I got breast cancer thanks to years of cigarette smoking

After smoking cigarettes for decades, John Rono wasn’t shocked when he learnt that he was suffering from liver failure. What shocked the 62-year-old was the doctor’s pronouncement that he had breast cancer.
I felt a swelling in my left breast near the nipple in March 2017. A month later, I checked myself into Eldoret’s Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital when the swelling persisted and became itchy. Biopsy tests at revealed that I had stage 1 breast cancer.

News that I had cancer shocked me. I remembered having lost a sister to what was suspected to be cancer. When my sister first noticed one of her breasts turning pink, she was advised to go for cancer screening. However, she turned to herbalists when she heard that she would have to lose one of her breasts in the event that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The herbs didn’t help and she succumbed to her illnesses in 2012.

Apart from the cancer, tests revealed that I had liver failure. This was linked to my many years of smoking. Though I tried to hide my smoking history from the doctors, their tests revealed that I had been a smoker for years and this had damaged my liver. Doctors were forced to first treat my liver before starting the cancer medication.

I was booked into the hospital for surgery in March 2018. By then, my left hand was numb and I couldn’t use it. I also felt very hot and was always taking cold showers to cool down. Additionally, I suddenly added weight. During the surgery, about half a kilo of flesh was cut from my left armpit all the way to my right breast. I left the hospital 21 days later and proceeded with chemotherapy.

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My body reacted terribly to the chemo sessions and I remember my wives threatening to leave me. They were especially shocked when I lost all the hair on my head. The fight was compounded by the fact that I became too weak to perform my responsibilities. I also remember losing many friends who failed to understand what I was suffering from. The most unfortunate thing about cancer is that it is still misunderstood in many remote areas. People who struggle to understand end up associating it with the closest terminal disease they know of. It required a lot of explaining to my family who later came to terms with my condition and my missing breast.

It hasn’t been easy managing my condition given that I am on very expensive medication which cost up to Sh2, 500 a day and with my low paying job in Kakamega, I think it is by God’s grace that I have made it this far. Additionally, I spend Sh3, 000 during my monthly hospital visits. I am grateful that doctors didn’t give a specific diet regime and instructed me to avoid alcohol and smoking.

My advice to men is to take cancer screening seriously especially when they notice anything abnormal in their bodies. Men are wired to treat their health casually and that is why many suffer in silence until it is too late.

I have talked to many men in Kakamega where I work and at home in Nandi and most have gone for tests. I started doing this when I lost a friend who decided to use traditional medicine instead of going to the hospital when he noticed some weird symptoms.

I watched my sister die due to the same decision and I vowed to educate those around me. I also advice people to register for NHIF as it comes in handy in cancer treatment. I remember my surgery cost hundreds of thousands of shillings and I wonder how I would have managed without NHIF.

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CancerBreast cancerSmokingJohn Rono