I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much. – Mother Teresa
Breast cancer affects thousands of women each year in Kenya and sadly, it is often discovered too late. Breast cancer can be found on a mammogram (definition), it can be felt by oneself or by their doctor. Early detection of breast cancer is the surest way to beat the disease. This is through a monthly self-breast exam, an annual medical checkup and an annual mammogram after age 40. The reality in Kenya is that most people cannot afford to have a medical checkup or mammogram as majority of the population are not covered by medical insurance and they live below the poverty line. However, even for those who can afford a medical checkup or mammogram, cancer awareness is minimal so we do not realize we need to get checked, or even a simple thing like a breast self-exam is not common knowledge.
I am not sure if my cancer found me, or I found it? I certainly was not doing monthly self-breast exams, at least not regularly. I had never been for a mammogram and had never seen the need to particularly since I am under 40 years, and let’s just say my annual medical checkup is more like a 5 year routine. The only symptoms I had which I did NOT attribute to cancer were fatigue and weight loss. In a span of 4 months I had lost almost 10 kilos. Now that’s a lot for a heavy girl like me, who has battled my weight for the last 5 years, since the birth of my last born son. I had tried the gym, jogging, one diet after the other but I could never lose any significant weight. Then suddenly, I just started shedding off kilos with no extra effort, and while I was quite happy with the reading on the scale, I was also confused. As for the fatigue, I simply attributed it to work and my quest to be a super mom. Earlier in 2012 I had changed jobs and now that I had a wider scope of work, I assumed the fatigue I felt was as a result of the stress of coping with a new work assignment. I consoled myself with the fact that we were almost getting to the end of the year and I could use my December holiday to rest my body.
I discovered my cancer in a hotel room in Kampala, Uganda on November 2, 2012. Well, I can’t say I discovered the cancer, but I found the lump on my right breast and I immediately knew something was amiss. Deep down I knew it was breast cancer. The only reason I discovered that lump that evening was because I had taken a much need and long bubble bath, after a long day at a workshop, and as I was toweling myself in front of the big wide mirror and large bright lights of the plush bathroom of my hotel room, I saw it. Usually, one does not “see” the lump, but feels it. But I saw my lump! It was tethering on the under part of my right breast and it was slightly discolored so it appeared like a dark blotch on my light brown skin of my breast. When I felt it, I felt the lump, nice and soft and definitely there.
I panicked and whipped out my Blackberry and immediately emailed my sister in the US who is also a doctor. Her immediate response was that I should go see an Oncologist stat! I didn’t even know what or who an oncologist was! As I was in Kampala and scheduled to return home to Nairobi the next day, I figured I would call up an Oncologist on my return.