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Cancer warrior weaves mats to sustain desperate patients

By Harriet James
Friday, July 3rd, 2020
Millicent Kagonga. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES
In summary
    • In Kenya, cancer is ranked third as a cause of death after infectious and cardiovascular diseases.
    • Although population based data does not exist in the country, it is estimated that the annual incidence of cancer is about 28,000 cases and the annual mortality to be over 22,000.

Harriet James @harriet86jim

As the government attention focuses on fighting Covid-19, many cancer patients feel abandoned and are suffering in their homes because they can’t access treatment and lack basic needs. 

 Millicent Kagonga, a cervical cancer survivor knows too well the anguish of struggling to get money for treatment, especially for someone without a job or health insurance.

  However, in her own way, Kagonga is changing the perception that one needs   loads of money to make a difference. She is stepping in during this pandemic to help cancer patients.

From her home at Kariobangi and without any formal job, she is weaving mats and selling them to ensure cancer patients access treatment and get fare to hospital.

She has rallied friends to also provide for cancer patients who may have lost jobs due to Covid-19.

“When we find a partner who can financially support the patients, we give them the mat to appreciate their efforts.

When chemotherapy sessions provided by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) runs out, patients are forced to cater for their treatment with their own cash, which sometimes they do not have,” she narrates.

Currently, 67 cancer patients have had access to treatment thanks to the initiative. Each mat goes for Sh3,000, but one can opt to pay for NHIF for a cancer patient.

Weaving the mats also is therapeutic particularly to the patients who have experienced stigma because of their condition. 

“I know the stigma that these people goes through first hand.  I am 30 years and I can’t give birth and maybe, I’ll never get married.

Also, once you are treated, there are jobs that you can’t do, especially those that requires straining. So the mats sustains us and also helps us cope with these issues,” she said.

The journey

They also make prosthesis breasts for breast cancer patients who have had theirs removed during treatment. 

Millicent’s journey with cancer began in 2010. The single mother of two noticed a discharge when she was just 20 years old and was afraid to tell anyone.

She also didn’t know what cancer was, and believed that it was a disease for the rich.

For six years, she remained in this condition until she met a friend she could talk to. The friend advised her to have the discharge checked at the hospital.

“When I was diagnosed with cancer, at first, I wanted to end my life as the news was too devastating,” she said. 

However, she braved on and began her treatments in 2017 at Kenyatta National Hospital. Her treatment involved 25 radio therapy, six chemotheraphies, and three bracitheraphies. Financial instability made her miss some treatment sessions. .  

“Sometimes I could walk all the way from Kariobangi to KNH, and sleep at casualty department because of lack of fare.

In that year alone, I received 17 pints of blood since cervical cancer makes one bleed a lot,” she recalls 

 The cancer patients whom she found at the hospital became her friends and they encouraged each other.

Some would bring food and they would eat together and others would sleep at the hospital together.

She was touched by such relationships and this inspired her to form a support group called Symbols of Hope Warriors.

The group helps  cancer patients  facing similar challenges and have no one to talk to.  “We decided that we will walk together as we understand the issues that we go through together.

Whatever another person is going through might not be the specific cancer that I am going through but at least I understand the side effects and we will be able to encourage each other in the journey,” she said.

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