In Kenya, cancer is the third leading cause of death and ranks as the second leading cause of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) after cardiovascular diseases, as research depicts.
In 2018, a whopping 47,887 cases were reported in Kenya, with a mortality of 32,987. Late diagnosis has been cited as the major challenge to the successful battle against cancer.
In 2020, 42,116 cases were identified, with the numbers slightly reducing, especially due to low testing rates as the country battled COVID-19.
On February 4, the world commemorates World Cancer Day, revisiting the success stories of survivors, examining the current preparedness of countries in combating the disease, and also advocating for enacting of better healthcare facilities and trained personnel to deal with the killer disease.
“Close the Care Gap” was the theme for 2023, calling for enabling of more people to access relevant health care in the prevention and control of cancer.
Evans Machera, a 51-year-old city lawyer based in Nairobi, was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma cancer in 2020.
Machera, who hails from Kisii County, had already suffered for half a year without knowing what he was ailing from.
In an exclusive interview with The Scholar Media Africa, he narrated how his journey has been.
Many visits to hospitals could not solve his suffering. It was not until he walked into a hospital in Eldoret when medical test results indicated otherwise that everything changed for the father of two.
It all began as chest tightness.
What he never knew was that cancer was knocking on his door. He visited Prudent Cottage Hospital at Kangundo road, where a chest x-ray revealed pleural effusion fluid. He had hopes high that a minor surgery could solve the riddle.
The next destination was Thika Naidu Hospital. Minor surgery was prescribed, hoping all would be done. But he was wrong.
The relief was short-lived. The pain was back. Many tests were done, including for HIV/AIDS, TB, and others, but there was no breakthrough.
His doctors were determined to solve the mystery of his ailment, but carrying out tests with Lancet Kenya without success got them gloves off, asking him to seek better medication from advanced facilities.
So far, the treatment had cost him a fortune and had become a burden. Ksh 500,000 was gone. The fight for his life led him to Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) in Eldoret.
More fluid was removed, and more tests continued. Biopsy organ tests were carried out, but the results were always negative or normal.
However, he continued to grow weaker.
While admitted at MTRH in March 2020, COVID-19 struck, and he was discharged and asked to be visiting clinics.
Operating on the unknown
Failed tests evoked worries in the family. They could not tell what was ailing Machera.
They were operating on the unknown. They turned to God, praying for healing.
“We prayed to God telling Him we could take any outcome. Personally I accepted my condition of sickness and longed for recovery,” says Machera.
While as an out-patient in Eldoret, moving from one hospital to another and private physicians, one doctor informed him that he was suffering from ‘nasty pneumonia’.
The doctor suggested a biopsy test and specimen from the neck was needed.
Turn of events
At Eldoret Hospital, the specimen was removed and taken to the Lancet Kenya for further tests. After two weeks, the results were out, but they could not tell the problem.
They were sent to another advanced laboratory, where the tests indicated that Machera was suffering from follicular lymphoma cancer.
According to the Blood cancer UK website, “Follicular lymphoma is the most common type of of low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). It develops when white blood cells cluster together to form lumps in your lymph glands or organs.”
The two main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Upon identification of the enemy he was battling, the soft-spoken lawyer says he smiled and became happy.
“Since December 2019, despite numerous tests, till March 2020, I lost 40kg without knowing what I was suffering from. But now I knew,” he says.
The results opened the door to financial aid from friends and relatives.
Medication began at MTRH, and the doctors prescribed six chemotherapy cycles three weeks apart, and he began the process immediately.
The first cycle cut off his hair. The skin turned ‘black’.
“I was a calm patient. I trusted God for healing,” Machera says. All was happening during the lockdown period of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Though alone, Machera was determined. He went in for the second cycle.
Then he recalls his brother Isaiah who gave him elaborate support during exercises. He began with a few meters, then a kilometer, and within a short time, he could manage a 4km run.
He was transferred to the Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral & Research Hospital (KUTRRH) for the 4th cycle.
At this time, the hair had grown. Before the cycle, he underwent a medical test, and the doctors noted that all symptoms had cleared.
He then was encouraged to continue with medication. Interestingly, he was strong enough for the process!
“I had the vigour and energy to move forward,” says the civic educator.
Determined, he could not listen to negative destructors. They had threatened him that he could not manage through the fourth cycle. The medicines were strong. But Machera, unbowed, went up to cycle five.
Remaining with one cycle, that was the most important time he had.
He could not imagine quitting. He likens the process to a race.
“You see, we have athletes in Kenya such as Hellen Obiri. You see them run to the end determined to finish. Guys like Kipchoge, who are determined to reach the far end and that’s the tape,” he explains.
He then went for videos about success to encourage himself and cheer him on.
“I didn’t want anything that could distract me negatively. I was just focused on thinking about the end results as a success,” he recounts.
Finally, he did the sixth cycle of chemotherapy at KUTRRH.
However, it didn’t go well with him; he was overwhelmed by the medication. He could neither eat nor drink. He was hospitalized for close monitoring.
While admitted, he was diagnosed with COVID-19. Nevertheless, he was determined to beat it down. After 14 days, he was discharged for home care.
At home, he self-isolated for one month and the virus was no more. Regular clinics continued. In September 2020, doctors recommended the withdrawal of medication for three months.
He did a PET-CT scan at Agha Khan Hospital and the results were good; the cancerous cells were already gone. In March 2021, Machera was reviewed by doctors, and no symptom of cancer was found.
Machera was cancer-free.
In medical procedures, a PET-CT scan may be used to help diagnose disease, such as cancer, plan treatment, or find out how well treatment is working. In full, it is called a Positron-Emission Tomography-Computed Tomography scan.
A pet scan at KUTRRH in 2022 indicated normal-sized lymph nodes.
However, doctors ruled out the possibility of being harmful. Machera was declared cancer-free and a cancer survivor, though he attends clinics for regular check-ups.
The moment wakili, as many refer to him, was diagnosed with cancer, he simply accepted his situation.
With support from doctors and cooperation with medical caregivers, he raised the hope for healing.
“May be your doctor tells you to go after two days, you count two days then turn up. You have to be patient,” joyful Machera adds.
Breaking news to the family that it had to battle cancer was not welcomed with ease.
Full of positivity and hope, he explained to the family that he had a chance to live. Then friends came in the gap to keep him going. Head high and determination changed his destiny.
Machera welcomed the declaration of being cancer-free with joy and applause. Finally, he was a survivor and could not remain silent.
He began opening up to friends and society about his ordeal.
Encouraging cancer patients and their relatives from the country and abroad it’s now his norm.
“Currently am reaching out to a number of friends just to encourage them,” he told The Scholar.
He urges everyone to seek treatment immediately if they are suffering from what they don’t know.
Kenyan doctors are up to the task of fighting cancer. He points out the lack of equipment as the main challenge in the fight against cancer.
Further, high treatment and management costs could be a huge problem for many patients.
“The costs also include fare to move from point A to B, among other expenses which are mostly not factored in,” says the cancer survivor.
Passionately, the Nairobi-based lawyer upholds character and medical discipline.
YOU CAN ALSO READ: HEALTH: How Wanza won over cancer
When ‘street’ medicine sellers learn of your cancer condition they make a merchant out of it.
They usually work hard to sway a patient to buy their medicine for alleged quick recovery.
A patient must stand by the prescription from medical doctors because a slight alteration to street medicine can cost a patient’s life.