By Henritah Nora

I love to tell stories. But, there’s one story I always avoid to tell. In 2012, I lost my granny. All I knew was that she succumbed to stomach related problems. I knew so little about her health condition. I could see my dad and his siblings and the entire family ever taking turns to go visit her in the hospital.

Only to learn that, it is a nightmare that has brought deep sorrows to many who frequent hospitals, to visit their loved ones. This killer has “snatched” our loved ones, parents, relatives, friends, neighbors and even our leaders. Cancer is the nightmare that has ended the lives and dreams of many.

“Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and is responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Globally, about 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer. Around one third of deaths from cancer are due to the 5 leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use.” This is according to World Health Organization (WHO).

Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss, and a change in bowel movements. While these symptoms may indicate cancer, they can also have other causes.

There are more than 14 types of cancer which are known, with breast cancer leading in the list. Breast cancer forms in the cells of the breasts. It is closely followed by Prostate cancer which occurs in a man’s prostate, a small walnutsized gland that produces seminal fluid. Then: Basal cell cancer- type of skin cancer that begins in the basal cells. Non- Melanoma- this is the most serious type of skin cancer. Colon cancer-a cancer of the colon or rectum, located at the digestive tract’s lower end. Lung cancer-cancer that begins in the lungs and most often occurs in people who smoke. Leukemia- this is a type of cancer of blood-forming tissues, hindering the body’s ability to fight infection. And Lymphoma is one that affects the lymphatic system. There are other types of cancer such as cervical cancer, mouth and throat cancer among others.

The disease is not a respecter of persons; it is affecting both the young and the old, male and female. For some, they escaped its jaws within a whisker of succumbing to it. They found out about it and sort proper medication early enough.

On the other hand, it is so unfortunate for some people who found out at an advanced stage. The agony and anguish that they undergo through cannot be explained fully. The treatment itself can make one sick.

Cancer is often treated with a combination of radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy and targeted therapy. Sometimes they are scared, sometimes they are angry. Oftentimes, it is both at the same time. You worry about your friends and family, how are they coping up? You value their support but resent the fact that you need it. It is equally very expensive to get treatment, but then, what is the value of money compared to someone’s life?

I vividly recall when she under went through a surgery which brought a flicker of hope that she will finally be alright and get up from the hospital bed. Sad enough, hardly a month later, we lost our dear granny. It is a vacuum that no one can fill in her place.

Years later, I was stunned and saddened to fathom what led to the demise of my dear granny. I had asked my mother about what my grandmother was suffering from. However, it is a discussion she was always uncomfortable to talk about but at least she did share with me several symptoms and reports from the doctor.

I just had to Google the information in order to understand better. Moreover, some of the information I inquired from my gastroenterologist. My findings made me to speculate that it was colorectal cancer, commonly known as colon cancer.

Am I at a high risk? What can I do about it? What did having a family history of colon cancer mean to our family? Do I need to get genetic counseling and testing? Fear settled in immediately. The worst thing I suffer from stomach issues, hardly will a month end without me visiting the doctor.

Cancer was a rare name you would hear then. We believed that if we didn’t speak the word cancer, then it did not exist…even though it already did. I have had to change my mindset with the hopes of influencing change in my family. I believe not all stomach related issues do lead to cancer.

In Kenya, cancer is now the 3rd leading cause of deaths and second among non- communicable diseases accounting for 7% of overall mortality rate. There has been push from the citizens to declare cancer a national disaster in Kenya, demanding covers from NHIF as well as calling on the government to take responsibility.

Cancer deaths in Kenya
The number of new cancer cases in Kenya in 2018

On July 7, 2017, Nairobi the government of Kenya launched the National Cancer Control Strategy, 2017-2022. Dr. Jackson Kioko, Director of Medical Services, said that the strategy outlines comprehensive interventions to be undertaken by both the national and county governments in collaboration with other non-state actors to reduce the incidence of cancer and improve the quality of life of those who develop cancer in Kenya.

President Uhuru Kenyatta in his speech on August 2nd, 2019 said that the there will be budgetary increase which is meant to scale up both preventative and curative cancer management services across the country. Noting that the rising cancer cases in the country are getting out of hand, the Head of State said the government will increase the number of chemotherapy and radiology centers across the country to make the services more accessible, enhance the human resource capacity to deal with the scourge, add three more radiology centers across the country, and upgrade learning facilities to train more specialists. He advised the citizens to observer healthy eating habits.

Additionally, on the same day and context, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, the Governor of Kisumu County, talked about his journey with cancer and said having experts in various types of cancer would go a long way in ensuring the country does not lose more people to the disease. He highlighted that it is important to get people who are specialized in different types of cancer as much as there are plans to set up more cancer centers. He equally recognized government’s efforts and urged the universities to collaborate with counties and work together to develop human resource.

Many cancers can be prevented by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking alcohol, eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, vaccination against certain infectious diseases, not eating too much processed and red meat and avoiding too much sunlight exposure.

Prevention is better than cure. Indeed, healthy eating habits reduce the risks by a great margin, going for checkups regularly help identify the problem at an early stage, hence, early treatment. Cancer is a national disaster that needs serious intervention from all stakeholders.

By Impactnet Africa

Impactnet Africa is a Media, Technology and Public Policy space for in-depth news and analysis on public policy challenges, entrepreneurship and career opportunities.

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