I am a survivor.
It’s been 2 years since I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I will never forget that day in November 2012 when the doctor spoke those words to me, you have cancer. My 37th birthday was just weeks away and for the first time in my life I had serious doubts whether I would be celebrating that day.
After one and a half years of intense treatment that included surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and drug therapies that took me from Nairobi, Delhi, Pretoria to Ohio, albeit an interesting journey, I can only reflect on all the good that came out of it. It was all about love and support from my family friends work mates, doctors, nurses and total strangers!
A Second Chance.
I recognize that I am one of the few women in Kenya who get diagnosed with cancer at a late stage and get fully recovered. I get it, God has given me a second chance and I am eternally grateful and I am here today for a purpose. This International Women’s Day means a lot to me and I would like to salute the women in my life who shaped my journey with cancer and were instrumental to my survival.
Priscilla Waithera Mwaura, my grandmother, and the remarkable woman whom I was named after has and will always be a strong influence in my life. Even though she passed on a year before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I felt her spirit within me, urging me to remain strong and positive. You see my grandmothers’ life had been full of hardships and challenges but you would never have known considering how gracefully she carried herself, exuding positivity. My grandmother was widowed at a young age as my grandfather Mwaura died fighting in the Mau Mau war. She was left behind with 8 young children who, she raised and educated. She was a coffee farmer and sharp businesswoman and used her skills to ensure she had access to finances so that her children never lacked anything. Till today her children and grandchildren still benefit from her shrewd investments. Not surprising, all her children are successful in their family and work lives.
In the last few years of my grandmother’s life I had the privilege to live with her. I am a parent to two beautiful boys and even though she had strong Christian values, she never judged me on my choice to be a single parent. Instead she encouraged me to work hard and focus on providing for my children. Something I still do till today.
Cucu I miss your strong will and character, your energy and enthusiasm, your forgiving and embracing nature. May you continue to rest in peace. Love you, your Garana
As Hon. Lilian Wakiiya Mwaura is a product of my grandmother, it’s no surprise that my mother has been a big influence in my life. She embraces the same qualities that my grandmother had- hardworking, focused, energetic and extremely generous. When I was diagnosed, my mum dropped everything and stood by me during my treatment journey. When I was diagnosed she had just launched her political campaign to run for women’s representative of Kiambu County, despite her financial and political investments, she dropped everything and hopped onto a plane to take me to India where she stayed with me for 3 weeks. During this time I was very bitter and angry and I released all these emotions on her, but she took this in stride, never hitting back at me but instead embracing me closer until I got to a state of calmness.
It’s the little things you do.
During my illness she visited me every single day and did all my errands for me, my grocery shopping, going to my kids school functions and making my favourite food, irio. For many of you this might seem ordinary but for my mother it was not. See, she had always been a career woman having run a private law firm for 30 years where she had staff to delegate duties too and at home we had lived under the command of domestic help. Yet she was doing all these chores for me, her baby.
She lost her bid to run for the women’s representative seat, and despite the fact that I knew she was disappointed, she had no regrets. As luck would have it, she ended up getting nominated into the county!
As a mother I know how difficult it is to see your child unwell. I know this was exceptionally hard for her because she had lost her sister to breast cancer just a year earlier. Despite that, she never talked about death but always told me how she prayed daily for Gods healing which came to pass.
Mama, words cannot express how truly grateful I am for all you have done for me my entire life, particularly when I was unwell. I only pray I can grow to be an amazing mother to my children like you have been to us.
On that fateful day when I first noticed a lump on my breast, I pulled out my phone, snapped a shot of it and emailed it to my sister, Dr. Wanjiku Musindi. Her prompt response was…go see an oncologist immediately! I didn’t panic yet because I was still numb at the thought of what it could be. When the results of my tests came back, Wanjiku was the first to know. I was too scared to break the news to my parents so I figured she would be the next best person to know! She took the news very calmly and gave me practical advice on what to do next. In the days and weeks that followed she was my personal medical adviser. Even though she is a medical doctor, she ensured she researched extensively about my disease and shared with me information, journals, etc that enabled me to be a very informed patient. In fact we joked that I now sounded like a doctor myself!
When I traveled to India for my surgery, she wanted to leave her 9 month old baby whom she was breast feeding to travel for over 10 hours from the US to India. At that point I had to protest as I felt that was too much of a sacrifice on her part. Despite the fact that she could not be physically in India, she spoke to us daily, consulted with the doctors and when faced with the decision on what kind of surgery i.e. a mastectomy or a lumpectomy she was the person I turned too to help me make the decision.
After I completed my chemotherapy In Nairobi, she managed to travel to Nairobi with her family and a few weeks later she left her young children in Nairobi to accompany me to Pretoria where I was due to start my 6 weeks of radiotherapy. She helped me understand what to expect and coached me on what information I should be getting from my doctors.
At the end of my treatment, she used her network to get me a consultation with a top oncologist at the Ohio State Medical Center and it was there in July 2014 that I received a clean bill of health. To celebrate this news Wanjiku organized and financed a trip for my kids and I as well as her family to Disney World in Florida, a dream come true for us.
Wanjiku, you used your skills and expertise in the medical field to make my cancer journey easier as you kept me well informed, and as they say information is power and that empowerment is what helped me fight this disease with ease. May God continue to bless the work of your hands. I love you sis!
The pain of losing a family member is deep. Yet when my cousin Commissioner Jedidah Wakonyo Waruhiu lost her mum to cancer in May 2011 she remained strong. Jedidah was with her mum when she passed on as they rushed her to hospital. I remember thinking how tough that was yet In the days following she rallied everyone into action to organize a great send off for her beloved mother.
Later on when I was diagnosed with cancer she got very involved and ensured she gave me advise as I went along. She chose to be part of my cancer journey despite having had to go through the same with her mother for 10 years. Today, despite her busy schedule as a wife, mother of 4 and Commissioner at the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, Jedidah has made time to be a director at my foundation The Second Chances where she provides the much needed leadership that we need to advance our mission.
Jedidah, I may not say it often but thank you for all you do for our families. You are a true source of strength and inspiration. Your mum Gladwell Mumbi Wambari must be smiling every day. May she continue to rest in eternal peace.
Elizabeth Waithera Mwaura my first cousin who refers to me as her little sister. I think because we are named after our grandmother we have a special bond that goes beyond being cousins.
During my treatment I needed to raise funds quickly for an expensive drug therapy that I needed urgently. Elizabeth promptly went into fundraising mode and organized an innovative online raffle inviting her friends in the US to contribute to it for a chance to win homemade Kenyan style samosas. You see, Elizabeth is an amazing cook and all her friends would kill to get a hold of her food! She launched the raffle from her base In Arizona and raised over $6,000 I’m just 3 weeks from well-wishers all over the US! Can you say amen?
Elizabeth used her skills that is, cooking and her social networks to rally people, many of who did not know me or her to successfully fundraise.
Last summer after our treat to Disney World she organized a memorable trip for my kids and I to Arizona where we visited the Grand Canyon, went on a desert tour and hosted us in her beautiful home in Phoenix where she treated us to her delicious cooking.
To date Elizabeth continues to be a key financial supporter my foundation, Second Chances Foundation .
Elizabeth, I salute you this international women’s day. You are a talented and generous woman who has made a difference in so many people’s lives. Cucu would be proud of you. All I can ask and pray is for God to continue to bless you, your husband, your sons your parents and siblings.
For the most part of my career I have had male bosses. There was Neil, Nick, Cyrus and who can forget Chris, the business tycoon with whom I never had a dull day! I consider myself an alpha female so having male bosses has been welcome for my professional development. However, in 2012, I changed jobs and low and behold my new boss was female! I wasn’t sure how our relationship would pan out and I must admit I was a bit apprehensive. Little did I know that God had planned this out and not only was He giving me a great supervisor, He was putting me in the hands of an angel.
I can’t remember how it started but I started referring to my boss Judy Kairo as mum. I think it was because I was new to the company and the youngest in our department. Little did I know that a few months down the line, Judy would literally take on the role of my mother. I remember the call I made to her one morning telling her that I would not be reporting to work that day. She could tell by the tone of my voice that something was not right and as she enquired further, I burst into tears telling her of my diagnosis. She immediately moved into mummy mode comforting me and reassuring me everything would be ok.
As I proceeded with my treatment and travels, Judy made it possible that I could take as much time off from work as I needed with no repercussions. Even when I got a bit better she encouraged me to have a flexible work schedule, never asking me to account for my time. This gave me the benefit of prioritizing my days on what was important at the time. Sometimes it was a work assignment that was due, other times it was that I needed to go for a blood test at the hospital or go watch my kid in the school play. Judy’s guidance on this has shaped the way I plan my work life integration and today I can honestly say I am focused on what is important to me.
Judy aka Mummy, you may not know this but you are the angel God sent to watch over me at work. I thank you for your continued love and support, and for pushing me professionally so that I can excel even further. When I grow up, I want to be just like you!
There are so many of you to salute that I may have to dedicate a whole other blog to that! Sylvia, Sophie, Mwende, Kahaki, Njeri, Kiiruu, Brenda S, Brenda K, Gathoni, Wairimu, June, Alice, Lydia, Pricsa, Kaki, Yvonne, Nancy, Christine, Mona, Tina, Irene, Nduta, Sharon, Wambui, Cynthia, Lisa, Lynne, Cecilia, Jackie, Wanja, Ciku, MaryEllen, Anna, Ngozi, Esther, Regina, Irene, Nyambura, Hilda, Wangari, Adongo… I thank God for the gift of great friends.
I salute you all this International Women’s Day!
This month, the Second Chances Foundation is supporting Fraciah Maina, a 50 year old single mother who was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. We are collecting donations to help with her medical treatment. Mpesa Paybill 321950 Acct: Fraciah. Every donation over Kshs 200 will be entered into a draw to win cool vouchers from our sponsors: Serena Hotel, Windsor Golf & Country Club, Southern Sun Hotel, and more. Check out our Facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/MedicalFundAppeal