Breast Cancer Took My Mom in Kenya: How She Died

If there is true suffering, pain and depression I know in this world, its breast cancer. I hope my story will inspire every reader to STOP hoping and start doing something about breast cancer. This is a tough one to live with and life will never be the same without my beloved mom, the only parent I ever knew. The only child she ever had.

Back in 2008, my mother visited us in USA and we had a great time. We visited any attraction you could think of. From the great Canyon, Himalayas to Miami Beach, you name it. From NASA center in Houston Texas to Niagara falls to Canadian attic. Life was good and we enjoyed each other company, little did I know this was the only time I’ll ever spend with my Mom.

Early the following year, my Mom started complaining of feeling itchy all the time on her breast. As a nurse in USA, I advised her to use anti-histamine. Women in Africa are known to persevere a lot and so my mom stopped telling me much about it. But the itching progressed slowly over the year of 2009 and 2010.

A year or more later, my mom wasn’t feeling well and I sent money for her to go to Nairobi Hospital for check-up. Being the only parent I ever knew, I had to give the best I could to my beloved mom. In Nairobi hospital, my mom was found to have elevated white blood cell count but all cultures tested turned no positive results for any infection. Needless to say, she was not even admitted, it was an out-patient visit.

Out of the blue moon, I remembered to ask her if she still feel the itchy feeling she had on her left breast. She told me it’s been there and “due to scratching it too much, it hardened and darkened”. “Sometimes it makes me wake up at night and I feel sweaty and hot”. Breast cancer was not one of the things I could have thought about at the moment.

I advised her to give me a few weeks to plan my trip to Kenya to see her. In 1 month time, I landed in Kenya and the first thing I noticed was my mom had lost a lot of weight. I also noticed that she was getting tired really easily, even going up simple stair cases. I knew something was wrong, really wrong. As soon as we got home from airport, I asked her if I could see her “hardened and darkened left breast”.

Even before I could see it, the picture of breast cancer had already been painted in my mind but didn’t want to say anything. Her breast was obviously harder and darker. I also noted obvious lymph nodes swelling on left armpit and neck region.

The following morning, we returned to Nairobi hospital and a mammogram was performed. The radiologist called us and recommended a CT Scan of the whole body. The mammogram was positive for probable breast cancer until a biopsy results could return. CT scan showed lung nodules and similar nodules on her left kidneys.

My Mom had stage 4 breast cancer with metastasis to the lungs and kidneys. She had lost nearly half her weight since the last time I saw her in America. Even worse, her lung capacity was less than 50% of expected. Series of surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy was prescribed.

Breast cancer is a stealthy killer. She went through left lunch removal (pneumonectomy) and was started on chemotherapy. She also got a mastectomy of her left breast. Treatment was outdated and my mom succumbed to her illness a month after the surgery. REST IN PEACE MY MOM!

I feel I should have been more proactive from when she first mentioned about itchy breast feeling. I feel like if she had a mammogram a year before she started feeling the itch, she would have made it. I feel like I had the best chances in this world to save the life of the only parent I ever knew. I am guilty conscience every time I look at her pictures. It saddens me to look at the pictures we took when she visited me.

I’m a nurse and my guilt is even worse because I should have known better. It’s even worse because same year she visited me, a friend of mine asked me if I ever talk to my mom about breast cancer but I brushed the topic off. Jane Njoki always told me of how she makes sure both her parents get annual physical and screening. Since it’s not the norm is Kenya to go for screening annually, I never paid much attention to her. If I did the first time she asked me about breast cancer, my mom would be alive today.

Breast cancer took away my mother, my best friend and the only parent I ever knew. I was left ever depressed fighting guilt and self blame of her death. I have been on antidepressants since she’s been gone. My life changed has no joy and hopefully some day, I’ll come to peace within myself.

Today, I sponsor mammograms every month to a random person. I already do to my Mom sisters (my aunties) and I feel obligated to do this. I stopped partying and drinking since my mom passed. I dedicated the amount I was sending on party and alcohol to sponsoring women to get breast cancer screening. 2 years today, 5 women have been diagnosed and have started treatment.

My advice to anyone who is reading this is simple. Mammograms saves lives. Educate everyone you know and encourage them to get a mammogram. I feel my mom would still be alive if her beast cancer was caught early enough. The other thing I wish you could learn from my story is that any changes in breast should be investigated to rule out breast cancer. For her, she thought itchy breast discolored it and made the skin hard. Get your loved one tested way ahead of these symptoms.

My name is Joyce Kiama


  1. So sad to read your story Joyce. i do agree on one thing, cancer treatment in this country is a pure joke. very expensive medication, and in KNH which is our biggest refferal hospital does not have the neccessary drugs. we do not even have basic testing equipment such as PET scan, which can go a long way in diagnosing cancer. what you are doing is a noble thing. but just a tip of the iceberg. if the govt could just sensitize the general public about undergiong a mammogram test yearly or just general check up, it could really do a lot. Again, so sorry for the loss of your mother

If you would like to share your breast cancer story, email your story on Microsoft word to cancerfreewomen[at]

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