By Tracy Owiti
According to statistics by the Kenyan Network of Cancer Organizations, cancer is the 3rd highest cause of morbidity in Kenya with 7% of deaths per year, after infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases. This is amplified with 70-80% of cancer cases diagnosed in late stages.
“Prevention is better than cure and early detection saves life, go screen”These are the words everyone Rose Chiedo meets hears first. Having been diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2013, Miss Rose Chiedo encourages everyone to get tested at least once in every two years.
The diagnosis was the beginning of a new life for her and her family. Having gone through the whole process for two years, she has dedicated her time to ensure that other people do not go through the same dilemma.
“I started experiencing backaches, abdominal pains, regular spotting and abnormally heavy bleeding that could even last for a week after my menstruation period, that’s when I decided to visit a private hospital,” she narrates.
She was later referred to Kenyatta National Hospital for a pap smear; a test for cervical cancer that involves the collection of samples from a woman’s cervix. For Chiedo the results revealed that she was at stage 2B.
She had to wait for 8 months to start her treatment which was expensive for her since she had stopped cooking and supplying her samosas, her main source of livelihood.
With her son cooking for her and ensuring her well being, life was so hard for her. She got financial assistance from her brother when she began her treatment. She says she had to use at least Ksh 8000 every week for six weeks for tests when she began her actual treatment.
“Cancer treatment is very expensive, I don’t know where I could have gotten over Ksh. 60,000 if it weren’t for my brother,” she admits.
She had to do radiotherapy every day at Ksh. 500 and chemotherapy every week which cost between Ksh. 3,500-5,000. Her brother later got bankrupt since her treatment had drained all the money from him, that’s when they asked for assistance from relatives who did not relent.
She says the whole process left her with severe side effects, like; nauseous, feeling weak and lost appetite for chemotherapy while radiotherapy left her with wounds in her private parts for about two months.
She felt a little better after the two months and continued with her medication as per the doctor’s prescription, but started experiencing the same symptoms again six months after the treatment. She went back to the hospital and was advised to undergo the brachytherapy process;- an advanced cancer treatment. With financial assistance from Women4cancer, I managed to get my treatment but after waiting for another six months on the line.
She then embarked on being a patient navigator so that other cancer patients may not go through the rough and long waiting periods she went through. She is dedicated to taking them through the whole process voluntarily with facilitation from Women4cancer. This she says is a passion as she understands how the whole process can be exhausting and intimidating.
She has managed to take at least 5 patients through the whole process in a span of at least 3 months each, unlike her case where she took two years to get fully treated. She created a good rapport with doctors and nurses hence are always willing to assist her in any way possible.
Other than patient navigation, she also enjoys creating awareness and encouraging people to go for testing, since 40 out of 100,000 women have cervical cancer but they do not know. She is optimistic that this can reduce the number of deaths from 2451 annually.
“I knew about cancer but I never thought I could be a victim,” she says. She is also passionate about motivating the patients and giving them hope of surviving.
Being a patient navigator, she sometimes finds it hard to assist since most patients are not financially able, with the help of Women4cancer, she’s been able to successfully carry out her duties. The language barrier is also another challenge for most of the people she navigates are from rural areas and may not be well acquainted with the official or the national languages.
For miss Chiedo who lives in Kawangware, life has not been a walk in the park after her treatment. She no longer does most of the things she enjoyed doing earlier before her diagnosis. General house chores must be done by someone else because the whole process left her with pain on the back and the legs and she has to go for regular physiotherapy as she cannot stand for long hours or even walk for long distances.
However, these side effects have not hindered Miss Chideo’s love for life and creativity. She weaves African bracelets and necklaces as her main source of livelihood. The plastic bag ban effected on 28th August 2017 has also offered her an opportunity to make envelopes for packaging products which she supplies to hotels, shops, and chemists
“Cancer is real and people should stop associating it with cultural beliefs like witchcraft and curses. The belief that cancer can not be treated has lead to neglect and ignorance which should be done away with. I am living proof that cancer can be treated,” she says.