Cafe where cancer ‘buddies’ meet

A group of people at Kefein Bistro during a cancer cafe meeting. (Right) Mate Muthoni, a breast cancer survivor, who started the cancer cafe concept. PHOTO | SARAH OOKO
A group of people at Kefein Bistro during a cancer cafe meeting. (Right) Mate Muthoni, a breast cancer survivor, who started the cancer cafe concept. PHOTO | SARAH OOKO 

Each first Tuesday of the month as Kenyans flock pubs, coffee shops and hotels in the evening to catch up with friends or pass time, a group of Nairobians huddle up at a ‘purple’ restaurant to talk about cancer.

Kafein Bistro, a relatively new restaurant located on the mezzanine floor of Marsabit Plaza on Ngong Road, is where cancer buddies meet to chat.

The meet-ups known as cancer cafés have been started by Mate Muthoni, a breast cancer survivor who hopes to bring survivors, their families and friends to interact in a relaxed and informal environment whilst having conversations about the disease.

Share experiences

The purple decor at Kafein Bistro resonates well with cancer visitors. The colour blends with the earthy chic brown of the restaurant’s wooden floor, as well as the cream walls that match some of the chairs and tables in the room.

For the cancer community, the purple colour is closer to their hearts as it is the colour that symbolises all cancers in totality as well as survivors of the disease.

“When you get diagnosed with cancer, you usually feel like you’re in a dark and very lonely place. So we wanted a venue that brings light, joy and happiness even if it just offers a momentary sense of escape,” says Ms Muthoni.

There are a few cancer care cafés in UK and the concept is similar to that of science cafés that are common in Europe.

The meetings aim at breaking down the barrier between scientists and other people by taking science away from universities or research organisations to bars, restaurant or theatres.

Ms Muthoni says that the cancer meet-ups, which began last month, aim at taking discussions out of hospitals.

“When you have cancer, you spend so much time in hospital going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. Even support groups meet in hospitals. You get sick and tired of that environment and you just want something different.”

The cancer cafés offer an opportunity for patients and survivors to interact in a fun place and share their experiences. As it brings together family members and friends of patients, the meetings also enable people close to the sick person to understand the condition better.

“As a patient, you get all this important information about the do’s and don’ts from the hospital. But other people have no clue so they may not know how to support you,” says Ms Muthoni.

Aside from the cancer community, the sessions are also open to other members of the public at no cost.

“You can just pop into the restaurant on that day to learn about the disease and get cancer prevention tips. We want to keep the cancer conversation going past October (the Breast Cancer Awareness Month) or February 4 (World Cancer Day),’’ she says. She plans to host another session next Tuesday.

Ms Muthoni, who is an epidemiologist, found out that she had cancer during a regular annual review. Her journey was not easy, just like most patients.

She had to go to India after a local surgeon messed and left some cancer cells in her breast. In India, she did a partial mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

She came back home for chemotherapy and it was during her third session that she accepted that she had cancer and found strength from other patients.

Too much focus

Muthoni says she wants to make information about cancer available to patients and support other survivors.

She adds that unknown to most Kenyans; each month is usually dedicated to a particular cancer.

For instance, May is the brain, skin and bladder cancer awareness month while April focuses on testicular, oesophageal and head and neck tumours.

The global cancer community embraced this calendar approach to increase awareness on all types of cancers and not just the most common ones such as breast, cervical and prostate.

“Because too much focus is often put on major cancers, we usually end up forgetting about other rare cancers that are equally important. So we want to cover everything with the monthly cafés,” she said.

Duncan Munene, the owner of Kafein Bistro which opened early this year, says all menu items are offered at discounted prices during the Cancer Café Tuesdays to encourage more Kenyans to come and talk about cancer.

“I am really passionate about health matters. That’s why I decided to support this cause by offering a venue for this forum once each month,” he said.