Virginia Mueni (not her real name) began ailing when she was expectant; she realised she had a swelling on one of her breasts and was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The doctors informed her that they could not initiate treatment such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy because she was pregnant and would only get some form of medication to help her through the pregnancy.
Barely a month before her due date, the swelling raptured, prompting the doctors to deliver her baby at eight months, and that was when they realised her cancer was in stage four.
“I could not believe it because I had only seen the swelling when I got pregnant, and I could not understand how they were saying it was in the fourth stage, yet it had not lasted for months in my body,” she said.
It could go either way for patients when they learn that they have cancer -- while some might get stuck in a state of despair, others initiate treatment immediately.
And while some might get the news in the early stages when medical intervention can make a difference, others find out in Stage Four when it might be too late.
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With the knowledge that cancer is curable, those that begin treatment on time usually get better results with time, those in the later stages have the option of trying to live relatively comfortable last days with the help of palliative care.
In many survival stories about patients who have victoriously beaten cancer, the focus is on the patient. However, there are crucial people behind the scenes who play a big role in the healing process, such as the nurses who attend to these patients.
One such person is Nurse Rose Gitau based in Kakuyuni Level 3 hospital in Kangundo, Machakos County, who has gone out of her way to attend to cancer patients in her area of jurisdiction.
She says although it is a challenge using her money to help her patients because she also has a young family to take care of, it gives her great joy seeing their good progress when they can go to the hospital for further care.
Nurse Rose has been visiting Mueni frequently at home. She comes in to nurse her wound, educate her on the right foods to eat, and also how to take care of her young child.
“Sometimes I find that Mueni has not gone for her palliative chemotherapy because she cannot afford bus fare to the hospital so I end up giving her some of my money to enable her to get treatment because I understand that she needs it,” says the nurse.
Another patient that is under Nurse Rose’s care is 68-year-old Monica Nguyo (not her real name) who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2020.
Her sons took her to the hospital when she noticed a foul-smelling discharge and was diagnosed with cervical cancer in the early stages.
The doctors started the treatment immediately and stopped the spread of the cancerous cells to other parts of the body.
“If it were not for the training that I had received from Nurse Rose in Kakuyuni Health Centre, I would not have known that having such a discharge meant I needed to go for a check-up. She had been inviting us to the health centre and would take a day to talk to women about their health,” says Monica.
One way that the nurse has been able to achieve this is by working with the community health promoters who have been engaging people daily on the need to seek medical care.
“My interest is to create a structure that can benefit people from marginalised and hard-to-reach areas, helping those unable to travel to seek medical care,” adds the nurse.
Having graduated from the University of Nairobi as a Renal Nurse, she has been interested in non-communicable diseases and general community wellness, and she prefers to work in lower-level facilities to interact more with the community.
“My interest is in how people make the wrong health choices due to lack of basic information, I have seen people with diabetes or cancer rely on unresearched herbal medicines, ignoring hospitals and this has made their conditions worse.”
She says her joy is seeing more people in the community starting to understand the importance of seeking medical attention.