BY REYNEY WASHINGTON
Elizabeth Njeri was 50 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago and one of her breasts was removed.
Her social life as it would be, took a different trajectory as the society took a back seat and started taunting her for her new appearance.
She got divorced and left to take care of her children. Friends and relatives whom she thought she could turn to started shunning and making a mockery of her. Then the visits stopped.
“And right there I knew I was on my own. My breast started sagging and people would look at it and really laugh at me. The stigma was real. I remained indoors to hide from them,” she said.
But she is now beyond the disease. Strong. With thick hair, no longer slim-bodied, no pain and an artificial breast to complement the look. She is a victor.
October being the cancer awareness month, she and 20 other breast cancer survivors formed an organization dubbed Slopes Cancer Awareness Network (SCAN)- operating from Nyeri county.
The organization which she is the founder is currently sensitizing both men and women about the killer disease within the county and outside the county.
“I used my tailoring skill as an opportunity to restore the dignity in women who did not feel beautiful and tell them they are not alone,” she said.
“We have been moving across the county sensitizing those people already with cancer telling them they are not alone and those without it to go for check-ups early because early detection saves lives, it saved mine!” she added.
Cancer is the third leading cause of death in Kenya with many patients unable to cure it due to poverty levels in the country.
It accounts for approximately 6, 000 new cases annually countrywide according to cancer monitoring organizations.
At least 2, 500 people die from breast cancer meaning seven women die from the scourge daily.
At the backdrop of breast cancer awareness month, data collated from the Cancer Registry at the Nyeri referral hospital show an increasing number of cancer patients from the Central region.
Seven out of 10 women have breast cancer which is leading at 21 per cent followed by cervical cancer at 17 per cent.
The county government of Nyeri have started an awareness campaign, offering free breast and cervical screening for Nyeri residents.
During the launch of a 30-day mammography screening campaign at the Nyeri referral hospital, the county’s deputy governor Caroline Karugu urged women to be the fore in the fight against breast cancer.
Women are also getting free pap smear services.
We are targeting over 10, 000 women aged 40 years and above which is the recommended age for mammography,” said Ms Karugu who is also the ambassador for the screening campaign.
She further noted that the campaign was aimed at demystifying the notion that undergoing a mammogram screening poses health risks to patients.
Prostate cancer was the most prevalent among men in the county standing at 18 per cent and oesophagus cancer at 16 per cent.
Head of medical services in the county Nelson Mureu said the high cases of throat cancer were attributed to taking hot tea but also cited alcohol and smoking as a predisposing factor.
He added that the county was conducting research to authenticate the rising cases of oesophagus cancer in the county.
Rising cases of cancer in the region have highlighted a need for the equipment and specialist doctors in the health facilities.
“The national government should work to fulfil its promise to construe a comprehensive cancer centre to alleviate the burden of treating cancer from Kenyans,” noted Ms Karugu.
The National government has pledged to construct Sh400 million cancer centre in Nyeri’s Dedan Kimathi University of Technology to cut the overreliance of treatment at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
Nyeri county is a pilot county for President Uhuru Kenyatta Universal Health Coverage (UHC) due to its lifestyle disease burdens such as diabetes, hypertension and cancers.
The county health facility has a resident oncologist and a nurse while another nurse and clinical officers are currently undergoing training in India.
“Majority of the patients we receive are aged between 20- 50 years of age which is much earlier than used to be reported 10 years ago. More young women are being affected and should seek early screening,” Dr Muriu noted.
The chemotherapy treatment is offered twice a week on Wednesday and Thursday and an average of 25 patients are treated every day.