- Rachael recounts how her Neighbours driven by fear and ignorance refused to share basic amenities like bathroom and tap water.
- Her daughter abandoned school to care for her mother during the most trying times.
- Rachael urges the administration of President William Ruto to provide assistance by subsidizing the cost of blood tests.
In a powerful testament to the enduring stigma faced by breast cancer patients, Rachael Kariuki, a courageous 52-year-old woman from Githurai, opens up about her journey with the disease. Despite battling stage 3 breast cancer since its detection in 2021, Rachael bravely shares her experiences, shedding light on the stigma that continues to infiltrate the society.
Rachael recalls a particularly difficult period in her life when she allegedly faced the harsh reality of stigma while residing in a rented plot. Her neighbors, driven by fear and ignorance, refused to share basic amenities like the bathroom, toilet, and tap water. Their misguided belief that she would infect them with cancer left Rachael feeling isolated and mentally burdened.
“Nikuambie kwanza ukipatikana na ugonjwa wa saratani …kitu cha kwanza hapo unajihesabu hauna marafiki, unapotezanga marafiki wote, …ki familia .. mtu mwenye naeza sema amesimama na mimi ni cousin yangu anaitwa Mugo, na yule cousin yangu anaitwa Irungu..unajua ukiwa admitted na NHIF hauwezi jidischarge …sasa hao walinisaidia,” She said.
“Marafiki wanatutenga sana , unaona hata kwa ploti umetengwa.wanaonanga kama utawaambukiza cancer halafu mtu wa familia ukimpigia simu anaona kana kwamba unamuomba pesa na sahio unataka kuongea na mtu tu,”
“Unakuta choo zetu ni mbili kwa plot na bafu ni mbili unaona wakisema ati watatumia ile choo na bafu sijatumia….naingia kwa nyumba nalia naambia mtu sikutaka nikuwe hivi, Tap nikishika nifungue maji naona neighbors wangu wakijiongelesha chini chini ati hawatashika tap….nikifua nguo nianike nguo, hawataki kuanika kwa kamba wanafikiria nitawaambukiza….kuna jirani moja alihama aliposikia niko na kansa…me hufeel vibaya sana.”
Rachael’s Cancer diagnosis met with Isolation
With immense strength and resilience, Rachael sought solace and guidance through counseling sessions at Kenyatta National Hospital. These sessions became a turning point in her life, enabling her to let go of the hurt caused by stigma and focus on her own healing and well-being.
“Kuna support group wanaitanga pale Kenyatta ..pale kila mtu mwathiriwa anapewa nafasi ya kuongea kilicho moyoni. Tukifanya hivi tunapona roho sasa…Watu wanongea na kufichua challenges na uzuri wanapitia…unajua hii stigma si mimi peke yangu…watu wengi wa kans wanasemanga wanatengwa,”
Unfortunately, Rachael’s journey has not been without financial hardships. She recounts instances where family and close friends distanced themselves upon learning about her diagnosis, driven by the financial burden associated with cancer treatment. In her struggle to make ends meet, Rachael was even forced to move houses after being chased by her former landlord due to unpaid rent. Currently, she finds herself living in a makeshift house within a compassionate landlord’s compound.
“Mimi nilienda nikawaambia nimekosa mbele wala nyuma nipeeni place moja pale compound nifunike tu na karatasi huyo mzee landlord akaniambia hana shida nikifanya hivyo …nikatoa vitu kwa hii ploti napeleka kwa hii ingine…nilifurushwa vitu zangu zikarushwa nje coz sikulipa rent ya 3k kwa muda.”
Daughter sacrifices education to take care of ailing mother
Throughout her ordeal, Rachael’s unwavering pillar of support has been her daughter. Sacrificing her own education, her daughter abandoned school to care for her mother during the most trying times. Eventually, she returned to school and successfully completed her high school education, exemplifying the strength and love that can bloom even in the face of adversity.
“Siwezi kusahau msichana wangu anaitwa Beth Riziki..aliwacha shule juu yangu wakati nimekuwa mgonjwa kabisa.aliniambia mum siwezi kukutoishanisha na masomo.mimi naachana na shule niwe na kaa na wewe nyumbani mpaka ile siku utapona.lakini nashukuru mungu sababu nilipata nafasi ingine after kumalizia matibabu yangu kiasi na akaweza kjurudi shule na kufanya mtihani.alimaliza 2022 alipata C,”
She passionately calls upon the government to alleviate the financial burden placed on cancer patients by covering the costs of all chemotherapy sessions, as the current coverage by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) is inadequate. Additionally, Rachael urges the administration of President William Ruto to provide assistance by subsidizing the cost of blood tests, as these expenses place an additional strain on patients.
She further raises concerns about the rising cost of healthcare, emphasizing that the fee to see a doctor has increased from 650 shillings to 1150 shillings, creating a significant financial barrier for those seeking essential medical care.
“Kipimo ya damu ajaribu aweke hapo ndani, na ajaribu aweke Chemo zote zikuwe NHIF inalipa , wakati mimi nilianza kuona daktari ilikuwa ni shilingi 650 lakini siku moja ikapanda hadi 1150 Hapo kabisa tunafinyika,”
Despite her struggles, Rachael remains hopeful. She eagerly anticipates completing her treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital and reclaiming her normal life. She humbly acknowledges the challenges she faces, including poverty-induced food scarcity due to her limited income from menial jobs in Githurai. Nevertheless, she is grateful for every day she is alive.
She calls upon all Kenyans to challenge the stigma surrounding breast cancer and support those in need. By raising awareness, offering financial assistance, and fostering compassion, we can create a society that embraces and uplifts individuals like Rachael, giving them the strength to overcome any adversity.
“Mimi nataka kuambia wale watu ambao hamna Kansa , mungu amekupa uzima, hiyo nguvu uko nayo amabia mungu shukrani.msitenge watu wa kansa coz hii kanza sio ya kuambukiza ilikuja tu,”
Rony Omiremire, Cancer speacilist Cancer Treatment center at the Kenyatta National Hospital admits that cancer patients face stigma not only at home but at health institutions whose health practitioners haven’t undergone training on how to handle cancer patients.
“Na kutengwa kuko kwa mfano zile health facilities ambazo hawana ujuzi wa kuweza kuwaeleza wagonjwa wa saratani haswa kwa namna ambayo ni ya utu unapata saa zingine wanawatenga kwasababu hawawapatii ile information ambayo inastahili….lakini hata kijamii kutengwa kuko kwa kuwa familia inaona mgonjwa kuwa mzigo kwao,”he said.
He also dismisses allegations that cancer is infectious calling on the public to embrace cancer patients as it’s vital in their healing.
“Kwa hivyo mukitumia vile vifaa kwa nyumba mkishare mazingira hamuezi ambukizana , Choo,bafu,sahani, vijiko, vikombe hamuezi ambukizana,”
In the end, Rachael reveals a personal change brought about by her battle with cancer. Once comfortable wearing revealing tops that highlighted her cleavage, she now chooses to dress more modestly. It is a reminder of the physical and emotional transformations that accompany a breast cancer diagnosis, further emphasizing the need for compassion and acceptance from the members of the public.