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

Beth Mugo & Breast Cancer Pledge

Just over a year ago, president Uhuru Kenyatta Kin, Beth Mugo was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was not good news for anyone to hear a fellow prominent Kenyan politician fighting breast cancer. Hundreds of thousands more women are fighting breast cancer in Kenya as well but the road ahead of each breast cancer fighter is not the same. Some have it easier than others. It’s just the way it is.

beth mugo breast cancerBeth Mugo flew to one of the world best breast cancer treatment hospitals in the world located in North East America and later she was declared cancer free woman. Beth Mugo received surgery and chemotherapy and she may have future follow-up clinic visit with world top oncologists in USA. Beth Mugo belongs to Cancer Free Women league of women that should help others stay safe from breast cancer. After breast cancer pushed her to the edge of the cliff, Beth Mugo made a pledge.

While in the hospital, 17 women members of parliament visited Beth Mugo in the hotel she was residing in while going through cancer treatment in USA. The gesture was a positive one and millions of Kenyans witnessed true love for their leaders. Beth Mugo and the 17 female MPs agreed to launch a breast cancer center and awareness campaigns to help control breast cancer in Kenya. Beth Mugo even went on to hold promising talks with the university hospital and USA government officials on how she can spearhead a cancer treatment center in Kenya to fight not just breast Cancer but also other forms of cancer. This project is yet to be heard.

Does it mean that Kenyan politicians only respond to crises selfishly? Maybe I am missing something but does it mean breast cancer fight was only important to Beth Mugo when she was sick and no longer important after she’s cancer free? Beth Mugo owes to the Kenyan women, men and their families to live up to her pledges to fight breast cancer in Kenya. Her legacy would be far much stronger if she dedicated the rest of her life fighting breast cancer in Kenya.

Around the same time Beth Mugo was diagnosed with breast cancer, health minister Anyang Nyong’o was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Like Beth Mugo, Nyong’o joined the same chorus by pledging on how he would his powers in his position to fight cancer in Kenya. While millions of Kenyans believe that Nyong’o and Charity Ngilu made health industry in Kenya worse that they found it, Nyong’o too owes his fellow Kenyans to fight cancer and he should be held accountable for his pledges. Words are stronger than money and the curse of such unfulfilled promises to the public might come back and haunt him.

Breast cancer is number one killer in Kenya for women between age 35 and 55. The bracket could be higher but life expectancy for women in Kenya is about 55 years. Beth Mugo is among the lucky few to have seen her 70th birthday and survive breast cancer after age 70. The mortality rate of breast cancer in Kenya is above 80%. Over 80% of the known breast cancer cases in Kenya are diagnosed at late stages (3&4).  Kenya has less than 15 mammogram machines and 12 of them are located in Nairobi high end hospitals and clinics where only a handful like Beth Mugo can afford.

It is important that Kenyan leaders and government in general start recognizing breast cancer as a national calamity. Responding with hot air pledges during crisis is not going to help millions of Kenyan women faced by breast cancer today. Beth Mugo is a Cancer Free Woman and owes her pledges to Kenyans to fight breast cancer the rest of her life or does she? Otherwise, the curse of her words from her lips might come back and haunt her.

Fungating Breast Cancer. Lucy’s Story

Summary: Breast cancer in Sub-Saharan is rarely diagnosed until late stages, sometimes when nothing else can be done. Cancer Free Women reaches out to educate women in remote areas of developing countries through churches and local seminars. Breast cancer patients are often neglected and abandoned in hospitals and left to die with no one by their side. Supporting our mission could help one life like the one you are just about to read

Meet Lucy:

Lucy Ncororo, 40 years old with breast cancer, was a patient admitted at the Meru District Hospital in Kenya for six months. No family or friend ever came to see Lucy since she was admitted. Lucy was admitted at Meru Hospice on 18th August 2002 after general hospital concluded her fungating breast cancer was terminal. In hospice, Lucy got a chance to narrate her ordeal. There are thousand such stories in Kenya…read on and share.

She had been married for about 10 years but divorced because she could not bear children. After the divorce, Lucy moved to live in a rented house where she met a man and they became lovers. This didn’t last for long as the man was already married with three children (as she later discovered).

Breast cancer knocked Lucy’s door midst her already complicated life. When Lucy started ailing, her temporary lover advised her to go back home, which she did. Her parents and siblings took her to Meru General District hospital. This was the last time she ever saw or heard from her family. She was abandoned. Lucy lost contact with her temporary lover who evidently only needed her for the good times and not during fight against breast cancer. In many African cultures, breast cancer is seen as punishment from gods for being unfaithful to the husband.

Lucy was divorced by her 10 year husband because she could not bear children but during her admission, she was not aware that she was six months pregnant with her new lover’s child. She was shocked to learn of it later as she counted her last days in this world. On 21st May 2003, God blessed Lucy with a bouncing baby boy by the name Moses Ntungai (means Man of God). Lucy felt that the coming of Moses during the hardest times of her life was a show of God’s mercy and a gift to her since she had longed to carry a baby for many years.

fungating breast massThe happiness of finally having a son was short-lived. Lucy’s fungating breast mass was growing bigger and bigger by the day. Her pain and suffering was becoming more and more intolerable. The mass became infected and need surgery though her health condition could not have allowed it. She could not have survived a surgery, if there was one available. Lucy was abandoned by her friends, family and lovers to die in the hospital. Meru Hospice was her new home. Doctors could not operate on her. Knowledge and resources were not there.
Meru hospice staff found that she and her baby had no clothes at all. She had no energy to feed her very young baby boy who laid beside her completely oblivious of what was going on. Meru General Hospital staff tried their best to ensure that they were comfortable but with little success due to lack of financial resources and personnel. Meru Hospice decided to shoulder her burden free of charge and provide her with whatever she needed. Her pain continued to become too excruciating as she fought hard away from death that was imminent. She needed high doses of morphine and other drugs, wound dressing material for the wound and clothes. The hospice bought clothes and toys for her ever-smiling baby.

Lucy’s health was deteriorating as days went by. With the help of hospice staff, Lucy was emotionally and spiritually in terms with her condition and what lied ahead. Lucy, despite all what’s surrounded her had a reason to reason to smile.
MosesBaby Moses at 5 months old and was doing really well; he was looking bright and healthy. But it was becoming progressively difficult for Lucy to take care of him. No relative ever came to visit her. She is abandoned to die alone. She depends on relatives of neighboring patients to assist her wash her clothes, change and feed her baby.
Meru Hospice took a further step and asked her if she wanted her son to be adopted. Lucy welcomed the idea with great relief since she had been thinking a lot about it. Moses now has a new home.

Another thorny issue was the question of her burial. Lucy’s relatives were certainly not going to come and bury her if they had not come to see her during her fight with fungating breast cancer. They probably feared being left with the responsibility of taking care of baby Moses. Usually, abandoned patients who die at the District hospitals are buried in mass graves. Lucy asked the hospice not to allow this to happen to her. The hospice made arrangements to oversee her burial and gave her the dignity she deserved.
Rest in Peace Lucy.

Help fight breast cancer in Africa

moses adapted

Lucy’s son finally got adopted. For more information about Lucy’s Son Noses, contact us if you would like to reach out and help

Help Fight Breast cancer

Story adapted from Here