24-year-old Karen Bugingo is a cancer survivor. At the age of 19, she was diagnosed with blood cancer, but has effectively fought and won her battle against the killer disease.
Inspired by her experience, she is one of many youths who are eager to raise awareness of cancer by giving encouragement to people fighting the disease and those who have their loved ones suffering from it.
Bugingo is one of the youths who came to participate in the 4th childhood cancer walk on Friday. The walk started from the National Institute of Statistics to the Car Free Zone. This activity was organized by the Rwanda Children's Cancer Relief (RCCR) as part of activities to launch the Childhood cancer awareness month.
Jean-Claude Mutabazi, the executive director of the Rwanda Children's Cancer Relief (RCCR) said that they believe the walk and other activities they undertake will make people aware of cancer and get early screening as well as screening their children.
"People need to be aware of cancers in general, and that children can also suffer from cancer. We need them to know it is also a curable disease when detected early. Basically, by highlighting the signs and symptoms of different types of childhood cancers we hope to change people's mindset on cancers.
We are glad with the steps the country has made in terms of testing and treatment of cancer compared to when we started in 2012.We call the public to benefit from all available chances so that no Rwandan child dies of cancer," Mutabazi said.
Dr. Cyprien Shyirambere, a pediatrician and director of the Cancer department at Butaro Hospital, explained that cancers are caused by mutations or errors that happen when our cells are multiplying and there is no known cause for these errors and adds that just like adults, children can also experience these problems.
"Generally, many people lack information on cancers and even the minority of those who have it do not know that children can be affected as well as adults. Through this awareness, we want people to understand childhood cancer to be able to seek for treatment early enough.
There are many types of cancers affecting children but the most common here in Rwanda is cancer of the kidneys and different blood cancers. Chances are high that when childhood cancers are detected at an early stage thy can be treated successfully," he said.
Dr. Shyirambere argued that while signs and symptoms may differ depending on type of cancer, if a person gets a tumor then it will be detected. For blood cancers, symptoms might be similar to other diseases the reason why it is advisable that when a parent sees changes in his/her child's health, they should seek medical support because only physicians can identify the problem through testing.
He added that though nationally, there are no registered cancer cases. Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence which has been treating cancers including childhood cancers reports that since July 2012, they have received over 600 children cancer patients. This does not represent the situation in the whole country as there are others who die before diagnosis.
Rwanda Children's Cancer Relief is a local non-profit organization founded in 2012 with six medical students who are now practicing medical doctors. It raises awareness on childhood cancers in Rwanda through different platforms, including radio and TV talk shows.
Every September, which is the global Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, they carry out a walk to raise awareness on childhood cancers.