FINAL BOW

How Collymore fought cancer

By the time he was diagnosed, doctors told him he had had the disease for probably six months.

In Summary

• He said cancer is a terrible word and anyone who is told they have the disease responds in a different way.

Former Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore.
Former Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore.
Image: FILE

Bob Collymore was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer in 2017, at a London hospital where he had been referred from Nairobi Hospital.

Collymore told Citizen TV last August that he had been unwell for a while, mostly feeling tired and having fever on and off.

By the time he was diagnosed, doctors told him he had had the disease for probably six months.

He experienced the first symptoms while on a visit to Morocco and thought he had flu. He had pain on the bones of his shins.

“I finally went to a doctor here in Nairobi who said I think you are Vitamin D deficient. I will give you supplements,” Collymore said.

Next, he visited Nairobi Hospital where he underwent 30 blood tests. A bone marrow test showed something was wrong with his blood and he was admitted.

The doctors recommended a hospital in London for further treatment. That is where he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

The condition meant his body wasn’t producing white blood cells, which meant his immune system had broken down and couldn’t fight infections.

He was told he would undergo treatment for six to nine months.

“That was the biggest shock,” Collymore said. “Being diagnosed with cancer for me wasn’t such a big deal. A lot of people seem to think that’s a bit strange. But for me it was, you know, if you got cancer you got cancer. You can’t undo it.”

What upset him was he would spend so much time away while he had a company to run and family to take care of.

In the end, Collymore spent nine months and two weeks in the hospital.

He was placed in isolation for seven weeks and spent most of the time reading and staying in touch with the Safaricom office in Nairobi.

He said cancer is a terrible word and anyone who is told they have the disease responds in a different way.

His former wife and one of his sisters are cancer survivors.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia usually occurs late in life – from around the age of 65 –  although Collymore got it slightly earlier at 60 years. It is not hereditary and no one is quite sure why it occurs.

One of the many things Collymore said he reflected upon a lot while undergoing treatment was what happens to poor Kenyans who suffer from such illnesses considering the prohibitive cost of treatment.

“Number one, they are not going to be diagnosed because you will just think it is a bit of fever. There are many people who will be dying here in Kenya and around the world because of lack of diagnosis,” he said.

At the time of the interview, he said there were six of his colleagues at Safaricom or their spouses undergoing cancer treatment.

The disease, he said, required him to make certain lifestyle changes like staying away from social gatherings such as parties to avoid any infection.

The disease meant his immune system was completely destroyed and it had to be rebuilt, making him susceptible to all types of illnesses.

If he caught flu, for example, it would last even two months.

Collymore said he was grateful for the overwhelming support he received from Kenyans while ill. He received goodwill messages from ordinary citizens, Muslim and Christian clerics, politicians and business leaders.

“How the heck can I afford to die and let all these people down?” he asked.

Cancer, he said, is not a death sentence and once one is diagnosed they should remain hopeful and believe in the treatment.