15 November 2018

Kenya: Cancer Warrior - I Never Gave Up On Myself

Tagged:
opinion

Kevin Mwachiro describes himself as a writer, a poet, a podcaster, a journalist, an activist, a brother, an uncle, a son of Africa, a cancer fighter, a cancer awareness activist, a fitness enthusiast, a lover of the world and life, a traveller, and more than anything, human. He talks to Nation.co.ke about his cancer journey.

"I was diagnosed in October of 2015 after going in for a regular check-up. Prior to that, I had had back problems. I was hospitalised for a week in May of the same year. Doctors found that I had fractured vertebrae. This was interesting because I had not injured myself. All I started feeling was a tightness in my lower back.

"I was later given treatment to help with my spine: a corset to keep my back stable, started using crutches to walk and a toilet riser to avoid injuring myself. I also underwent routine check-ups, which involved X-rays, CT scans and MRIs.

"These were to test if I had spinal tuberculosis because of my symptoms. But, in October, doctors found out that I had multiple myeloma. It occurs in three stages, and mine was in the middle one.

NOT SURPRISED

"I was alone when I was given the news. However, I had been very open with my family and the people around me about all the tests I was undergoing. I was not entirely surprised at the results. One time as I was driving down Mbagathi Way past the Texas Medical Centre, the name cancer sort of jumped out to me. Also, my doctor had been very honest and said that it was either the spinal tuberculosis or the multiple myeloma.

"I had just lost a very close aunt to cancer that same month. I instantly thought of the medical bills and how I was going to cover them, seeing as I had just changed jobs. I told myself that I would have to exhaust all my savings because I did not want to burden my family with the bills.

"Guilt also kicked in. I had just come back from the Unites States of America and started a new job so I felt like my sickness would be a burden to my family.

"Death never crossed my mind. I've never been that person. I knew that cancer is treatable. I was mostly worried about living. (Laughs.) The cost of living, to be precise. There was no time to think about death. Above all that, no one had given me a prognosis by telling me things like, 'Kevo, you have six months to live'.

"I jumped into the treatment a week later. I did chemotherapy for six months, took a steroid and an anti-nausea tablet. I was in hospital every Friday to get a shot of a particular drug.

"I then went to India for my stem cell transplant in May 2016. I was there for seven weeks. The first 100 days after this transplant are crucial in determining how the patient is doing. It is normally followed by maintenance treatment, which I am still on to date. It involves taking a tablet for 21 straight days, getting a week's break and going through the cycle again. It's a way of keeping the cancer away.

EMBRACING HAPPINESS

"Every time I hear that someone has been diagnosed with cancer, I pray that the chemotherapy is good to them. I have realised that people are more afraid of the chemotherapy than the cancer itself. Bodies are different and no two cancers are the same.

"When I was diagnosed, that was the same prayer I said. I did not lose my hair and my body responded pretty well. I also didn't experience any nausea or vomiting, at least until much later when they gave me a vicious dose of chemotherapy while I was in India. The experience was horrible.

"I wasn't able to do any strenuous exercise so I just walked. I lived with my brother for the first three months until I decided to move back into my house. I did as much as I could to live a normal life.

"I'm in remission and all I can say is that it's very humbling. I am grateful every single day - for life, for family and for friends. I have amazing people around me. I learnt how to receive kindness, something that I struggled with for a long time.

"Life has become more fun for me. I am more grounded now, I am meditating more, my soul is happy, I am open to new experiences and I want to be a better person. I want to be kinder to people. I want to do more exciting things, more than the things that Kevo likes to do. Life is beautiful. People are beautiful.

"I'm listening to my body more and appreciating it too. I am learning to embrace happiness and living a life that suits me and not other people.

"Seeing a therapist gave me fire for the fuel from the time I was diagnosed. I also got support from other cancer fighters because they are people you can be honest with about the disease. Treatment helped me learn to be really open about how I really feel. It also allowed me to let other cancer fighters be open about how they felt.

"I have close friends and family who continuously gave me good support. I am emotionally self-contained but being honest with myself and others about how I felt really helped with the treatment. It is important to be in a space where people can let you be. The universe sends you people to help you at some points in life.

"Over the years, I have picked up meditation and positivity. It sounds cliché, but it does help in life. Exercise helped too in being able to continue having a sense of worth."

Fact Box: According to The Mayo Clinic

Multiple myeloma - a cancer that forms in a plasma cell (a type of white blood cell). Plasma cells help to fight infections by making antibodies that recognise and attack germs.

Prognosis - an opinion, based on medical experience, of the likely course of a medical condition.

Stem cell transplant - also called a bone marrow transplant. It is a procedure that infuses healthy blood stem cells into your body to replace your damaged or diseased bone marrow.

Remission - being cancer-free after treatment for cancer.

The Cancer Warrior story series tells the stories of cancer survivors. To share your cancer story, email [email protected]

Kenya

FGM Season Underway as Residents Devise New Methods of Beating Ban

Practitioners of female genital mutilation have devised new ways of overcoming a government crackdown on the cultural… Read more »

See What Everyone is Watching

Copyright © 2018 The Nation. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.