- After the diagnosis, Esther spent the next 17 days at the cancer ward in KNH undergoing radiotherapy.
- When the pain became unbearable, the family took Esther to Kerugoya Hospital on September 18, 2017.
When Esther Wakabare Muthike started having a urinary discharge in May 2004, she at first dismissed it as an ordinary infection that would clear off in a few days.
“I was feeling pain in my lower abdomen and because I was ashamed of going to the hospital, I stayed at home,” says the mother of five and grandmother of 15.
Esther, now aged 81, was born in Kianguenyi village but now lives in Kiangombe village, which is in Kirima location, Kerugoya sub-county, Kirinyaga County.
The discharge later grew into a smelly, sticky liquid with pus and blood. At this point, she could no longer hide the discomfort and had no choice but to tell her daughters what was bothering her.
“When we noticed Mum was sick, we made enquiries on what she was suffering from and after she told us, we took her to Kerugoya Referral Hospital,” said her daughter Susan Wanjiku, 40.
After a series of tests, the medics at Kerugoya told the family to take the ailing widow to Kenyatta National Hospital.
“We could not, however, afford to take her to KNH as per the referral because we did not have enough money. But hope beckoned a few days later when a medical camp was held at the Kerugoya Stadium grounds,” Susan told the Saturday Nation.
It was here that the family was to meet Benda Kithaka, who founded the cancer advocacy, awareness and treatment lobby Women 4 Cancer Early Detection and Treatment, with her friends Dr Njoki Njiraini, Liz Mbuthia (a nurse), and Cathy Wacira, a lawyer.
“After seeing my sister get diagnosed with cervical cancer and treated before successfully having children, I decided to do something to ensure that other women in the same circumstances could also access screening and treatment so as to continue living healthy, productive lives, says Ms Kithaka.
“Luckily, for my sister, the cancer was at stage one, and she was treated in time. She later went on to successfully have children. I decided to establish an organisation that would assist as many women as possible to also get screened and treated for cervical cancer before the disease reaches an advanced stage where it is difficult to treat, said Brenda, 44.
After the diagnosis, Esther spent the next 17 days at the cancer ward in KNH undergoing radiotherapy.
Having completed the procedure, she was given two weeks to recover before returning for another eight days of chemotherapy, and a follow-up visit to check on her progress on December 5, 2015.
“All this time, we were staying at a house in Kawangware that had been rented for us by the late cancer warrior and patient rights’ advocate Rose Chiedo,” says Susan.
Her mother was not out of the woods just yet.
“After just one session of chemotherapy, my mother’s blood supply once again ran out. We took her to a hospital in Kawangware. She needed a transfusion of four pints of blood followed by a period of rest to allow her blood levels to get back to normal,” said Susan, who was her mother’s caregiver at that difficult time.
“It was so heartbreaking to see my beloved mother in so much pain. At times I would find myself in tears as I watched her writhing in agony on that hospital bed, wondering what we had done wrong to deserve such,” she recalls.
After two more visits in May and July 2016, Esther was finally discharged from the treatment programme at KNH on February 8, 2017.
The subsequent recuperation period was another marathon of agony as the patient slowly fought her way back to a pain-free life.
She was relatively free from pain for around three months before it returned with renewed vigour.
When the pain became unbearable, the family took Esther to Kerugoya Hospital on September 18, 2017, but were referred to Nyeri Hospice.
“We would take her to the hospice once every three months and make sure she took the medicine prescribed for her by the medics, which included opioids. She also needed adult diapers during that period because she was unable to move from her bed, says her niece Monica Wanjiku, 30.
All that came to an end one day in early November 2017. Her daughter credits the dramatic change in her status to her strong Christian faith.
“I had been bedridden for several months and had even developed bedsores, which left me in constant agony. One morning as I lay in bed, I offered a prayer to God asking him to help me get off the bed and once more enjoy life as a normal aged individual. I am so grateful that he answered my prayer and I managed with great difficulty to move to a seat beside my bed,” says Esther.