In Summary
  • Breast cancer remains the leading cancer affecting women in the country with 6,799 cases and 3,107 deaths recorded annually.
  • A survivor says that reintegrating back to normal life after the strenuous treatment is an uphill task.
Breast cancer illustration.
REHABILITATION PACKAGE: Breast cancer illustration.
Image: FILE

Lucy Njeru was diagnosed with breast cancer, lost one of her breasts but survived.

But a part of her remains not fully recovered and it is a long journey she said.

From cancer stigma, emotional distress and economic toll of the disease, her rehabilitation journey is far from over.

Alongside Mary Mwangi, another survivor of the disease, Njeru recounted to a gathering attended by Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache how reintegrating back to normal life after the strenuous treatment is an uphill task.

The event was convened at the Kenyatta University Teaching, Research and Referral Hospital on October 28.

The survivors want the government to invest in not just covering the full treatment of cancers through NHIF but also in post-treatment reintegration of patients.

Mwangi said she was diagnosed with the disease in 2018 and the NHIF covered almost all her treatment costs. It covered diagnosis, surgery and part of her treatment processes.

Though the cover was of help, the emotional toll of the disease and stigma around it takes a while to dissipate.

The losses are in form of shattered dreams, financial ruin, job and business losses among others as one dedicates the time for treatment, Mwangi said.

Amid the hustle for money to support self and meeting the treatment demands, the disease is spreading to other parts of the body, literally dragging the patient to their graves.

Their account buttresses the experience of many that see cancer diagnosis as a ticket to the grave via poverty.

“The time we spend looking for money means the cancer is spreading to the next stage…those who are employed, no employer will give you a whole year away. After, surviving to integrate into the community is not easy. You are sometimes fired. Many become depressed. Before cancer we had big dreams. They got shattered,” an emotional Mwangi recounted.

PS Mochache launched the Herceptin SC Access Programme during the occasion.

The programme allows any patient who is screened and diagnosed with breast cancer to be eligible for the drug and access the 18 cycles of treatment fully covered as long as they have an NHIF card, she said.

The programme is mounted by Roche, a Swiss medical technology firm, in collaboration with the government of Kenya.

The PS also launched a Comprehensive Breast Care Centre at the institution, a ‘one-stop-shop’ for patients. But while the coverage of treatment by NHIF is good, it is hardly enough, Njeru said.

“The government should help us in the post-cancer rehabilitation journey. You lose hair, your beauty is affected and psychological health is also affected. The intervention should not just be about treatment but also after the care.”

Having lost one of her breasts, she said, she uses a mastectomy bra to boost her confidence.

“A rehabilitation package for the cancer survivors should include psychosocial support and supply of things like mastectomy bras, wigs and other support efforts as part of the recovery journey,” Njeru said.

She said county health facilities should have cancer centers, and all care services under one roof. Njeru said she hoped the new center would be at "the forefront of educating the public that breast cancer is a non-communicable disease and is not contagious."

"It will be important for them to integrate the survivors in their activities, to help reduce stigma. I am happy because I know a nurse working in the KUTRH care centre, and she's a breast cancer survivor and is showing the world that after treatment we are capable of leading a normal productive life," she added.

KUTRRH CEO Ahmed Dagane said the facility which has been attending to 20 patients daily before its launch, doing screenings, early diagnosis, and treatment. It will upscale to 50.

Ministry of Health statistics shows the disease affects a younger age group of women at the prime of their age of 35-45 years as compared to the developed world where older women above 50 years are most affected.

Breast cancer remains the leading cancer affecting women in the country with 6,799 cases and 3,107 deaths recorded annually.

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