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Kenya’s Number One GhettoRadio

A tale of cancer survivors on their loss of sense of taste during treatment

Food is something that all of us are familiar with, this is because it is the third most basic thing for life after air and is very vital of everyone’s lives as it gives us the much needed energy and nutrients to grow and even develop. We need carbohydrates, vitamins, proteins and even minerals to be able to live because without this vital substance humans can only live so long.

But despite all this there comes a time when this favorite substance is a mirage to many Kenyans battling different types of cancers….can you imagine finding out in a niche of time that it really hurts when eating, or your sense of taste suddenly vanishes and you are no longer interested in eating the food that you used to love?…in this feature we are delving into the not much talked about topic of cancer patients relationship with food.

Three women with different types of cancer in Nairobi revealed to me and even talked in detail about the side effects of the different cancer treatments  and how they coped with the sudden loss of their sense to taste in there lonely journey to freedom.

Milicent Kagonga a 32 year old woman from Kariobangi and who has battled cervical cancer disease for over 10 years now recalls how even eating her favorite food meat with Ugali became a mirage.

“Ilikuwa vigumu kupata right diet because ulimi ilikuwa inakataa food zingine, plus nilikuwa bado single mother so sikuwa na pesa ya kubuy food zingine…but me naeza sema tu kula kitu roho yako inataka…my mouth looked like dead …no single cell was working hence couldn’t taste food  …Due to this I could eat other foods and not addition being a single mother it was difficult sometimes to follow my nutritionists guidelines as I had no money to buy some other important foods,” she said.

Lakini mi naeza ambia wagonjwa wa cancer kula kitu unataka kukula, because if you don’t ukijisumbua na calories na mabalanced diet utakufa bure, ulimi ikipenda nanasi kula, ikipenda sukuma kula…usianze kujikunja hapo home ukishangaa utakula balanced diet gani.just eat what you want to eat when you still undergoing cancer treatment don’t worry about the calories. Don’t stress yourself at home wondering what to eat while you really can’t taste anything, “she added.

Millicent who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2017 while she was only 20 years this is after ignoring the signs since 2010 says her journey hasn’t been easy but she thanks God for life.

“Unajua I got married while I was still very young almost 12 years I think, I had my first child when I was 13 years, second born when I was 16 years and later third born when I was 20 years,” she reveled

In 2010 nilianza kuona dalili za unyevuunyevu in my private parts but nikalenga tu.., but you know this unyevuunyevu contributed to my husband then leaving me coz ngono haingeweza kufanyika….wondering what was wrong with me, but you know all of us didn’t necessarily know what was happening , and I never thought that this was a sign of cervical cancer. The frequent discharge in my private parts contributed to my husband leaving me because he was not sexually satisfied,” Millicent said.

Rhoda Komoni from Umoja in Nairobi and who was diagnosed with breast cancer stage one explains to me how this played out in her case. She underwent chemotherapy a drug treatment that is used to kill cancer Cells and in which can affect ones sense of taste.

“You know sikuambiwa mapema that itafika some point sitaweza kutaste food, ningeambiwa ningejipanga psychologically. For me I just didn’t wanna eat au hata kuona sura ya cabbages.I was not made aware of the impact of the cancer treatment on my ability to eat if I could have been told earlier I could have prepared myself psychologically, “she said

“That time Nikienda kwa kibanda au barabara nione wanapika samaki nilikuwa naskia kutapika kabisa…..but nilipenda maembe sana,githeri, matoke pia nilipenda. The moment I could see a fish monger frying her fish I could feel like vomiting because I hated that smell but I love eating githeri, mangoes, and cooked bananas,” she added

“….But don’t forget to drink water always especially when you undergoing treatment , you need lots of fruits too so just try to ensure you have eaten a little food to keep you going in the course of the treatment.

Komoni who was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was 50 years old, married and with two children praises her family for standing with her in the difficult time.

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“Niko na watoto wawili, msichana wa miaka 22 na mvulana wa miaka 18, ilikuwa mshtuko kwao …nilijaribu kuifica lakini ilibidi niwaelezee ukweli because there was a time the disease overwhelmed me. I thank God for them because they helped me a lot during that challenging time by accompanying me to hospital, making me fruit juices…mume wangu pia alisimama  na mimi. I was blessed with two children a girl and a boy 22 and 18 years old who have been my pillar. My husband too has played a big part in this recovering journey,” Komoni said.

Komoni intimates that before being diagnosed with breast cancer she used to eat all kinds of foods unlike during the course of their treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital but she adds that that the moment the treatment is over the taste buds start coming back slowly.

“I felt a lump on my left breast so suddenly I decided to visit a nearby clinic in my area who referred me to Kenyatta National Hospital for further diagnosis , that is when I was told I had stage one breast cancer , since then I have been going there for treatment which is costly I must say,” she adds.

Komoni who does menial jobs in Umoja for a living now wants the government to come with a food initiative targeting cancer patients saying it’s not easy to adhere to a balanced diet especially if one is poor.

“Ni challenge kununua chakula au hata transport ya kwenda hadi KNH, unajua siku zingine hauwezi fuata special diet coz hauna pesa, ingekuwa poa if cancer patients wangepewa food na gava through kwa chief au tuletewe hadi manyumbani kwetu,” she says

“Nili undergo 8 sessions za chemo, my friend apart from kuwa expensive kutreat chakula nayo ni challenge ingine, saa ingine unaweza tamani matunda Fulani lakini hauwezi kula every day because they are expensive,” she adds.

Barbra Muliro a Nutritionist in Nairobi says different types of cancers require different types of food and nutrients.

“Hakikisha kama wewe ni mgonjwa wa saratani kukula balanced diet that is carbohydrates, fruits vegetables….ukiwa na saratani hautakikani kutumia chakula haijapikwa vizuri but also ensure chakula isiive kabisa so as not to kill the nutrients needed. Ensure you eat a balanced diet when you undergoing cancer treatment. Also ensure the food is properly cooked,” she said

“…ensure you visit a nutritionist because she will guide you on what to eat….I know its difficult sometimes for a patient to adhere to our guidelines especially when they are undergoing treatment but we try to tell them to try and eat some fruits, vegetables, proteins and even carbohydrates whenever they feel a little bit okay,” she says.

One Josephine Leshao from Ongata Rongai  an eye cancer survivor says she too was not made aware of the impact of chemotherapy on her ability to taste food.

‘after I had chemo ndio nilirealize singeweza kula or hata kutaste food even after kujilazimisha…wakati wa treatment chakula inakusumbua sana…singeweza kula nyama at all, maziwa ,machungwa au hata nanasi…because nilikuwa naskia kutapika kabisa …lakini kitambo before nikuwe diagonised nilikuwa nazipenda sana….the only mboga nilipenda wakati wa treatement ambayo ilitake 10 years ni skuma na kunde. After I had chemotherapy and radiotherapy is when I realized that I could not taste food in fact I was just forcing myself to eat….I could not eat Meat, oranges, pineapples or even drink milk because I felt like vomiting whenever I came across them, but I used to love them before treatment. This can really make you moody but don’t let this weigh you down because it will come a time when all this is over,” she said.

Josephine who also depends on menial jobs for survival and who also has a son who is disabled says her journey has been rough to say the least.

“Kupata chakula ni ngumu kiukweli, unajua niko na familia …mimi ni mgonjwa wa saratani ya macho stage 3 A ….baadaye waliitoa macho moja bada ya kuwa diagonised mwaka wa 2011, Apart from that you have a disabled child who also needs your attention na kumbuka una watoto wengine. But Niko happy I was declared cancer free November last year 2021,” she adds.