UNSUNG HEROES

Raise cancer awareness and support caregivers

Caregivers play a very important role, from cleaning, cooking, helping the patient move from one place to the other, to becoming therapists and spiritual guides.

In Summary

• A report by Kenyan Network of Cancer Organizations shows 70-80 per cent of cancer cases are diagnosed in late stages.

• Caregivers play a very important role, from cleaning, cooking, helping the patient move from one place to the other, to becoming therapists and spiritual guides.

Kenyans queue for screening during a past health campaign at Kiambu Referral Hospital
Kenyans queue for screening during a past health campaign at Kiambu Referral Hospital
Image: KNA

One of the toughest news a person can ever receive is that a loved has been diagnosed with cancer. This is even worse when they have never heard of it or met someone with such an illness.  

A report by Kenyan Network of Cancer Organizations shows 70-80 per cent of cancer cases are diagnosed in late stages. The report indicates that this is due to lack of awareness, inadequate diagnosis and treatment facilities, high cost of treatment and high poverty index.

The process of a cancer diagnosis is shocking and sudden too. You wake up one day and your loved one complains of being unable to use their hand, the next moment they are unable to speak, you take them for a local medical check-up only to be diagnosed with stroke. You immediately book them for physiotherapy and after many sessions, you are told the treatment is not working. It is at this stage that you are referred to an oncologist where your journey begins.

 

You immediately sort your money issues, including consulting your insurance provider, if at all there is an existing policy, and the patient is admitted. The admission is followed by test MRI and CT scans. The next day, results are out and you are told your relative has stage four cancer and you are required to make an urgent decision on a treatment plan. Where do you start?

Moreover, you probably have other close relatives who are as clueless as you are. You are only left with ‘Google.com’ and if you are lucky to have faith in a supreme being, then you have God.

This is a typical example of how every caregiver receives news about a cancer diagnosis. One is required to make urgent decisions with little or no information. The only information they receive is what the doctor shares with them, and they are required to believe and move on as soon as possible.

Caregivers play a very important role, from cleaning, cooking, helping the patient move from one place to the other, to becoming therapists and spiritual guides.

Cancer awareness should be addressed with immediate effect. Most caregivers have no idea what to do or where to go when their loved ones get such diagnoses, which in most cases happens too late.

No hard feelings, I think doctors do a great job and give factual and proper information for the benefit of their patients and caregivers. The problem is not at this level.

However, the problem we currently have as a nation is at the sensitisation level. Did you know a ‘kawaida’ 28-year-old who has gone through 8-4-4 system has not encountered cancer or mental health in any stage of the curriculum?

 

I know I should not blame anybody for my lack of knowledge but I have very valid reasons to. Many families affected by cancer, including our leaders’. Cancer is the third highest cause of morbidity in Kenya, causing seven per cent of deaths per year, after infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases.

This, therefore, means there is no way as a country we are going to run away from this tragedy and we need to address it soon. Doing so will also move us an inch closer to achieving goal three of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which is attaining good health and well-being for all.

Palliative care training is key to caregivers. Some people are faced with very hard realities and are left to take care of a relative with such little knowledge, which affects them mentally as they see their relative deteriorate. Some are left with a huge financial burden with very minimal options.

I have to mention that those friends who pop up to visit caregivers with adult diapers, household shopping and encouraging words have a special place in heaven. When you hear your friend, colleague or relative has been affected, this is not the time to distance yourself because you do not want to share your hard-earned money and time. At this point, a simple phrase as ‘It is tough, but all will be well,’ goes a long way. Caregivers are often faced with trauma and they need as much psychological, emotional and spiritual support as humanly possible.

A key thing to remember is to always be nice to people who get their story first. You never know: That colleague of yours might be very happy and bubbly but deep down they just need a tight hug or a shoulder to lean on.

To all those fighting this battle with their loved ones, take care of yourselves as well. Remember you are of better help to your loved one when you are of good health and healthy state of mind.

The Writer is a Communications Consultant at P&L Consulting and Youth Advocate

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