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I had two choices: Kill my son, or my cancer

By Yvonne Kawira | April 6th 2020
Edith and her year-year-old son Ethan. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

It was nothing, she would tell herself, touching the small dry patch below her right breast as she took in her reflection in the mirror. She was a woman truly in tune with her body and she felt sure that the only unusual thing about it then was the little bubba growing inside her. Yes, she was pregnant. It was the best news she had heard in a while.

And in that one moment, cradling her barely-there pregnant belly, she realised that life was great. A baby; her baby, was everything she had ever wanted. In that space in time in her 31 years of existence, she felt truly happy.

But now and then, call it a woman’s intuition, as weeks sped by, when Edith Ndegwa stood in front of the mirror, she would lift her glance from her burgeoning belly to the area near her breast. The dry patch was growing.

“For a second, I would get panicked. Wonder if it was cancer, but just as fast, I would dismiss the thought. It was painless after all, and I had never experienced any other symptoms anyway,” she told My Health.

This was in 2019, and she was only one month pregnant.

Days turned into months. Morning sickness was ebbing away and Edith spent many precious minutes enjoying the little flutters of life in her womb.

“It was an active baby. I would feel so much love wash over me whenever I felt the little movements.”

By then, she had already forgotten about the little patch; until around the three-month mark when she checked to see if it had gone away. Well, it hadn’t.

Deny, deny and pray you are right

“I now had what looked like an insect bite. I hoped that it would go away so I didn’t have to worry. But then the spot got itchy,” she says.

The itch was persistent. No amount of moisturising the skin would take it away. What, however, jarred her into action was that the breast began to discolour.

 “Sometimes it would get darker than the left one and other times I would notice a yellowish tinge. It was then I thought that I should see a doctor about it. If for nothing else, to just allay my fears.”

At the hospital, she was informed to just manage the itch as they couldn’t give her medication when pregnant.

But still, during her antenatal clinics, she would bring up the offending breast and they would check it and send her on her way.

It was only at the six-month mark that the doctors told her that she may indeed have breast cancer.

They looked sure about the diagnosis.

“They told me that I should terminate the pregnancy to begin my treatment immediately.”

This was news that Edith was not ready for. And the one thing she absolutely knew was that she was going to be a mother; cancer or no cancer. Her doctors, however, seemed really worried.

 “No way I was losing my baby. I was 31. This meant that I really did not have many childbearing years ahead of me. And I was still hopeful the doctors were wrong,” she explained.

At this point, a wound had developed on her breast and it was swollen. But the fact that a few of her friends told her that cancer didn’t present itself the way it appeared on her breast further bolstered her resolve to delay treatment. Other friends would tell her not to go to the hospital as they would cut it off.

Was she worried that delaying treatment would reduce her chances of survival?

“I was not worried at all about delayed treatment. At the back of my mind, I was still trying to convince myself that this wasn’t cancer.”

One morning at eight months of pregnancy, she woke up to find that her swollen breast had ruptured into two sections at the point there had been a wound.  

“I was scared. But I was not going to let the wound stop me from having my child. I decided to take care of my wound. I was going to delay dealing with whatever was happening to give my child as much time in the womb as possible.”

Somehow, the wound healed and closed up again.

“I knew I needed help. But I needed to give my growing child a chance. I wanted a full-term pregnancy.

At 41 weeks, Edith checked herself into hospital ready to have her baby. She gave birth via C-section to a beautiful baby boy weighing 3.9 kg. Baby Ethan Ndegwa was in perfect health too.

Edith with one-year-old son Ethan. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

“He was so perfect. He distracted me from the excruciating pain I was feeling on my right breast.”

The moment the baby was born, Emily was hit by the enormity of what was happening.

“I now had a baby, and possibly cancer. The baby had survived. Would I?”

Her right breast was now oozing milk and blood. She could only breastfeed him on her left breast.

“Eventually I had to give him formulae and sensing the urgency on my doctor’s face about dealing with my breast, it was action time.”

However, her CS wound had to heal first. And this took a month.

“I now wanted to live for my precious boy. I spent most of the month reading up about cancer. A part of me still didn’t think I had cancer.”

This is despite the fact that now she could feel a lump in her breast.  

When the baby was two months old, she packed up for the hospital with her son. She was now ready.

The doctors suggested a test on the tissue cells of the wound. Two weeks later, she got the results.

 “I had stage 3 cancer. I remember crying as I held on to my son. I was angry. And for a crazy moment, contemplated suicide, but looked at my crying son and caught myself. I guess I shouldn’t have been too shocked as I have a family history of cancer. An aunt and two cousins have battled cancer.”

Treatment soon began with a scan showing that the lungs were also affected and that she was now at stage 4. The doctors informed her that she has little time to live and that surgery was out of the question.

“They said that they would only operate to control the bleeding in my breast.”

She was also informed that she would start on chemotherapy to reduce the swelling and make her life more comfortable.

I then moved in with my aunt who also hired a nanny for me as I concentrated on getting better as I began my chemotherapy treatment.

Looking up

Brenda has gone through her chemotherapy treatments and has been responding well to it.

“The swelling in my breast disappeared and by the time I was doing my fifth chemotherapy session, the hair began growing back.

 Four months ago, a scan revealed that there was no cancer in her breasts, but still had traces of cancer cells in her lungs. And so she was put on Herceptin treatment. This is an immune targeted treatment meant to prevent recurrence of breast cancer or to treat breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast.  

 “I am taking it a day at a time and hoping for the best that life can give me. Hopefully, my June checkup comes up clean. Ethan is now one and I am grateful to be here with him".

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