When Lydia Muthoni was diagnosed with cancer of the breast eight years ago, life as she knew it came to a halt. Broken, the mother of two made a choice to fight the disease with all she had.
After several visits and talks with experts and other cancer patients, Muthoni decided to undergo a mastectomy. While this decision was harsh enough, what almost broke her was the chemotherapy sessions that left her sick and weak.
But she was determined to fight.
The long journey to recovery
After the mastectomy, the mother of two was referred to Kenyatta National Hospital for a series of scans, tests, radiology, and chemotherapy.
“It was a long journey. What kept me going was the faith that I would get healed,” she observed.
“Life is not a straight line,” and in one way or another, we have to overcome some challenges in life; some more difficult than others.
Having a good support system in the family, friends, and work gave her hope and strength to survive the tragic experience.
“It made me appreciate that I was not alone on this journey.”
Each hospital visit was a reminder of the suffering that the disease had bestowed on her. But the long queues to treatment and chats with other patients at the lobby were not always sad moments. During such visits, worthwhile friendships were formed. These relationships made it easier to cope with the disease.
Still, personal suffering was difficult to handle. Apart from hair loss and lack of appetite, the disease brought about a fragile immune system.
At one time, Muthoni’s system was shutting down. She could not take any more treatment. Due to the ill health and poor feeding habits, side effects and the disease were overcoming her frail body. She received several pints of blood in efforts to revive her.
On returning home, her elderly aunt became a constant visitor to nudge her on. She ensured that Muthoni ate and followed the strict regimen. On days when Muthoni was not able to eat, her aunt was quick to roast some bananas to keep her going. Fruits and vegetables were also constant in her meals. All these were in efforts to support her to regain health in time to undergo a major treatment. Luckily, all went well. Muthoni was however left with more side effects to treat.
Overcoming the fear
In reality, nobody knows when and how they will get to the end of life. When living with a terminal illness, it feels like death is hanging over one’s head. Remaining positive to fight the disease and other complications associated with it, can be tiring. And the fear of death is omnipresent.
According to Muthoni, managing fears has become a constant thing in her life.
“… and side effects are bringing other complications, some of which are severe.” Muthoni adds.
She is currently dealing with ostroprosis (a condition where bones become weak and can easily break even from minor accidents). The worst fear, according to her, is the uncertainty about recurrence.
“I fear that the disease will recur and spread to other organs,” she declares.
“With time, I am ever learning to remain positive and leave all my life to God.”
Muthoni also acknowledges that support groups have played a key role in empowering her and other patients to cope with the daily challenges. In addition to fellowshipping together, members also hold awareness campaigns in communities. Moreover, they also support newly diagnosed patients as well as the old.
“It’s in support groups that one feels alive.”
“There, we have something in common. And when we share our experiences, the load feels lighter,” she adds.
What I would do differently
Having been through the whole process, Muthoni feels that she could have done some things differently.
When first diagnosed, Muthoni struggled with accepting the fact that she was sick. Today, she encourages patients to accept the situation and discuss the disease, side effects as well as treatment and support options available.
Moreover, she calls on family and friends of those dealing with challenging situations to offer support whenever possible. She is ever grateful to those who in one way or another supported and continue to nudge her on. She majorly finds strength in her two young daughters and her grandkids.
To someone diagnosed yesterday, she advises such a patient to embrace a more positive outlook.
“Love yourself. Have faith, and let life continue despite the odds.”
“Keep a healthy support group and well-wishers.” Muthoni concludes adding that as a survivor, she is a good example that one can fight the disease courageously.
Eight years on, Muthoni is still on medication and has clinic visits for regular check-ups and support.
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