Winning over cancer!
The person at the other end was either her son or her nephew. He was also anticipating her at that time but she could not make it. She pressed the home button of her iPhone and slid it into her tan-colored Alexander Wang satchel. Her apparel oozed class, nothing was out of place and not even the scorching sun could take it from her. We sat, flanking a small table at a restaurant along Moi Avenue and I expected her to complain about my choice of meeting point but she maintained a wide smile. The window on my left was open and let in the noise of the town below. Several buses were dropping passengers at the Ambassador Bus Station and lining up for the mid-morning travellers to JKIA. My companion went by the name Beatus Makena on Facebook, where we first met.
Beatus is Medieval Latin for blessed, she explained.
The waitress came along for our order; I settled for a chilled cocktail, Beatus went for passion juice.
“You loved Whitney Houston?” I asked, referring to her ringtone, I look to you.
“I still love her music. She was such a let-down.” Beatus loathed.
“She was both selfish and disturbed. Why would you let the world know you associate yourself with such a character?”
“Her music was real and powerful. She sang out her deepest emotions no matter what we thought of her. As I lay on my death bed, nothing else crossed my mind except the words of this song.” She closed her eyes in retrospect.
She was a budding 33 year-old sales executive cum fashion designer and mother of one when it struck.
Beatus was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Luckily, it was a timely diagnosis and there was some hope. A few checkups, chemotherapy, follow-up and you are back to business, the doctor advised. It sounded easy but it was the onset of a long battle.
It had started as a minor case of come and go constipation, then a period random abdominal discomfort before the major sign that blew the whistle, presence of blood in stool.
“I was diagnosed with cancer in January 2014 when my son was three, two years after we separated with my baby daddy. It was not until April of that year and much coercion from my doctor that I took the first step towards treatment…” she stopped mid-sentence as the waitress placed the glasses on our table.
“Will you be ordering something else?” the waitress asked.
“We shall signal you when we are ready, Nelly.” Beatus whispered to her apologetically.
“Acceptance.” She concluded her sentence.
The cancer story she shared on her social media page was all about acceptance, and she had brought it up once again, emphasizing its importance. Cancer is like an unplanned pregnancy in so many ways, you can hide it but eventually it will show. The earlier you accept and act on it, the better the chances of winning over it. But cancer is not a school girl, it evokes the fear that it feeds on. Fear breeds hesitation, hesitation buys the time; time cannot be recovered and means a lot when it comes to cancer. When it becomes too big and gruesome to hide, we start the fight. A lost battle.
“So who did you tell first?” I asked.
“My son. Not like he would understand, but it would affect him the most. Cancer treatment involves being away physically and emotionally. You concentrate only on one thing, staying alive.”
“Considering you and your baby daddy were separated, did you wish he was around when it happened?” Some questions you have got to ask.
“I wished he was there all the time since children need both parents. He was the second person I told because I thought if I died which apparently is the first thought that crosses one’s mind, he had a responsibility. Then I told my family. I guess that was the time we grew close, mending all the holes that separated us.”
“Tell me about the whole journey,” I wondered out loud.
“India is such a lovely place but I did not get the chance to enjoy it. Not when you have a high feeling all day from the medication and sleepless nights, the dignity you have as a woman disappears because the doctor is requesting you to strip and poking parts on your body. The doctors are very professional but this is cancer, it takes away everything.”
“Did you ever wonder why it chose you? We all think cancer comes after fifty in most cases?” I enquired for myself on record because it was October, and she requested me to share her story.
“I also thought in that line. It was just a benign tumor. Check it out once more please. The good thing is that information about cancer is available. I met with children of below five who were ailing from different forms of cancer. To the children, it was a sickness like flu as they had so much life that they seemed okay to me. I was 33 with a whole life ahead. In either way, I had to live. It chose me because I am strong, I said to myself,” she summoned for the waitress and requested for a glass of water.
Examination, Chemo sessions, rest, re-examination became a routine. One morning you wake up and leave a lock of hair on the pillow. The next morning you don’t feel your legs. The skin on your lips, palms and feet turn dark. As you lie on your bed, listening to the tick tock of the clock on the wall, you wonder about the reality of life. The neighbor by your side, still from Africa and whom you had established a rapport with, is pushed away while you sleep. He died. Another one is brought and you really don’t want to speak with them.
“I received calls from family and friends from Kenya when I was in India. My son had joined school; I had wanted to be the first to nurse the graze on his knee and listen to his new adventure but I was in one of my own. A fundraiser had been organized to cater for the hospital bill; they were expecting me back soon. They had promised me.” I said nothing that would extinguish their hopes.
“Is this where the song, your ringtone come in?”
“Yes. I requested the doctor to download it for me and allow me to listen to it. When all hope was gone, I just had God to look up to and on that hospital bed I made the decision to be born again.” There was so much conviction in her tone. I stared through the window for a while.
“A blessing in disguise it was. Someone talks of scars in a beautiful way, almost poetic. Do you have any scars left, that speak to you daily?”
“None physical per se but on my heart is one. It’s not even a scar but a wound that bleeds. There is a Kenya Cancer Association situated at Kenyatta National Hospital. They play a big role in helping cancer patients. Imagine what a wig would do to the esteem of a woman whose hair is falling off. What about a special bra that a woman can wear over the gap left after breast amputation or even a healthy breakfast when one arrives at Kenyatta Hospital from upcountry? These and also the chance to interact with other patients change the mindsets of victims preparing to go for the battle. It gives an edge, one hand on the trophy of survival.” Beatus talked of her bleeding in a deep way.
It was lunch; I went for fish fillet and mashed potatoes. She did vegan.
She goes for her check-ups regularly, finished off her meds and resumed work, as a fashion designer and ambassador in the fight against cancer. She quit sales to get more time for what she thought was impactful.
She started off a company that designs and makes wigs and the special bras for women with amputated breasts, the profit from the sale of the two goes towards Cancer Awareness. She also designs and manufactures ladies’ clothes and runs a modeling firm that goes with her brands. She gave me a catalogue of her products, showed me pictures of her son, and her own during the fight with cancer while in India (she was really embattled), then one after recovery.
“I am happier now than I was before it struck.” It was her parting shot.
Elsewhere cancer takes life, to Beatus it gave life.