Numerous testsAfter numerous tests in Kenya, a doctor at Nairobi Hospital had referred him to a specialist in London. “He said “I think you have a problem with your blood, but I am not the expert so I wanna refer you to an expert, but I need to get you out of here soon”,” said Collymore. The country was approaching the second round of the 2017 General Election, and the year would soon be coming to an end, a busy time for any company. Collymore thought: “I will go after that” but the doctor said “I want you to leave (for London) tonight”.
Curative programme“You know for me, you got cancer - you got cancer. There is nothing much you can do about it. You see it’s the curative programme that will be six to nine months. I thought this is gonna be tough,” he said in the interview. The haematologist said he would commence chemotherapy in a few days, which forced Collymore to tell his management back at Safaricom of the news, and how long he would be away. The treatment involved three doses of chemotherapy every day for 10 days. The chemo was to get rid of blast cells, which had refused to transform to either blood or white blood cells. After this, he would undergo stem cell transfusion. But after the chemotherapy in February last year, Collymore thought he was ready to go home. He was feeling better already. But the doctor had other ideas. “(He said) “if you go I guarantee you that in six months’ time the cancer will be back and it would be worse than when you came. Then I don’t think that I can put you through a curative programme. I think we gonna have to maintain through chemotherapy.” A possible failure of the transplant, which he got from an undisclosed donor in the United States, is the other thing he admitted he was upset about apart from how long the treatment was to take. In the isolation room in London, Collymore said death did pay him a visit. He thought about it and decided to make peace with it. “That’s the point when you think, you know, I might not come back,” he said, laughing it off. “Then you look at the options. You know I am one of the people who believe that when I die, I actually wanna be cremated pretty quickly.” But Collymore got well. It was August 2018, and he was back in Kenya with the good news for any cancer patient that he was in remission. “I am in complete remission today, but like other cancer patients, we spend the next five years being under a watchful eye. I met my doctor today, she and I meet every fortnight, and I do regular blood tests.” He said the doctor was keen on how the first year would go, only for it to turn out to be the only year he was left with. During yesterday’s interview, Jeff disclosed that Collymore had recently taken a turn for the worse. “In fact, a few weeks ago, his wife Wambui had asked a couple of us to donate blood for platelets. His blood refused to clot. He was getting nose bleeds out of the blues,” Jeff said. But Collymore was prepared for death. He admitted during an interview with Jeff that being diagnosed with leukemia did not upset him that much. “I kinda expected it,” he said. Collymore said if he had not sought a second opinion, he would have been dead by December 2017. “It would have killed me by Christmas for sure. I would have been ex-CEO, the late,” he said, with a smirk on his face. Ever the problem solver and innovator, even as he battled ill health, Collymore did not shy away from pointing out the challenges that would face a common citizen after a cancer diagnosis.
Poor Kenyans“What happens to the poor Kenyan who suffers from this?” he posed. “One, you not gonna be diagnosed because you will think its fever and this is always the problem. People do not go to get diagnosed for whatever, because, one, they do not have the money, so there are many people who will be dying in the world and Kenya for sure due to lack of diagnosis and lack of a cure.” Collymore said nobody should die from cancer in this day and age of advanced science. He said what made cancer scary was how people reacted once one break the news. “In my family, my ex-wife and my sister all had cancer, and she (ex-wife) celebrated her fifth year cancer-free when I was in London and my sister is six years cancer-free. So you don’t have to die of cancer.” The problem, he said, lay with the healthcare system which “can never be free by the simple fact of how long it takes to train a doctor”. “But we also have a problem with insurance because people can’t afford insurance. For the country to provide free healthcare is a challenge, so people have to find a solution.” Collymore said strong family support also played a key role, noting that he had his wife to thank for being by his side. He said during his stay in hospital, he got goodwill messages from many Kenyans, including archbishops, imams and sheikhs. With a mischievous smile, Collymore said there were even people who were trying to “resist” him, a reference to the #ResistSafaricom movement during the disputed presidential election. All that energy made him decide to get better. “I thought, how the heck can I afford to die and let all these people down?”