My battle with skin cancer

Noberd Kamau, 42, during interview on 11th February 2019 at Lady Hope Wellness Institute Kitisuru in Nairobi.Kamau is battling skin cancer since 2007.[Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Nobert Kamau, 42, was once a virile man with an active social life. Until a little rash ran out of control. By AGNES AINEAH

I was working as a matatu conductor on the Nairobi’s Eastleigh route when I started noticing rashes on my left thigh. I ignored them until I saw some developing purple nodules that extended to the upper part of my leg, and my tummy up to my navel area. That worried me. Soon enough, both legs had the purple growth and they had become stiff and I could not move with ease. For four months, I visited various dispensaries where I was given medicine that did not help much. When I realised I needed to act fast, I visited Nazareth Hospital in Nairobi where blood tests revealed that I had Kaposi Sarcoma (abnormal cancerous tissue under skin). They put me on a drip every three weeks and the growths disappeared. By then though, my legs were very weak and I couldn’t go back to work. I moved in with my mother in Kiambu. This was in February 2008. And we thought all I now needed to do was regain strength.

Resurgence

The illness however came back in 2017, this time with full-blown symptoms. My legs became swollen from the toe and my tummy too, up to my navel. In no time, they developed huge lumps that burst into open wounds and emitted smelly pus. My family took me to various hospitals which couldn’t treat my legs.

I was finally booked into Texas Hospital along Mbagathi way where biopsy tests revealed I had skin cancer. It was the most shocking revelation to me. I knew how the disease was dreadful and thought there was no life ahead of me.

The medics prescribed seven chemotherapy sessions which were to be followed up by 12 sessions of radiotherapy. My National Health Insurance Fund only catered for six of these chemo sessions and since I couldn’t pay the required Sh84,000 for the final one, I dived straight into the radiotherapy sessions. In hindsight, that was a really bad idea.

 No sun and horrid smell

I was told to go for all the radiotherapy sessions in 12 consecutive days. It was a tough task. I made sure I was at the facility very early in the morning, get through the session and go back home before 10am. Doctors warned against exposing the wounds to the sun after the sessions. But what I found most difficult to endure was the rejection I faced everywhere because of my smelly legs. Passengers would refuse to board a matatu I was in, forcing some drivers to snub me. Every time, I paid for two seats near the driver because no one would sit next to me. When I went to hospital, the whole area would be smelly and other patients allowed me to jump the queue so that I would be treated first and leave fast.

In December 2017, my legs became worse. Though the surface had dried up after radiotherapy, trouble was brewing inside. The wounds opened up and I was informed it was due to the single chemotherapy session I had missed. I had to start the whole process again. This time, they proposed eight chemotherapy sessions. I managed only seven of these and missed the final one since my NHIF card had expired. I needed Sh6, 000 to renew it before I could get the remaining session.

At this time, my illness was draining my family’s finances. My wounds required special medication besides the washing and dressing they needed. I started feeling like a burden to them. One day when my uncles met at my home to raise the money I needed, I overheard my irate uncle saying that my disease had left everyone bankrupt. He saw no need of treating a disease that would eventually kill me. When I heard him say this, I escaped through the backdoor where no one saw me, boarded a motorbike and went to a friend’s house where I stayed for eight months with no form of medication. I slowly slid into depression and started contemplating suicide.

My hope was renewed when a priest visited me and told me of a certain network for cancer patients that offered moral support. My life took a turn when I joined Lady Hope Wellness Institute and started going for counselling sessions. I was indifferent during my first counselling session and cried in at least three that followed. But soon, I started feeling better about life. That plus my daughter has been my source of hope and strength. While it has been difficult being an inactive young man, I know that if I raised capital, I can run a business.

I take my medication religiously; a pill a day for three weeks, skip a week before resuming medication. I also exercise a little on a sewing machine at Lady Hope Institute. When I use a
treadler, it helps exercise my legs.

My advice is not just  for cancer patients but to anyone who cares about their health. Join various support groups. This will help you learn a lot about diseases and how you can lead a healthy life to avoid future complications. But cancer patients should endure medication despite the side effects which are sometimes difficult to endure.

 What causes it?

Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells that become cancerous due to overexposure to the sun. Squamous cell skin cancer, for instance, can develop after long-term exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. There are different types of skin cancer depending on the particular layer of the skin affected.

Symptoms include:

Unusual growth

Bumps

Scaly patches

Dark spots that don’t go away. The spots are of unusual colour and may be white, pink, purple, blue, or red

People with skin cancer also develop moles which are usually a concentration of pigment producing cells in the skin.

It is recommended you seek medical attention when you notice abnormal spots on your skin. However, not all of these spots point to having skin cancer.

Complications include recurrence, where it sometimes develops again after treatment. Additionally, skin cancer cells have a degree of likelihood to spread to muscles, nerves, or other body organs.

Skin cancer risk factors include:

·         Excessive exposure to the sun

·         Sunburns

·         Radiation treatment

·         Weak immune system

·         Family history of skin cancer

Diagnosis

It follows a thorough examination of the unusual spot, swelling or scaly patch on the skin. Through biopsy, medics remove a small sample of the growth and send it to a laboratory for further analysis.

Most skin cancer treatments involve oral medication, surgery, light therapy or radiation that kills cancer cells near the skin.

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