Don tackling breast cancer, stigma with a rare courage

Tuesday, April 4th, 2023 08:20 | By
Raphael Apungu, a University lecturer and a breast cancer survivor. PD/VIOLA KOSOME

A number of men fighting breast cancer are struggling with stigma of a disease that many have always associated with women.

The developments come as the breast cancer in men continue to gain root despite spirited efforts by government agencies to reduce cancer cases in the country.

Raphael Apungu, a university lecturer and a cancer warrior is among the men fighting the disease with courage as he struggles to shake off stigma associated with it and give hope to other patients to stay positive.

It all began in 2015 when Apungu noticed a lump growing on his right breast, he dismissed it as a normal swelling that would disappear with time. He had little to worry about, after all, the lump was small and almost painless.

And for two years, he did not share the development with anyone and ignored the lump as he concentrated in making ends meet for his family in Ngong, Kajiado county.

Second opinion

“As time went by, I noticed the lump was enlarging and I started wondering what it could be. I did not think at any point that the lump was cancerous,” he explains.

He sought medical attention to find answers to what the lump was at a health facility in Kajiado. After several tests including a biopsy, a doctor who attended to him told him not to worry about anything and assured him that all was okay.

“The doctor told me that they would be doing yearly review on my condition and I just went back home, albeit with a lot of unanswered questions,” he says.

Keen to get a second opinion from another medical expert he sought help from another facility and was taken through an ultrasound. The ultrasound revealed that a dead lump was in his breast.

“I got a bit curious because a dead lump in a living body is a paradox that requires to be dealt with seriously. I decided to do another biopsy which again turned out to be negative and was not showing anything of cancerous nature,” he says.

His situation, however, changed on December 9, 2020 when another test was done on him and the results revealed what he had feared most. He had stage two breast cancer.

“I remember it was in December 2020. Before being given my results, the doctor did not seem to be very comfortable revealing the news to me,” he said.

He says he has already undergone two surgeries and has been undergoing treatment at Texas Cancer Centre. He told People Daily how he has kept his hopes alive despite the hordes of challenges.

Surgery for treating the disease costs about Sh128,000. This compounded with the drugs balloons the cost of treatment.

According to him, the drugs are expensive and not everybody can afford. Fortunately for him, he has been relying on NHIF to help him cover part of the costs.  He opted to keep his medical condition to himself and just a few family members.

He said the government should support cancer patients by allocation more resources and putting up more infrastructure to treat cancer patients. “Cancer is not a death sentence but it puts one in a better position to examine their selves,” he said.

But he is not alone, in Kisumu, Aloyce Ojwang, a father of two is also a cancer hero who has turned his misfortunes into an inspiration. Despite not having a stable job and just relying on his businesses to keep going, he is battling breast cancer with sheer optimism. For him, stigma is an endless problem he has to battle every single day.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. It was already in stage three but I am undergoing treatment,” he says.

Supportive family

According to him, despite being subjected to stigma by some of his friends, several people have been very supportive including his family who have stood with him.

He says the cost of treating the disease is his biggest worry and claimed they had to sell part of their family land to raise money for his treatment. “I also never knew breast cancer can affect men too. It was a mystery for me,” he explains.

He said some of his friends in Jua Kali area asked him how he got a ‘woman’s disease’. “It was traumatizing. Some kept asking me how I developed the disease. The stigma was real and it was even very difficult to ask for help,” he says.

According to Dr Catherine Nyongesa, a Clinical Oncologist at Texas Cancer Center, breast cancer in men is rare but it happens. She says that the major risk factors for breast cancer in men is genetics.

“There is no known exact cause of breast cancer in men but it is associated with risk factors such as genetic predisposition,” she explains.

In Kisumu, about 200 cancer cases are reported every year with breast cancer among the leading types of cancer diagnosed in patients. According to Health CEC Gregory Ganda, breast cancer is among the top four cancers diagnosed in Kisumu. The list also includes cervical, prostate and esophageal cancer.

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