As the world marked cancer awareness this week, Getrude Lusia from Kawangware, Nairobi, was lost in thought.
She was reminded of the many nights she stayed awake in her single roomed house, watching her son’s heartbeat, and praying he makes it.
Her son, Granious Waweru, was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2016. He was six years old.
Retracing the moments after the doctor gave her the results, to the day she watched her son die exactly one year ago, Lusia says when poverty mixes up with cancer, the result is loss of faith in humanity, and death.
“I will never forget the evening I threw myself on the ground and wept like a baby at the hospital reception hall. I had my son on my back, and was told I can only be admitted if I had Sh40,000. I started losing faith in everything, including God,” says Lusia.
Her story and appeal for help to save her son was so intense, Kenyans reached out with blood and monetary donations to help save her son.
“Help came too late. I lost Waweru two days after so many people came forward to help,” she says.
Her struggle -- carrying her son to hospital every day because they could not afford ambulance services, moving around hospitals to get a diagnosis, and making personal appeals for help -- is one that most poor households are familiar with.
Catherine Nyongesa, the chief executive of Texas Cancer Centre in Nairobi, says interventions always come a bit too late for children from poor homes.
“They go round seeking a diagnosis. When they finally get it, the condition is often in the late stages, making it difficult to manage,” she says.
Dr Nyongesa told Saturday Standard of a case last week when a mother walked in with a very sick child; and nothing in her pocket. All they needed was a doctor.
Even though they were admitted, the cancer was so wide spread. In less than a week, the child died.
Stephen Kuria from Kariobangi says he always walks with the book that changed his life. One he was given at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) when his son Peter Njoroge was diagnosed with cancer in 2016.
When he flips it open, the words ‘embroyonal rhabdomysaracoma’ run across the page. The rare form of cancer that fell little Peter. He was five.
Kuria says from the day those words were written, to the day his son died, he learnt that when you do not have money, and your child is diagnosed with cancer, your dignity goes too. “That state of helplessness, not knowing what to do is the worst feeling. No parent should ever go through that,” says Kuria.
Rhoda Wairimu, mother of three-year-old Leon Aywa who succumbed to non hogins lymphoma (cancer affecting immune system) at Mukuru kwa Ruben last year, says an early diagnosis could have saved her son.
“It took us a long time, trying different dispensaries in Mukuru. By the time they saw it, my boy was too sick,” she says.
Wairimu holds on to the barely used books etched with shaky letter formation of how Leon was beginning to learn how to write the alphabet – a reminder of an interrupted life.
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Irene Juma, who has championed many fund raising events for children with cancer, says lack of comprehensive insurance for the slum dwellers, and the fact that the parents are always out, makes it easy for them to miss the early signs of development of the disease.