Most forms of cancer can be cured if detected early and acted upon. But for many Kenyans, the disease is always diagnosed in the final stages, when it is complicated and too late for doctors to save the patient.
Medics say the symptoms can be misleading, and many people are wrongly treated for other ailments as the disease progresses.
Grace Wanjiku, founder of the Grace Wanjiku Mweru Cancer Foundation, said many cancer patients have died and left huge hospital bills from treatment.
She said many patients have used strong painkillers to ease painful body parts for a long time, only to be discovered to have been suffering from cancer when it is hard to manage it.
Speaking at PCEA Kamandura in Limuru constituency, where she hosted residents to a free cancer disease screening clinic, Wanjiku urged people to be visiting hospitals and be checked.
“People should really check their status. At this age and time, it is very important to know you are cancer-free. The screenings we are doing today are available at nearly all hospitals, but we want to reach as many people as possible, since very few can go to hospital for such a check-up,” she said.
Wanjiku said cancer is a lifestyle disease, and its actual cause is not exactly known, adding that many types are caused by the chemicals used in the foods eaten nowadays.
“We cannot keep away from foods, but we are supposed to be very careful. The chemicals used to nurture foods in farms are very bad, if they are not administered in the recommended way,” she said.
Nurse Anne Njenga, who regularly cares for cancer survivors at Nyathuna Subcounty Hospital in Kiambu county, said people should be keen on changes they notice in their bodies.
She also called for regular check-ups. “We have seen cases where diseases such as cancer or diabetes are diagnosed too late in a patient. They destroy a lot of tissues and chances of healing are very slim,” she said.
HYGIENE, EXERCISE AND DIET
Njenga also urged people to observe hygiene, eat balanced diet, drink plenty of clean water and do exercise.
Make it a habit to bask in the sun for a short time everyday, ensure you have eight hours of sleep and avoid issues that will cause stress, she added.
“We don't need to eat to fill our stomachs. We need to eat to keep our bodies fit and healthy all the times. We need to have carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins in every meal we have, be it in breakfast, lunch or supper,” she said.
“But don't eat too much, you can get obese, which is very risky. Eat what is satisfying you and ensure you exercise. You can walk, climb a hill, run or do manual work. This helps our bodies burn calories and be fit and strong.”
Njenga advised men to eat watermelons and chew their seeds, because they contain zinc that helps prevent prostate cancer.
“Cancer can affect any person of any age and can affect any part, apart from the hair and nails,” she said.
Wanjiku praised the government for the approach it has towards treating cancer diseases, urging to add more radiotherapy equipment to lower expenses and increase availability.
“Many patients in the past have queued for several months because the machines at KNH are inadequate,” she said.
“This is a disease that has left rich families very poor and the poor families poorer with deaths and frustrations.”