Swollen armpit that was cancerous

Mary Muthoni Kihara during the interview. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG

Sometimes in 2015 I felt my left underarm was bigger than the right one.

I suspected something was wrong. I pressed my nipple and some fluid came out. Since my last born was 20 years old, I knew that couldn’t be milk.

I felt the lump on my left breast getting bigger so I went to a local hospital in Karatina where some fluid samples were taken for a biopsy test in Nairobi.

When the results came, my doctor did not reveal to me that I had cancer.

He told me I had a deadly bacterial infection and that I needed to get a second opinion from a different hospital.

I was referred to a mission hospital where a mammogram was done and the bombshell was dropped — I had stage 3 cancer!

I thought that was the end of me. A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray screening that looks for changes in breast tissue. It often detects breast cancer early.

When I went to bed all I could see was a coffin and a very big hole but at the back of my mind I told myself I was not going to die.

Then someone referred me to a cancer treatment centre in Nairobi.

Together with treatment and consultations my bill was slightly more than Sh1 million.

I was lucky, all my bills were paid for by my husband’s National Hospital Insurance Fund.

The first seven days after chemo and radiotherapy were very bad. My body got weak, I vomited, got diarrhoea but the doctors put me on medication to counter that and I got back to my normal self after a few weeks. I could eat anything from indigenous vegetables and all.

When I was doing my fifth and sixth chemo session I fainted. It’s been a journey but I have managed through the grace of God and faith.

I have three sons who have been working in turns to take care of me, they have taken full responsibility of me since my husband’s work schedule does not allow him to be with me all the time.

If I did not have them, who could do this for me?

I had very long hair, but now I don’t have any left because of the side effects of chemotherapy.

One of my boys saw me without my hair and broke down.

I was the one encouraging him to stop crying. He was worried that if the hair was falling, what about my internal organs.

But my doctor had prepared me earlier. Hair falls off during chemo, which is meant to attack the sick cells but ends up attacking even the normal ones, leading to loss of hair — but it grows again.

My once beautiful face wilted away. My skin turned completely black, my toe nails fell off, but I am fine now. I have accepted myself.

I could not go out to meet people because of what cancer treatment was doing to me but now that I am down with the treatment my body is slowly coming back to normal.

I can go to countless meetings a day and you wouldn’t imagine I once had cancer.

I’ll be going to the clinic once a month for five years to make sure that I don’t have any cancer in me.

Mary Muthoni Kihara’s story as narrated to Stellar Murumba

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.