ATIENO: How I fought cervical cancer and won
My name is Rose Atieno Chiedo. I am a 45-year-old Kenyan and I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in July 2013.
Before I knew I had cervical cancer; I used to have discomfort in my lower abdomen. I was also spotting blood in between my menses and I had a smelly discharge.
The symptoms went on for a while before I consulted a doctor who gave me antibiotics.
The medicine helped as the problem disappeared for a while, only to reappear after a few months.
When I visited the doctor for the second time, I was given stronger antibiotics but the problem recurred. So on the third visit I was advised to go for a pap smear.
I had never had pap smear before, I didn’t even know of, or anything about it.
I obliged and went for the test, after a week the results were out. I had cancer.
This revelation filled me with fear, but the doctor assured me that the cancer had been detected early so it was treatable. His assurance gave me hope.
I did a biopsy the same day and discovered that the cancer was at stage 2b, meaning it required urgent attention to arrest its spread. I was then referred to the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
CHALLENGE OF ACCESSING TREATMENT
I went to KNH at the beginning of August 2013, but it was four months later that I was able to see a doctor.
The queues at the gynaecology clinic were long due to the huge number of patients that required treatment and the fact that the clinic was open once a week and only a limited number of patients could be seen per day.
I was able to secure my first doctor’s appointment in early October, where the doctor recommended that I do an examination under anaesthesia (EUA).
This exam would cost Sh12,000 which was difficult for me to raise since I had already spent Sh600 every week for consultation and had to do a blood test which cost me Sh1000 before every consultation, not to mention transport to and from hospital.
Between August and October I had borrowed up to Sh20,000 from my brother since I did not have an income.
I had no otherwise but to ask my brother for the Sh12,000 which he got after three weeks after which I was taken to theater for the biopsy.
On that day, we spent more than Sh20,000 since we had to take a sample to Lancet Laboratories and buy medicine.
I was then referred to the radiotherapy clinic in November 2013 where I was required to have an ultrasound, X-ray and blood tests done at a cost of Sh7000. Again, my brother paid.
After presenting the results, the doctor sent me to the radiotherapy machine section, where I was informed that there was a long waiting list and the earliest I could be treated was August 2014. I went home miserable.
By this time, I was bleeding heavily and had to survive on medicine to reduce the bleeding and medicine to boost iron levels which cost Sh10,000 between November 2013 and February 2014 when my case was declared an emergency and I was put on radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Before I began treatment, I had already spent Sh60,000.
COST AND AGONY OF TREATMENT
I began treatment in February 2014 and immediately I did I realized I had been faced with another challenge, the cost.
I was required to do 25 sessions of radiotherapy at a cost of Sh500 per session which adds up to Sh12,500.
Chemotherapy cost Sh5000 for one session per week within the 25 days which adds up to Sh25,000.
At this point I asked my relatives to help contribute money towards my treatment and through their support I was able to get treatment at an average cost of Sh50,000.
Another challenge presented itself in the form of side effects of the therapies.
Radiotherapy came with a lot of pain because I developed wounds all over my private parts, both front and back; such that getting a call of nature was unbearable.
Chemotherapy came with nausea and vomiting such that eating was a struggle.
So again at this point I was spending money on medicine to manage the side effects.
The side effects continued even after I finished treatment so I was referred to the Palliative Care Unit at the Kenyatta National Hospital.
Thankfully, this department had fewer people so I was able to visit whenever I was unwell without necessarily booking an appointment.
Here I was helped to cope with the side effects of cancer treatment by receiving prescriptions of the necessary medication.
After finishing radiotherapy and chemotherapy in May 2014, the doctor referred me to Nairobi Hospital for brach therapy or internal radiotherapy which was not available at the Kenyatta National Hospital at that time.
I was not able to get the treatment, as I could not afford the high cost. The money required was Sh50,000 per session and I needed two sessions.
Around August 2014, I started seeing discharge and spotting again, probably because I didn’t undergo brach therapy as required.
Fortunately, at that time there was a machine at the Kenyatta National Hospital where they charged Sh15,000 per session, which translated to Sh30,000 for two sessions.
This was still a lot of money for me, but I took a leap of faith and booked without knowing where I would get the money.
Luckily I met the chairlady of an organisation called Women4Cancer and the organisation paid for my brach therapy.
Here I encountered another four-month queue where I waited from October 2014 to February 2015 before I was able to undergo brach therapy.
After the therapy I got better and I have been volunteering with Women4Cancer to create awareness about cancer and help patients navigate treatment procedures.
The organisation plans cervical cancer screening camps and, if they come across patients who are already affected with cancer during screening, offer them support.
My duty is to guide the patients through the procedures at the Kenyatta National Hospital.
MY ADVICE TO PATIENTS, SURVIVORS
My advice to people is that prevention is better that cure and early detection saves lives.
Therefore I urge everyone to go for early screening to avoid going through the pain and financial distress I went through which could have been avoided by early detection.
For those who are already affected with cancer; there is hope.
First they must accept that it has already happened and each individual has to fight for his or her life by visiting the doctor regularly as required, keeping appointments, taking medicine as prescribed, visiting the nutritionist for diet advice and taking the diet as required.
Also visit the palliative care unit at Kenyatta National Hospital for patient and family counseling and for pain management during treatment. Also remember to pray.
For those who have finished treatment, continue with the clinics as required by the doctor for as long as necessary and listen to your bodies in case of anything unusual.
You are your first ‘doctor’ and the sooner you go for check-ups the better.
Story by Rose Atieno Chiedo
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