I am strumming my pain away

Caleb Kyalo during the interview with the Standard at the I&M offices in Nairobi [Elvis Ogina.Standard]
About four years ago, I had everything going well for me. I was 27, and like any man my age, I had fire in my belly. I had my career path mapped out, I had goals to meet and all seemed fine.

My music business was doing well. I am a bio-technologist but my heart has always been in music, I am self-taught but I perfected my skills by sneaking into music lessons at Kenyatta University where I was pursuing my degree in Biotechnology.

Life is funny, when you think you have everything figured out and your duty is just to put in the work to achieve your dreams, something comes your way and in a  moment you are on a  different tangent where nothing much matters, when only living to see another day becomes your new goal.

H Pylori and acidity issues

It is over a year now since I was diagnosed with colon cancer. My journey with the monster began four years ago, but in between before we finally got the correct diagnosis, I had been treated for H-pylori infections for three times, at one point I was told I had ulcers. As we all do, I sometimes self-medicated to keep the acidity at the lowest, I also tried to avoid some types of food which are known to trigger acidity.

There was a time a doctor I was seeing mentioned he could feel a lump on the right side of my tummy but we both dismissed it as a common thing in men. How we got into the conclusion that it was okay for a man to have a lump in his tummy and still think it was fine baffles me.

Again, he sent me home with more medication for ulcers. I religiously took them but I became weaker by the day.

When my body couldn’t take it any longer, it started giving me other signs. I once passed out when I was running errands in Westlands in Nairobi. I woke up in the hospital where I was told my haemoglobin was really low. The verdict wasn’t any different, the doctor who treated me prescribed the best medicine there was for ulcers but with a disclaimer – I needed to eat well.

By then, everything that entered my tummy came out as soon as it landed. I turned into a picky eater, there were times my stomach could only handle ugali and water.

My therapy

I play the guitar for a living. One time as we performed with the other band members at an event in Nairobi, I got sick and had to be rushed to hospital.

By then I had also started getting alarmed since the ‘ulcers’ was now affecting my work.

In January last year, I was totally grounded and I had to know what was going on in there. My siblings were also worried and  we decided to get to the bottom of it. I finally took some tests that showed a growth in my tummy, same place the lump we dismissed was.

I embarked on the treatment process immediately but the first procedure was to remove the growth which was malignant.

This may sound ironical but since that discovery, my life changed for the better - every day to me is a gift and I treat it as such. I am more sensitive in terms of nutrition since it all boils down to what you eat.

Diet changes

One thing I miss most is nyama choma, which I can longer indulge in. I am not allowed to eat red meat and of course sugar which is the biggest cancer catalyst.

My diet is made mostly of vegetables which I have to carefully source. I also can’t live without consulting a nutritionist who decides what I eat on a particular week.

There are so many myths out there about cancer which scared me. I was once told I would have to abandon my guitar as chemotherapy affects the small sensory nerves in the feet and hands, causing symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and pain in fingers and toes.

I was worried of losing the one thing I loved doing. I carried my guitar to the chemo sessions on two occasions to console myself but throughout the journey, I asked God to protect my fingers.

One of the greatest lessons I have learnt through this journey is to live in the moment and appreciate every second as a gift. You also gain and lose friends in such moments but that’s what life is made of.  

Cancer isn’t a disease you would wish even for an enemy but it is not a death sentence. T have met people who conquered it and living their best lives. My journey is not over yet, but cancer must know it messed with the wrong guy.

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