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Dr Edith Kwobah remained stoic despite battling lung cancer at stage four

 Dr Edith Kwobah. [Courtesy]

Cancer knows no boundaries and it came knocking at Dr Edith Kwobah's door.

The mental health champion bravely fought the disease and her courage would surprise those who met her.

‘A girl from Ndeiya,’ as she would fondly refer to herself, Dr Kwobah maintained a positive attitude despite the cancer diagnosis.

She shared her treatment journey on her social media pages and encouraged patients battling cancer.

Kwobah's message, barely four days before she passed on, reflected her positive attitude.

“This journey with cancer is very personal…” Kwobah posted on Facebook on March 18, 2024.“One thing I have practically learned is to move with the tide, resistance brings unnecessary strain, anger and frustrations. Am also allowing me to be vulnerable and to allow others to support me. It is not an easy place to be, but once you learn you have no options, you learn to let go and let God be in control.""Wishing all of us going through our unique cancer battles the best. Continuously grateful to those who are going out of their way to make the burden light,” she posted on Facebook.

This was Kwobah’s last post before she died on March 22, 2024.

Family, colleagues and friends have remembered the doctor for her bravery in battling cancer and her contribution to mental health.

“She fought the disease so courageously that at times she seemed like she was the one encouraging those who went to visit her,” recalls Dr Catherine Syengo Mutisya, a consultant psychiatrist.

“When someone receives news of a terminal illness, they definitely would go through the stages of grief until they reach the accepting stage where they are able to talk about it, find meaning in it and try to still reach their new potential and continue contributing to society," adds Dr Mutisya.

"I think she made peace with the diagnosis and was determined to share her experience for the benefit of others who might face the same challenge.”

Mutisya’s first encounter with Kwobah was when she was a chief registrar at Mathari Hospital, between 2012 and 2014.

“I remember her for her dedication in serving patients, diligently with passion,” says the psychiatrist, who was the head of clinical services at the facility.

As a coordinator of the Kenya Psychiatric Association (KPA) continues medical education (CME) Kwobah is remembered for ensuring the smooth running of respective programmes.

Despite being unwell on the eve of this year’s World Mental Health Day, she challenged the Kenya Medical Association (KMA) physician wellness committee to organise a webinar for the healthcare workers World Mental Health.

KMA President Simon King'ondu said during the KMA-Led Training on Covid for Health Workers, Kwobah and her team authored three research articles that culminated in the KMA report on the mental health of health workers after the outbreak of the pandemic in Kenya.

"Her mantra was doctors should be there for their patients and diligent at their work," recalls Dr Kigondu.

As the chairperson of KPA Research and scientific conferences, Kwobah was open to ideas that benefited the community like sensitizing students in higher learning institutions about mental health.

“I will remember her for being a strong advocate for mental health. Her persistence and resilience was exemplary,” says Dr Florence Jaguga Head of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Rehabilitation Services Department at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH).

Kwobah's tenure as Director of Mental Health at MTRH saw major changes in infrastructure, services and human resources.

Nawiri Recovery and Skills Center at MTRH is one of Kwobah’s projects in mental health. 

She was inspired to establish the facility after realising most patients with mental illnesses are impaired and hardly have their condition understood while seeking treatment. For example, most are locked in wards where drugs do not change their condition much, whereas others are abandoned.

The 16-bed facility treats and trains patients on life skills, including farming, tailoring, laundry and cooking while sharing responsibilities via the concept of housemothers and housefathers.

Apart from pushing for various policies on mental health, she was also keen on the mental health of uniformed officers across the country.

Until her demise, she has been sensitising police officers across the country, on self-care in managing mental health, an initiative she picked following numerous cases of police killing each other and turning against civilians.

In an earlier interview with The Standard, Kwobah said uniformed officers are drilled to be tough, which exposes the majority of them to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

On October 27, 2023, she took to Facebook to break the news of her diagnosis of lung cancer, at stage four.

“Life has taken 360 degrees turn, having just turned 40 years,” she posted.

“In my beautiful plans, today I would start my long-awaited annual leave, would be en route for a meeting in Washington DC, have a good time in New York, have another meeting in Cape Town two weeks down...do some swimming classes. Yah life starts at 40 and weh YOLO...best leave planned ever. But not so any more," reads the Facebook post.

"I have stage four cancer......, and the priority now is to keep off the pain, be as comfortable and start care. The emotions, fear, and experiences need a book, I hope I get the strength to continue. The girl from Ndeiya book.”

She resolved to share her cancer treatment journey and encourage cancer patients in Kenya and across the globe.

Initially, before diagnosis, she would visit the cancer unit and talk to patients at MTRH where she was stationed. But after she started battling cancer, she wanted to use her experience coupled with mental health expertise to support patients.

“One I know am not alone and unique, many people are going through this today, in Kenya and the world. My heart goes out to all of us. May we find strength, love, and resources to make it all lighter,” she posted.

On February 4, 2024, during the commemoration of International Cancer Day, she said cancer cells had spread to her vital organs.

She was in tears. She was broken.

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