Fought and won: Tale of cancer warriors

Teresiah Njeri noticed some pain at the back of her head but she didn’t think much of it.

When it persisted she decided to pay her doctor a visit on March 9, 2020. Teresia received the news she never expected, cancer had come knocking on her door.

The 35-year-old mother of one was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer, Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma.

After 35 sessions of radiation and hours of intense surgery, Teresiah woke up to the realization that her left jaw was removed and replaced with a pallet and metal chip.

Though scarred and in pain, she was confident that the cancer was gone. Unfortunately, it came knocking on her door again. She had to go in for another surgery, only that this time round, she risked losing her left eye.

Fortunately, her doctor assured her that her eye would remain untouched. Cancer not only stole her smile but also deprived her of the ability to eat normally. Teresiah narrates how terrified she was when the doctors suggested drilling a hole in her tummy since she had difficulties eating.

Her struggle with cancer brought her weight down to 22kgs and to add salt to injury, she had to deal with tormenting comments from people close to her.

“When someone tells you, ‘mbona hukukufa? (Why didn’t you die?) Enda kakufe nahuko (go die)’ and that really hit me because I even asked God, did I sign for this thing?”

Unable to bare the pain, Teresiah attempted suicide four times and on her third attempt, she decided to try it away from her house, with the hope that it would be successful only to wake up again in the hospital.

“I woke up again in the hospital, maybe some people took me to the hospital so when I regained the conscious I now explained, I gave out the number of my caregiver she was called and she came to the hospital.”

Twenty-nine-year-old John Mwangi would never have imagined that a painless swelling he noticed on his left leg was a cancerous tumor, that would eventually cost him his leg. After receiving his MRI results, the doctors broke the news to him and told him that he had tested positive for Synovial Sarcoma and he also learnt that his tumor had grown to 18 inches.

The doctors advised him to get immediate surgery to amputate his leg. He sought the opinion of other doctors with the hopes that he will get an alternative solution, but they all advised the same.

“So I went back and asked the doctor, how much time do I have? He said I can only give you two weeks to go decide about it, think about it but you only have two weeks. And I asked, after the two weeks, what if I don’t take the leg amputation? The best you can do is a year.”

Sadly, John could not help but think of the worst as this was not the first time he had an encounter with cancer.

“Unfortunately, two years before I had lost my mum to cervical cancer, although it was not related to the same, the only word that kept coming to my mind was cancer and death, so this is it, you’re done. How will that short time be?”

His wife, Evalyne Njoki, who has stood by him says that people have expressed concerns about their relationship fearing they might not last long.

“It was always about the doubts whether he would actually live and how could you plan a future with someone that you don’t know about their tomorrow, you know. It would always feel as if this could be cut short at any point so why do want to risk this?”

However, she has not allowed that to get into her head, she remains optimistic and continues to empower her husband saying that she no longer looks at him as a survivor, but instead focuses on the man he is becoming.

Teresia Thami Maina, who just turned 30, noticed a lamp on her right breast which was not alarming to her since sometimes ladies experience it while on their period and later disappear. Unfortunately for Thami, the lamp stayed longer and she consulted with her doctor to get answers.

A few tests and scans later, she was met with heartbreaking news; cancer had paid her a visit. She tested positive for non-invasive ductal carcinoma, a condition where there are abnormal cells inside the milk duct in the breast.

Cancer has claimed the lives of many of her family members, including her own father, and upon receiving the news, she couldn’t help but notice that she was next in line

“Death comes to mind because I lost my dad and before my dad, I lost other family members. So here I am with the loss of a parent, I’m devastated, frustrated, call it to name it, and the next thing that comes to mind is that I will not survive”

Andrew Odhiambo, a medical oncologist, however, advises against that mentality stating that cancer is not a death sentence. He adds that while some cancers are hard to treat, others can be managed and cured, therefore, people diagnosed with cancer should not lose hope.

He also emphasizes that people take cancer screening seriously.

“Yes we are creating awareness, but it’s not translating into actual screenings. The government has been shouting about cervical cancer the whole of January, how many people went for screening? When I talk to my colleagues in the ministry, they tell you the uptake is low.”

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