Philomena Ochola, 43, shares her battle with cervical cancer.
“I started spotting and experiencing pain around my pelvic area around October 2017. I decided to seek treatment at Mama Lucy Hospital where I had a scan done.
I was sent to a gynaecologist after the results showed the presence of fibroids.
I consulted one at Kenyatta National Hospital who said he had to operate to remove the fibroids. He also said he would do a total hysterectomy because fibroids are recurrent.
This meant that he would remove my uterus.
We set a date in February 2018 for the surgery and a friend accompanied me.
On arrival, I was told that my NHIF insurance was not up to date which meant I had to pay for the operation in cash. I had hit a snag.
Sh150,000 was a huge amount for me to raise, especially since I had been using money for on and off treatment and consultations four months prior.
My brother, a medic in Kisumu, told me to travel there so that we c find another gynaecologist to operate on me for a cheaper price.
I did so, and we were lucky to find one who did a subtotal hysterectomy instead towards the end of the same month. The gynaecologist insisted that we take the specimen to the laboratory.
I kept wondering and asking him why he was so insistent. He said that he just wanted us to be safe. As it turns out, he suspected that the specimen had cancerous tumours.
The results showed that I indeed had tumours but they were not cancerous. I was thankful and I came back home to recover.
A month later in April, I started spotting, having severe constipation and such heavy back pains that I had to sleep with a hot water bottle. I also had shots of pain on my right leg. My initial suspicions were that I had ruptured a stitch on the area I had been operated on.
I decided to see the same gynaecologist I had seen from KNH. He immediately had a biopsy done and taken to the laboratory. I saw no point of all these procedures because the previous biopsy showed no cancer cells.
I’m the kind of person who likes being alone when things get tough so I went for the results from the laboratory by myself. I was only able to see the words squamous cell carcinoma and malignant. I thought to myself, “This can’t be true.”
I composed myself and waited for the gynaecologist who confirmed that it was cancerous.
However, he could not tell if it was endometrial or cervical. I was convinced it was not cervical because of the hysterectomy I had done.
My doctor in Kisumu confirmed that he had been unable to remove all the tumours because some were attached to my bladder.
I was sent to the laboratory again for staging to be done and to determine the type of cancer it was. The news finally hit me in shock because I walked out and went to Trattoria restaurant and started calling my family members.
My mother convinced me to seek a second opinion. She referred me to an oncologist at Nairobi Hospital who she had known for a long time. This oncologist then referred me to a gynaecologist he knew, and so the whole process of biopsy and tests started again.
By this time, I could literally feel the heaviness of the tumours on me. I could not hold urine in my bladder for a long time and I was losing weight drastically.
The oncologist confirmed that I had cervical cancer when I went in for the results a few days later. My first question was: “When am I going to die?”
He sat with me for an hour, encouraging me and convincing me that I was going to survive. He told me to have an MRI done so that he could decide on the treatment options.
This time round, I had someone with me when I went for the MRI results. My oncologist told me that it was at stage 3A and that it was treatable. He said that we had to start chemotherapy in a few days because of the cancer’s aggressiveness.
I was scared at first, but my friend told me to look at it as the only treatment option. Also, looking at my two boys that night gave me strength.
I said I would not go without a fight.
Thankfully, after a top up, I was told that my NHIF insurance would be enough to cover for the treatment.
I have gone through three rounds on chemotherapy as of today, my first being in December last year.
My hair has since fallen off. My skin has also darkened and I have dizzy spells once in a while.
My doctor mapped out six sessions, meaning I’m halfway through. After I am done, we will have to do an MRI, followed by radiation to kill the cells completely.
I have been sensitising my fellow women on social platforms on the importance of screening.
Cancer is not a death sentence, especially now with the improved technology, and it’s important to let people know that so as to reduce their fear. It’s my hope that the media can also sensitise others on cancer.”
FACT BOX, ACCORDING TO MAYO CLINIC:
Spotting- light vaginal bleeding that happens outside of your regular periods.
Fibroids- noncancerous growths of the uterus that often appear during childbearing years.
Hysterectomy- a surgical procedure that removes your uterus through an incision in your lower abdomen. A partial hysterectomy removes just the uterus, leaving the cervix intact. A total hysterectomy removes the uterus and the cervix.
Non-malignant- benign; not cancerous.
MRI- Magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, is a technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues within your body.
The Cancer Warrior story series tells the stories of cancer survivors. To share your cancer story, email [email protected]