- She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, a recurrence in 2015, and was declared stage 4, meaning she might live or die. Her life was at stake.
- Family members had to look for resources to cater to her demanding yet straining medication.
- Cancer patients say the medication is so expensive to the extent that a patient has to have at least KSh21,000 a week to access the medication.
Breast cancer is the third leading cause of all cancer deaths in Kenya and, globally, represents one of every four cancers diagnosed among women. Sadly, a staggering 50 percent of breast cancer cases in Kenya are diagnosed late.
Margaret Wangeci was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 after developing complications in her breast. She was so heartbroken and did not know what awaited her.
Family members had to look for resources to cater to her demanding yet straining medication.
Most of the friends deserted her due to her condition. She could only now hang her hopes on the family members and God’s grace. Life turned miserable.
Due to financial constraints, her husband turned to the streets begging, at least to get some money to take his wife for medication, as the condition worsened as time passed.
Some of the closest friends left him.
This, however, could not pin down their hopes, and pressing on, they were able to get to India.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer recurrence in 2015 and was declared stage 4, meaning she might live or die. Her life was at stake.
Cancer is the third leading cause of death after infections and cardiovascular diseases.
According to the Kenya Network Of Cancer Organisations (KENCO), 70 percent of the global cancer burden is in low and middle-income countries, including Kenya.
The data indicates that 30% of cancer is curable if detected earlier.
The National Cancer Institute of Kenya indicates that about 3.7 million lives could be saved through resource-appropriate strategies for prevention, early detection and timely and quality treatment.
Recently, Wangeci’s friends, family and community members came together to celebrate her journey of 10 years of her cancer thrivership.
“I have been a breast cancer warrior for 10 years now. I thank God for being alive today, and this is a day of celebration of life. For sure, it has been a tough scenario as I have been through pain and I am celebrating victory,” said Wangeci.
She has faced serious financial challenges throughout her journey, making her treatment process challenging.
When a patient does not have money, they will not be treated as there is an amount of money needed to be deposited for treatment to be initiated.
She had a lump on the breast that had developed and forced her to visit the hospital for checkups, where it was found to be stage 4 cancer.
She asks the public to routinely go for checkups so that in case there are any complications and diseases such as cancer, they can be detected very much earlier and an appropriate treatment can be initiated.
“I encourage screening and self-examinations because when you get examined, you know what is happening in your body,” she noted.
Wangeci says that the government is not doing enough since it is expensive to treat cancer, adding that it is now the right time it can intervene to ease the burden they have been going through.
“Most of the people live below the poverty line and paying KSh6000 to cater for National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) annually is financially straining,” added Wangeci.
Her husband, Francis Otieno, noted that some of the cancer drugs could not be covered by NHIF hence straining patients and caregivers.
“They should work on the NHIF covers for all the medication of cancer patients; as a caregiver I find it very hard,” he said.
Family and friends’ perception
To some, family members avoid their cancer patients leading to more trauma.
In her case, she says they were supportive and have been doing so since she was diagnosed with the disease ten years ago.
“My family has been good to me and is giving me all the necessary support, which is very vital for cancer patients. Maybe, if I hadn’t been supported by my family members, I would not have survived the disease,” said Wangeci.
She says that people being there for cancer patients is crucial.
“When we come together, we share our experiences and ups and downs, which keeps us going. People need to support each other. It is not about the stage, it is accepting that there is treatment and that cancer is not a death sentence,” she explains.
Dr. Becky Omollo, a cancer warrior, leads the Solace Community-based cancer organization of 11 members who teamed up to look into issues affecting cancer patients in the Rift Valley region.
Dr. Omollo narrates that they support patients going through active treatment by giving them accommodation, food and paying for the NHIF through the contribution by pulling together the resources.
“We urge the Kenya Kwanza government through President William Ruto to talk to health institutions so that NHIF can cater for all drugs that are from the time of diagnosis, the period of planning to the end of the treatment,” said Dr. Omollo.
She says that NHIF leaves patients along the way in the payment process.
“We are requesting our government that they may cover everything for any person diagnosed with cancer, so that the patients and the caregivers don’t strain or even patients be avoiding treatment or skipping it due to the lack of money,” she added.
Cancer patients say the medication is so expensive to the extent that a patient has to have at least KSh21,000 for them to access the medication in a week.
Cancer screening and sensitization
Cancer patients say the government needs to conduct screening and sensitization on cancer disease, especially in rural areas.
Mercy Osoro, another warrior with 18 years of battling cancer, says NHIF covers only during treatment and not after treatment.
She adds that there are side effects a cancer patient develops after treatment, asking for government interventions.
“Cancer patients are suffering with incurring expenses to pay for the treatment. Can our president do something? This is the voice of the cancer warriors in Uasin Gishu County,” said Ms. Osoro.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research has indicated that one risks breast cancer due to combined factors, including age and being a woman.
Additionally, most breast cancers are found in women who are over the age of 50 years.
Among the risk factors of breast cancer include: genetic factors, hormonal factors, history of breast cancer in the family, exposure to radiation, alcohol use, tobacco use and obesity.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer are swelling of all or part of the breast, breast or nipple pain and nipple discharge, among others.
Lifestyle changes to prevent breast cancer include eating healthy, exercising regularly, breastfeeding and avoiding smoking.
Many patients survive when breast cancer is discovered early and treatment is introduced promptly.
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The commonly available treatment options for breast cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and immunotherapy.