of my fingernails, my palm and the inside of my feet also became black. At one point, my weight plunged from 150kg to 90kg. I remember being kicked out of a weight loss challenge on a local TV station when judges found out that my abnormal weight loss was related to cancer. My marriage also died. I had to move in with my mother.

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Resurgence

Despite the challenges, I finished the chemotherapy sessions and was waiting to start radiotherapy when I noticed another swelling where my left breast had been. At the time, I had recovered from the effects of the chemotherapy and with my strength back, started a small business to relieve my mother of her financial obligations. We were all so happy. I had shared on social media that I was cancer-free. In my heart, I had decided to ditch the radiotherapy since I saw no need of it.

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But I was worried when I started noticing familiar swellings on my left breast towards the end of 2017. Biopsy tests at KNH revealed that I had cancerous cells in areas near my left breast. Doctors recommended a fresh surgery to dig up cancerous flesh.

News that my cancer was back devastated my mother and she fell ill and died while I was undergoing the second surgery last year. Not only had she been my moral support, but she had been my chief financier and now relied on the church and well-wishers to finish my treatment. Today, I rely on very strong painkillers that doctors prescribed alongside radiotherapy sessions. The swellings have spread to my neck and they are extremely painful.

I have been instructed by my doctors to change my diet. I now stay away from sugar, red meat and alcohol. I interact with other cancer patients at the Limau Cancer Connection. It comforts me that I am not alone in this journey. It is also here that we get donors who give us raw materials to make the prosthetic breasts we use. My advice to people struggling with cancer is have faith in God, stick to the doctors’ instructions and attend all their medical appointments.

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CancerSarah WanguiBreast Cancer