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Beating breast cancer: The stories of brave women

Dr. Roseline Malangachi during an interview with The Standard. []

For nearly four decades, Phanice Okuso, a 60-year-old retired nurse, dedicated her career to caring for cancer patients in various healthcare facilities across the country.

Until her retirement, Okuso worked at the cancer centre at Kakamega Teaching and Referral Hospital.

Two years ago, while at work, she discovered a lump in one of her breasts during a self-examination.

"The following day, I went for a checkup and was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer," Okuso recounted.

She promptly initiated treatment, underwent several chemotherapy sessions, and after two years, she successfully conquered the disease.

Speaking to The Standard at Kakamega Oasis Multi-Specialty Hospital during a breast cancer awareness walk and free breast cancer screening event for healthcare workers, Okuso stressed the importance of early detection.

"I am physically fit and fine because I discovered it at an early stage," she declared.

Okuso advised healthcare workers to prioritise their own health, saying, "As you do the work for other clients, remember yourself too."

She emphasised the significance of regular breast examinations and the timing of self-checks after "your monthly periods," as lumps tend to appear post-menstruation.

Terry Odongo, the founding president of the Soroptimist International Kakamega chapter, shared her daughter's breast cancer journey.

Her daughter, a breast cancer survivor, owes her life to regular screenings.

"She had been doing regular breast cancer screening since she was young, and last year, she discovered a lump on her breast that turned out to be cancerous," Odongo explained.

Her daughter underwent chemotherapy and radiology sessions and is now cancer-free.

Alice Harambe, also a nurse at the referral hospital, discovered a lump on her left breast while taking a shower on her sister's wedding eve.

Following a checkup, doctors found that her lymph nodes had swollen, leading to further tests confirming stage two breast cancer.

The doctor recommended the removal of her affected breast to prevent cancer from spreading, followed by chemotherapy.

Harambe expressed the emotional challenges that came with the loss of her breast and sought counselling for healing. She encouraged others not to view breast cancer as a death sentence and shared her story to raise awareness.

 Dr. Roseline Malangachi, a consultant paediatrician at Kakamega Teaching and Referral Hospital, revealed that they have diagnosed over 2,000 women with breast cancer.

Malangachi pointed out that breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Kenya, accounting for approximately 38 per cent of all new cancer cases and ranking as the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Kenyan women, according to the Ministry of Health.

The ministry reported 3,107 breast cancer-related deaths in the past 12 months, with 6,799 new cases reported annually. Malangachi emphasised the importance of early detection in dispelling the myth that breast cancer is a death sentence.

The National Cancer Institute of Kenya (NCI-K) reported that currently, two out of every three cancer cases are diagnosed in advanced stages, making a cure nearly impossible.

According to NCI-K's report titled "Status of Cancer in Kenya Report 2022/2023," cancer cases are steadily increasing in the country, putting significant strain on populations and healthcare systems.

Kenya records over 42,000 new cancer cases annually, with more than 27,000 cancer-related deaths, equating to 75 people succumbing to cancer daily.

Treatment costs for cancer are exorbitant, often leading families into financial distress. Cervical, cervical, and prostate cancers are the leading contributors to the disease burden in Kenya.

Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Chairman of NCI-K, explained that a single chemotherapy session costs Sh37,000, with the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) covering Sh22,000, leaving patients responsible for the remaining Sh15,000 every two weeks.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, observed in October, underscores the importance of early detection through screening.

NCI-K reported that 70 per cent of cancer cases are diagnosed at advanced stages in Kenya, emphasising the critical role of early detection in combating the disease.

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