Kenya: Face of Hope and Courage - Teenage Boy Fights to Survive Cancer

Some time in January last year, 12-year-old Jacquezdean Gatehi was helping his mother carry jerrycans of water when he felt weak on his left hand.

He told his mother about it but they both dismissed it as nothing to really worry about.

"I was carrying two jerrycan one of each hand then all of a sudden my left hand became weak. I thought it was due to the many games I had played that day," Gatehi, now 13 years, recalls

Then one morning while going to school, Elizabeth Mbuthia noticed that her son was leaning towards his left side and his left hand was also swollen.

She immediately took him to Kiambu Hospital, where after some x rays had been done they were referred to Kijabe Hospital.

At Kijabe, they were shocked when the biopsy revealed that Gatehi had cancer.

Gatehi had been diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a type of cancer which produces immature bone. Most people diagnosed with Osteosarcoma are under the age of 25.

For many parents, having a child diagnosed with cancer is a devastating blow. It often triggers a feeling of guilt on their part, much as there is nothing they could have done to prevent the illness.

Elizabeth went through a similar experience. She says she was in denial for the longest time.

"I think it all had something to do with the way the news was delivered to us. The doctor just told me in the presence of my son 'Mtoto wako ako na cancer na anaweza katwa mkono'", she recalls.

DEVASTATING NEWS

Those words broke her heart. Fortunately, she has a strong son who maintained a positive outlook and willingness to fight the illness.

The chemo session started at Kijabe but Elizabeth was later advised to move her son to Kenyatta National Hospital as a way of cutting the costs.

The mother of two was at the time a casual employee at the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company, but she later lost her job.

With her first son in high school and Gatehi's ever growing medical demands, she has been forced to juggle between casual jobs to make ends meet for her family.

"Friends have been of great help to me. I also thank God for strangers who have helped me and my son. I have made lifetime friends because of my son's illness," she says.

Gatehi was in class six when he diagnosed with the illness, but since then he has been unable to attend school. He earnestly wishes to go back to school but his condition is still too delicate.

"My teachers want me back in school but they are afraid of my condition because I can fall down anytime, plus the doctors said I should not go back to school yet," says Gatehi, who is otherwise a very jovial and talkative boy.

Back during his healthier days, Gatehi loved playing football. But chemo session have gradually made him dull and weak. Headache, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, aching bones and tiredness is what he endlessly has to deal with.

At the cancer ward in Kenyatta Hospital, where Gatehi goes for treatment, the pain and the side effects of chemo are so real on the faces of the young patients. Most of the children here are very weak and the only thing they can do is trying to sleep away their pain.

Worse, some of these children go days without a visit from family members while others have been abandoned here.

ABANDONED

Some of these families stay away form their ailing children because they live very far from the city and commuting every day keeps draining their finances.

Other parents who have left their children at the facility are said to have gotten tired of seeing their children suffering and felt helpless in easing their children's pain.

Thankfully, the pediatric center has psychologists, social workers, nutritionists, therapists, educators and other specialists who offer support to the ailing children and their families.

Gatehi is due to go home from the hospital after a few chemo session. What he doesn't know though is that a few friends have organized a football tournament in his honour.

During his stay in hospital Gatehi has made many new friends, including Evelyne Grace, the co-founder of Vintage Talents Anchor.

Evelyne started the initiative to help out the young people in her community through football training, peer and health education, garbage collection among other activities.

She says she learnt about Gatehi through a Facebook post.

"The mum posted an appeal for help in our Kasarani Facebook page which caught my attention. I in-boxed her and later met her. She narrated her story to our friends and neighbors," Evelyne says.

It was at this point that she and her friends created a WhatsApp group to help Gatehi and his mum with financial and psychosocial support.

"I got more interested when I learned that Gatehi was a footballer before the illness. He is a striker," Evelyne says.

FOOTBALL TOURNAMENT

It is through the many charity groups she is part of, that Evelyne has managed to organize a football tournament for the young striker.

'Kickin it for Kids with Cancer Soccer Tournament' will be held on April 28, 2019 at Kasarani Primary School playgrounds.

Gatehi's newfound friends will compete in a 5-aside tournament with all the proceeds going to a kitty to help him fight the illness.

"The registration is Sh1,000 for individuals and Sh10,000 for corporate. The money we raise will help in paying for Gatehi's future hospital bills and cater for his daily needs," Evelyne said.

A correct diagnosis is essential to treat children with cancer because each cancer requires a specific treatment, sometimes including surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.

Access to effective diagnosis, essential medicines, pathology, blood products, radiation therapy, technology, and psychosocial and supportive care are variable to the healing process of the children.

A cure is possible for more than 80% of children with cancer, in most cases with inexpensive generic medications.

Children who complete treatment require ongoing care to monitor for cancer recurrence and to manage any possible treatment-related toxicity.

Palliative care relieves symptoms caused by cancer and improves the quality of life of patients and their families.

Palliative care programmes can be delivered through community and home-based care to provide pain relief and psychosocial support to patients and their families.

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