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HomeHealthBreast cancer survivors narrate their experiences in their survival journey

Breast cancer survivors narrate their experiences in their survival journey

They say a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, but the long road to seeking a stable and healthy life among breast cancer patients has been full of pain and struggle.

The grim confessions give an insight into their tenacious fight to recovery despite their double battle with the Covid-19 pandemic which has impacted negatively on household economies.

For Gloria Ochiel, a female breast cancer survivor from Oyugis town, the stark reality of being a breast cancer patient has been painful. Accepting the condition, she says, wasn’t easy with rejection from friends and close family members further compounding the situation.

What started as a boil on her breast persisted even after taking medicine later changed her life completely. The boil resurfaced after two months and she went to Rachuonyo Sub-County Hospital where she got more laboratory tests to ascertain her condition. This, however, did not unravel her condition as she continued to experience excruciating pain and loss of strength.

Upon advice from a nurse, she moved to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH) for specialised treatment. It is here that breast cancer was confirmed and the long journey to treatment and healing began for the middle aged salonist. Diagnosed with stage four cancer, Ochiel underwent successful surgery and was put on chemotherapy.

“Seeking early treatment is the reason I am alive today,” she says.

However, travelling from Oyugis, which is located 90 km away from Kisumu City, for her bi-weekly visits to the Palliative Care Unit at JOOTRH remains a challenge but she has kept the faith to full recovery.

“The disease sucks a lot of strength from the body and thus one cannot stand for long hours. I had to shut down my business and eventually lost my precious clientele base,” she narrates.

JOORTH Palliative Care Unit is currently having four cancer nurses who attend to various patients from Kisumu and the larger Nyanza region.

For Genevieve Otieno Orao, her woes began when she started feeling pain in the joints, loss of appetite and weight. Her situation deteriorated as she was misdiagnosed and treated for tuberculosis at the Siaya County Hospital. After a lengthy struggle to heal, a timely and prompt decision to be referred to JOORTH proved to be a clincher.

“I have undergone testing, six chemotherapies, and one side breast surgery which has healed,” she discloses during the interview at the Palliative care unit.

However the cost of treatment has not been easy for the small scale trader prompting her to fundraise through her church and friends. Just like Ochiel, Orao lost her business which she says was the lifeline for her family, since her husband is jobless.

Kevin Okaro, a male nasopharyngeal carcinoma survivor, is proud that he is a living testimony of one of those who has lived on to tell his story and motivate others to survive.

“We have partnered with the Kisumu County government and other well-wishers to create awareness on breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer and other co-related diseases, through sensitization and counselling,” the JOORTH Cancer Patients Support Group Chairman says.

The over 70 members of the support group meet at JOORTH every Friday to share personal experiences and forge a united front to combat the disease, Okaro explains. Through the network, they also plan to venture into income-generating activities to cushion members from high costs of transport and medication.

Lucy Amol, one of the only two Oncologists at the unit, says smoking and environmental pollution are some of the leading causes of breast cancer in the area.

To reduce prevalence of the disease, Amol roots for early screening so that treatment is started early enough to save the patients’ lives. Most of the cases handled at the facility, she adds, are between the ages of 22-80 for both men and women. She encourages women to check their breasts regularly and go for screening whenever they notice any lumps.

The hospital, she says, has partnered with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) and Community Based Organisations (CBO’s) to create awareness on breast cancer to help lower the prevalence.

The County government of Kisumu with support from the National Treasury and development partners, she adds, has embarked on construction of another Palliative Care Centre at Chulaimbo Hospital to reduce the workload at the JOORTH unit.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOORTH) Cancer Patients Support Group Chairman Kevin Okaro (in black shirt) during a meeting with some of the members at the palliative care unit in Kisumu

Through collaboration with the International Cancer Institute (ICI), she says many patients have benefited from free screening, surgeries, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIF), she says, is beneficial as it has cushioned patients from the high cost of treatment. The County government of Kisumu’s Marwa Health Insurance Scheme, she adds, has also come in handy to assist patients.

Dr Angela McLigeyo, an oncologist based at the Fairmont Hospital, Kisumu, says with only four cancer specialists in the area there was a need for residents to exercise regularly, reduce alcohol consumption and smoking to keep the disease at bay. With scanty information on the statistical data of breast cancer patients within Kisumu County, residents are called upon to keenly check on their lifestyles.

It is hoped that the construction of a Sh6.5 billion Victoria Hospital and Cancer Centre in Milimani Estate, by the Kisumu County Government, will go a long way in providing affordable medical services to cancer patients using the NHIF cover as well as further supplement what is being offered at JOORTH.

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