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The Uganda Women's Cancer Support Organisation

About UWOCASO

Vision:

All women in Uganda free from cancer burden.

Mission:

To fight cancer in Uganda by empowering women at risk of and/or living with cancer, their families, and communities through the provision of appropriate and evidence-based information and best practices, awareness, supportive care and advocacy.

Value statements:

Accountability and Transparency: We are accountable to our team of (volunteers, staff, and Board), our members and stakeholders and we are committed to remaining transparent in all operations at all times. Integrity: We carry out all our duties with high moral and ethical standards acceptable by our members, clients, and others. Participatory: We accord all members, volunteers and the community equal opportunities to participate in activities and programs of the organisation. Volunteerism: We recognize and appreciate the support and commitment of volunteers as an essential element to our work and we seek to empower them in their work Efficiency in resource utilization: We seek to use creative and innovative ways in resource utilisation in order to develop people to their full potential and realize high-quality results and greater impact. We use resources wisely. Fearlessness and truth-telling about cancer: We strive to create an organisation that is based on the principles of boldness and trust that understand the sensitivity of the disease and accord respect to the values and beliefs of others. Inclusiveness: We are non-judgemental and shall remain open to all members and volunteers in an equitable manner. We work to ensure that services provided are open to everyone including patients/clients without discrimination Collective Action: We believe in partnership and collaborations for collective action and services to change the lives of the women at risk of and /or living with cancer for better- no one individual or organisation can do it alone. We respect the unique contribution of each one and will work together to meet our common goal.

Development Goal:

To contribute to the reduction of the female cancer burden in Uganda. UWOCASO’s Pillars:
  1. Information and Awareness
  2. Supportive Care
  3. Advocacy
  4. Knowledge Building
  5. Organisation Sustainability
WHO IS UWOCASO
Board Of Directors

Mrs. Rebecca Kiziri Mayengo

Board Chairperson

Joerier Nabitwere Walusimbi

Treasurer

Mercy Oikirize Tayebwa

Vice Chairperson Board

Judith Nakasi Sserunkuma

Public Relations

KABASABIITI Elizabeth

Board Member
Secretariat
WHAT WE DO

Information and Awareness

Cancer awareness and information is a big gap in the control and management of cancer in Uganda. There is poor understanding of cancers affecting women and girls by both the public and professionals. Cancer in Uganda is diagnosed late due low levels of awareness about the importance of screening, risk factors, early diagnosis and treatment. This strategy work to identify common cancers affecting women in the country to increase awareness using different approaches which include reviewing and updating existing IEC materials, updating and translating for target groups and languages. We use multimedia in order to reach different communities with general messages and specific groups with targeted messages. In partnership with other organization, we lead the design of joint awareness campaigns to effectively and efficiently reach out to bigger communities with cancer information. This strategy will bring on board CSOs, NGOs, business community and Government to improve access to cancer information in the country. In this strategy we raise awareness about the importance of prevention and early detection by sensitizing the masses on risk factors, early signs and symptoms of some cancers and adopting healthy life styles that reduce the cancer risks. In this strategic period we look at how to address awareness needs of the vulnerable groups such as women living with disabilities, women in fishing communities and refugees among others. We are aiming at saving lives through prevention, early detection and improvement in treatment outcomes and increase survival rates.

TESTIMONIES

  • Namubiru, a teacher by profession, says her employer was so supportive and sent her on paid leave until she felt better, “because I was not medically fit to teach. Not doing what I loved most was the most frustrating moment in my life”. Namubiru was instructed to go to the Uganda Cancer Institute to see Dr Fred Okuku and after seeing her results he started her on a treatment plan. The first part of treatment involved surgery (mastectomy) to remove the cancer-stricken breast. “I then started chemotherapy, which consisted of six sessions, one every three weeks.” Namubiru also started radiotherapy of one session each day for 25 days and “I always went back for review”. The reviews showed that she was beating the cancer by all definitions. But that was not all; after some time she was started on hormonal therapy, taking one tablet daily for five years – “the good news is that I will be completing the dose in October this year”. “During the course of treatment, my physical appearance changed; I felt weak and tired all the time. My nails darkened, I lost my hair and my immunity was really low and kept on getting other infections,” she says, but she is nonetheless thankful for overcoming a disease many succumb to. “My life changed a lot. I do not take any day for granted. My relationship with God became stronger and I live a healthy, stress-free life. Many people have died; who am I to survive cancer? This is my fifth year,” she says. Indeed for many people, it takes an unwanted visit from a disease as grave as cancer to shake them out of fretting about trivial matters in life that can be rectified in a blink. Namubiru learnt to value life more. “The support I got from my family, friends and colleagues at Uganda Women’s Cancer Support Organization helped me to cope through the tough times.” Namubiru, a mother of two, says it was really hard to explain her condition to her children. “My children saw me at my worst moments. They saw my physical, social and mental changes -that is one thing no mother wants her children to experience.”

    Joyce NamubiruBreast Cancer Survivor
  • Joweria Nabitwere Walusimbi Further tests showed that Walusimbi’s organs were in perfect shape; the cancer was still confined to just her blood. “After days of waiting, I managed to see an oncologist at the cancer institute and in 2008 I was officially diagnosed with leukemia,” she says. “The doctor told me that my kind of cancer has only a 10 per cent survival rate and advised me to write a will. Of course, this did not sound good, but I tried to remain calm.” That February day is forever etched on Walusimbi’s mind. “I had a meeting at work but decided to just go home. I locked myself in the bedroom and cried my lungs out but deep down inside me I knew all would be fine.” Any medical treatment cannot be called easy, but cancer treatment is in a class of its own. “The side effects from the medication! I used to get hospital infections because my immunity was low. There was a time I blacked out. I had zero white blood cells, my hair fell off, my nails turned black,” she now recalls. “The doctor took me through the treatment plan: standard treatment would be three rounds of intense chemotherapy.” Walusimbi was lucky her husband stood by her all through, which helped her cope faster and stay strong with hope. Soon, she went into remission, and hopes the cancer never returns. “Over the years, I have struggled with getting back to normal; there is no single day that passes without me reflecting on the dark days of cancer. That is the reason I decided to get involved with Uganda Cancer Institute through Uganda Women’s Cancer Support Organization to help other cancer patients cope with the disease through voluntary work.” Walusimbi hopes to make a change in cancer sufferers’ lives, being that she has been where they are. She now understands that in order to heal faster, the patient needs to cope with the cancer emotionally too, for cancer patients lose much more than just hair when going through treatment. “God really loves me; when I look back at my treatment and all that I went through, I am blessed the experience has made me a fighter in many ways.” For the survivors, the lesson has been, early detection really can be the game-changer in the cancer fight. Have regular check-ups.

    Joerier Nabitwere WalusimbiLeukemia Survivor
  • GERTRUDE NAKIGUDDE a breast cancer survivor, a co-founder and Chief executive officer of Uganda Women’s Cancer Support Organization (UWOCASO) When she thought the worst was over, Nakigudde got the shock of her life; the lump that had been removed from her breast was cancerous. Her breast had to be cut off! She had only gone back to hospital to dress a wound following the removal of a lump that she had knowingly lived with for a long time. “I used to feel the lump but it was painless. It kept growing. I decided to have it removed when it started hurting,” says Nakigudde, adding that the thought that the lump could be cancerous had never crossed her mind. So, it came as a shock when she was told she had cancer. “Of course I caused a huge scene at the hospital. I was inconsolable. No one knew what to tell me. I couldn’t imagine living without a breast. Besides, I was staring at death,” recalls Nakigudde. She also recalls spending her entire savings on running several tests. She finally had the mastectomy at Kibuli hospital before she was referred to Mulago hospital for chemotherapy and follow-up treatment. Her family members were dazed and too scared to accompany her to hospital. After spending two weeks in the queue to see the only oncologist who was at the then, almost-defunct, overpopulated yet understaffed cancer institute, she managed to get her first dose of chemotherapy. “I fainted in the taxi on my way back home,” narrates Nakigudde. After this incident, her family, friends, workmates and employers realized how serious the issue was and accorded her all the support she needed to go through all the six chemotherapy cycles. Although she did not have insurance, she was lucky her employers paid for her chemotherapy drugs. Almost a year later, she completed chemotherapy and started the hormonal treatment, which entails taking a single pill daily for five years. It is upon the completion of this treatment that one can be declared cancer-free. Although she had been diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer which has a very low survival rate, Nakigudde’s positive outlook on her situation and her strict adherence to treatment saw her get declared cancer-free. Before starting chemotherapy, the young and childless Nakigudde had been told about the effects of chemotherapy on one’s fertility and the effects of the hormonal drugs on the children if one is lucky to conceive at all. “I was told that I might have children with Down syndrome because of the hormonal treatment,” says Nakigudde. “I actually had my son while undergoing the hormonal treatment. He is a brilliant twelve-year-old boy who has never repeated a class. He is my miracle baby.”

    Gertrude NakiguddeBreast Cancer Survivor
  • Rebecca Mayengo is a breast cancer survivor and chairperson of the Uganda Women’s Cancer Support Organisation. At the end of a summer vacation in Virginia, USA, in 2004, a cancer diagnosis was the last thing on Rebecca Mayengo’s mind. “I was feeling good. My employer in Sierra Leone had sponsored the holiday. I had had a good time with my sister and other friends who lived in Virginia and Maine. I was looking forward to returning to work.” A year before, Mayengo had been studying for a PhD in Developmental Psychology at Howard University in Washington State, USA. However, when she got a consultancy at The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT), at their Sierra Leone office, she put her studies on hold for a while. A week to the end of her holiday, she checked into Inova Alexandria Hospital for a routine medical checkup. It was a standard regulation that employees in her organisation had medical checkups at least once a year. “I was not ill. In fact, I had not been sick in a long time. As I lay on the examination table, the things I had planned to do that day were running through my mind.” When the doctor got to her left breast, he took a particularly long time probing around it. “How long have you had this lump?” the doctor asked suddenly. Mayengo was shocked. She thought the doctor had not checked properly. “He sent me to the next room to have a mammogram done on the breast,” she recalls. Confirming suspicions Having had a mammogram years before, with clear results, Mayengo entered the room hoping the doctor had made a mistake. To be sure, he made an appointment for her to have a biopsy, the next day. As she recalls the procedure, Mayengo’s tone of voice lowers. Unconsciously, her left hand goes up to the affected breast. The biopsy confirmed it was a malignant tumour. “I had breast cancer. I looked at those results and I started praying to God. I had no alternative,” she says. A history of the disease Mayengo believes that breast cancer is hereditary in her family. “Many women on my father’s side have died of breast cancer. Some die young; others get it in their old age. One of our grandmothers died a very painful death because the affected breast was not removed,” she explains. Early this year, Mayengo lost a cousin to the disease. Tackling the tumour With results in hand, Mayengo returned to her doctor who recommended a surgeon. Given medical insurance from her employer, the operation could take place immediately. “That was the first blessing. I was living with my sister at the time. When I got home, I called my bosses and informed them. Then I called my family members. They were devastated. My sons thought I was going to die.” However, Mayengo no longer felt that she was going to die and she attributes this to the psychological atmosphere in the hospital. Her surgeon’s examination found that one lymph node in her armpit had been eaten up, and another was half destroyed. “The fact that only two lymph nodes had been destroyed so far was good news. The surgeon recommended a lumpectomy.” Lumpectomy is the removal of the breast tumour and some of the tissue that surrounds it. The operation went well and after recovery, Mayengo was placed on chemotherapy. Her sister drove her to the clinic, making sure she kept all her appointments. “I was going once a week to the hospital for the drugs to be infused into my blood system. The drugs were very strong. Now there are better, milder drugs on the market because of continual research,” she says. After the second session, Mayengo’s oncologist informed her that her hair would fall out, as a side effect. Her sense of taste also disappeared. “I had to force myself to eat to maintain my blood count. I was mostly drinking Chinese and tomato soup, and plenty of water to wash the drugs out of my system.” At the same time, a new breast cancer drug—Herceptin—was on trial in the US. The oncologist asked Mayengo if she was willing to try the drug, as part of the research. She agreed and was chosen to receive the expensive drug, free of charge. After chemotherapy, the next stage was radiotherapy. This uses carefully measured and controlled high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. “As I walked into the hospital for my first session, a beautiful black woman was coming out. Her makeup was perfect. She asked why I looked frightened. She asked if it was my first time and I nodded. She laughed and told me not to worry. She had been through radiotherapy three times in her life.” Encouraged, Mayengo stepped into the reception. “When the radiologist came out, he introduced himself and asked if I was from Uganda. Of course he had read my file beforehand, but I was surprised that he was playing East African music in the background. I think it was African Safari. It just soothed me.” The sessions happened daily, and lasted a month, after which, she was placed on hormonal therapy treatment for five years. Mayengo’s breast cancer was ER-positive, which meant that the cells contained oestrogen, a female sex hormone. The hormonal therapy treatment was to stop the growth of the tumour by blocking the production of oestrogen. In 2008, with one year left on her treatment schedule, Mayengo returned to Uganda. Her husband had been supportive, but her co-wife told people that no one survived cancer and Mayengo would soon die. “The irony of life is terrible. She developed a lump in her throat. Tests confirmed that she had throat cancer. Even with specialised treatment but there was nothing the doctors could do. She died in 2012. It was a terrible experience for my husband. I think he worries that I will also die soon,” she adds. However, for a 70- year-old woman, Rebecca Kiziri Mayengo looks fit. “I attribute this to the fact that I jog every day and because of that, I have been cancer-free for eleven years,” she says. Mayengo is the chairperson, Uganda Women’s Cancer Support Organisation (UWOCASO), an organisation she joined when she returned to Uganda in 2008. When cancer is in remission, patients are advised to have medical checkups every year, to detect if the cancer is recurring. Due to immigration laws, Mayengo was unable to return to the USA. Her checkups are now done at the Cancer Institute in Mulago hospital. “The bone scan is quite expensive and recently, the scanner broke down. I have to go to Nairobi. The radiation machine is on and off. It is terrible for patients who cannot afford other alternatives. Any pain in my body sends me into a panic. My first thoughts always go to cancer, wondering if it has recurred through another organ,” she explains. After the panic passes, Mayengo reminds herself by God’s Grace, the cancer will not come back.

    Rebecca Kiziri MayengoBreast Cancer Survivor
  • The husband’s love saw me through my battle with breast cancer When Mercy Tayebwa was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was devastated, so was her husband. Faced with uncertainty, they leaned on each other for support to face the arduous journey ahead. When Mercy Tayebwa was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was devastated, so was her husband. Faced with uncertainty, they leaned on each other for support to face the arduous journey ahead. Agnes Kyotalengerire brings you their story I was there for Mercy when she needed me The news of his wife being diagnosed with breast cancer was devastating, but Geoffrey Tayebwa, now 50 years old, had to provide a strong shoulder for his wife to cry on. “When my wife broke the news, I got scared but had to be strong for her sake. I encouraged her to go for surgery instead of die in pain,” Tayebwa recalls. Although he has heard stories of fellow men abandoning their wives after they have been diagnosed with breast cancer, it was the last thing on Tayebwa’s mind. He got a lot of advice on what he should do, but at the end of the day, Tayebwa made the decision to stand by his wife. “Mercy is my wife and my best friend. If I did not stand by her, who would?” The doctors gave him the assurance that if Mercy got treatment before the cancer spreads, she would heal. Tayebwa says Mercy is a courageous woman who was determined to take her treatment. “She said she was going for surgery and the entire treatment course,” Tayebwa says. After having the mastectomy — surgery to remove the affected breast — there was the chemotherapy and its adverse side effects. Mercy lost her hair; her skin and nails darkened; and there was the endless vomiting. His voice lowers a notch as Tayebwa recollects how he painfully watched Mercy regurgitate her food. Sometimes it was like she was going to die the next minute. Tayebwa got in touch with women from Uganda Women Cancer Support Organisation who had won the battle with breast cancer to visit and encourage Mercy. At the time she was diagnosed, Mercy was working with Uganda Women Finance Trust Bank in Bugiri, but she had to stop work to get treatment. At the time, there was no free chemotherapy and radiotherapy at Mulago Hospital. Very few Ugandans could afford it. However, Tayebwa says, managing the cost of treatment was not the issue, but getting willingness, commitment and support from friends and relatives. Dr Margret Okello, a breast cancer survivor, gave Mercy medicine to stop the vomiting. In addition, friends and relatives came in and provided the support they could. Tayebwa had to be sensitive on what to say and do to avoid Mercy feeling like she was marginalised because of her illness. He urges fellow men to show affection to their wives during the trying moment when their wives are diagnosed and are undergoing cancer treatment. “Show her that you are there for her because it is at that time that she needs you most,” he says. “Husbands are the immediate relatives supposed to encourage their wives to seek treatment and support them throughout, but we never do it,” Tayebwa laments. He urges all cancer patients, survivors and those who have lost their wives to come together and form an association to encourage themselves or their wives. Geoffrey’s support kept me going In February 2005, Mercy felt a lump in her left breast. She immediately consulted a doctor who examined and encouraged her to do a mammography (breast examination). The results were not clear, so the oncologists at Uganda Cancer Institute advised her to do a needle aspiration biopsy. The results were also not clear. Mercy was referred to a surgeon, Dr Josephat Jombwe, who recommended that the lump in her breast be removed and taken for pathology. The tissue was confirmed to be cancerous. Pathology studies the causes and effects of diseases by examining samples of body tissue. Mercy was alone when she picked her results. “I screamed and cried my heart out. Later, I composed myself, drove home and broke the news to my husband,” Mercy says. It was a trying moment, but her husband kept encouraging her. They also got in touch with relatives who had suffered breast cancer and members of Uganda Women Cancer Support Organisation who counseled and encouraged her. The doctors advised her to have a mastectomy because they did not know how far the cancer had spread. Her surgery in April 2005 was successful. In May 2006, she started chemotherapy. It was the hardest part of her cancer treatment journey. She did not mind losing her hair, or her skin and nails darkening because she had witnessed it with breast cancer patients. Her biggest hurdle was accessing the treatment which was costly. She needed a dose of chemotherapy every three weeks. Unlike other patients who abandon the treatment, Mercy persisted and completed all her chemotherapy as scheduled. A week after she completed chemotherapy, she was started on radiotherapy five days a week for six weeks. In October 2006, she completed radiotherapy and was started on hormonal treatment; Tamoxifen which was meant to last five years. Tamoxifen is used to treat breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, to treat breast cancer in certain patients after surgery and radiation therapy, and to reduce the chances of breast cancer in high-risk patients. Along the way she discovered she was pregnant and had to stop the treatment. What her husband’s support meant to her Mercy recalls that the biggest challenge was waking up early to go for radiotherapy from 6:30am to 7:00am. Luckily, her husband was supportive and drove her to Mulago Hospital every morning. Mercy says Tayebwa was there for her at the time she needed him for material, social and emotional support. Mercy remembers how she got a craving for mangoes during chemotherapy. At that time, they were out of season and expensive, but Tayebwa endeavoured to bring her mangoes. “My husband suffered sleepless nights, encouraged and always reminded me to go for treatment on time. If it was not for him may be I would not have completed my treatment. I almost gave up on the third dose of chemotherapy due to severe vomiting,” she says. Mercy says Tayebwa has become so passionate about cancer. He has learnt, the hard way, what it means to give support to a cancer patient. “He allows me to travel and participate in various cancer awareness activities,” she confesses. “May be if we had not gotten in touch with breast cancer survivors, I would not have taken a decision to get treatment,” she admits. Mercy’s miracle baby When Mercy Tayebwa was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was 36 years old. Her first son was 13. Tayebwa never expected his wife to conceive again given that some of the ripple effects of cancer treatment are interfering with a woman’s fertility. Tayebwa considers Mercy’s pregnancy during hormonal treatment a miracle. “I developed malaria and vomiting; I thought it was the side effects of the treatment. Pregnancy was the last thing on my mind. I had stopped menstruating when I started chemotherapy,” Mercy says. It was until she took a pregnancy test that she believed she was pregnant. She was happy about the news of the pregnancy. She carried her pregnancy to full term without any complications. She delivered by caesarean section and breastfed her baby for three months before she reported back to work. “We had waited 13 years for our second baby. She came after the cancer treatment and more so, the breast is gone,” says Mercy. “The coming of our second child, Elsie Nyonyozi, now seven years old, is something I consider a reward for our patience,” Tayebwa says. “It showed me that Mercy’s losing one breast was not the end of everything." Take the breast self- exam Be aware that breast cancer is real. Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Are your breasts their usual size, shape, and colour? Are they evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling? If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor's attention: Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin. A nipple that has changed position or become inverted (pushed inward instead of sticking out). Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling. Raise your arms and look for the same changes. An unusual lump in your breast. His love saw me through my battle with breast cancer

    Mercy Oikirize TayebwaBreast Cancer Survivor
  • ‘When I found out I had cancer, I wanted to kill myself’ For many of us, the closest we have come in contact with the cancer epidemic is probably what we have heard from friends and colleagues. For those that have been fortunate enough to visit the cancer institute, we all know the pain that cancer patients are experiencing. Many times, those that suffer from cancer have minimal survival chances unless detected early. That is why Hilda Mwesigwa felt hopless when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. When I meet Mwesigwa for the interview, at first I think I am probably meeting the wrong person. For someone that had previously suffered from breast cancer, she looks quite healthy, strong and very jolly. “I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August, 2011. I discovered that I had a lump in one of my breasts in mid July 2011, but did not think it was serious. I checked myself while I was lying on my bed. However, two weeks later, I discovered that the lump had grown twice in size,” she says. She adds that it is at this point that she realised that she needed to have a medical checkup done to ascertain what it is that she was suffering from. “I went to AAR where the doctor also felt the lump and advised me to have a mammogram done after one week. But because I didn’t know what to expect at this point, I felt a week was too long for me to live without knowing exactly what was wrong, so I decided to go to IHK where I had a scan done on my breast,” she says. At IHK, she was advised to do a biopsy. At this point, she was very worried and didn’t know what to expect. “All of this was happening so fast. I didn’t know what to expect. The results from these tests I was told, were to be out after two weeks. And as soon as the two weeks elapsed, I went back to the hospital for them,” she says. The shocking results All this time, she hoped and prayed that the results came out with some good news, and probably it had simply been a false alarm. Unknown to her, those results were to change her life. “On August 23, I returned to the hospital to pick my results. I just wanted to pass by, pick my results, which I knew would come out with some good news and proceed to work. However, when I got to the lab, I was handed my results in an envelope,” she adds. One would wonder why Mwesigwa didn’t in the slightest way think she would have cancer, since she had discovered the lump herself. “I had googled and read a lot about cancer. I had read that cancer came with pain and many other symptoms, which I did not have. And so this gave me the morale that I was well. When I the document was handed to me at the laboratory, I perused it, and at one point, I thought I saw the word “cancer” somewhere, but I quickly brushed away any such thoughts,” she says. In her mind, she was convinced that all was well, and she even began making plans for a thanks giving mass. However all these plans evaporated afew moments after she walked in to the doctor’s office. “After I had read through my results, I was supposed to see the doctor for an assessment. As soon as he looked at my results, he seemed quite delighted and told me that I was actually very lucky that the carcinoma was actually still in it’s early stages and there was no cause for alarm. So I asked him what he meant by carcinoma ( this is any malignant cancer that arises from epithelial cells). When he explained to me that the results showed that I had cancer, I immediately began screaming and wailing,” she goes on to say. The result slip of someone that has been tested for cancer does not state that one is suffering from cancer or is cancer free. Rather, it simply states the stage in which ones’ cancer has progressed, and this could probably be one of the reasons why Mwesigwa failed to understand her result slip. “I could not believe what the doctor had just told me. Deep down, I always thought cancer affected only elderly people. So that is why I could not easily absorb this news. I was asked to sit for a few hours as I waited for the doctor that had done the biopsy on me and all this time I was wailing and screaming,” she adds. Contemplating suicide From what she had heard, Mwesigwa knew that cancer was terminal and to her, there was no point living each day, knowing that she would suffer with this terminal disease for the rest of her life. She began contemplating suicide. “At this point, I just wanted to walk into a truck and be hit to death! I knew that since I had cancer, I would die very soon and so there was no reason to continue living in so much pain, when I could just put an end to it. However, I received some counseling immediately and this helped me get these thoughts out of my head,” she says. When the doctor that she had been waiting for all this while came in, he recommended that she goes through surgery, as soon as possible. That was a Tuesday. He recommended that surgery be carried out two days later. “The surgery the doctor suggested was to remove the part of the breast that had been affected. At this point, I was very confused. I didn’t feel like I was ready to go through all these things,” she adds. The following day she went to her work place, and asked for leave so she would prepare for her surgery. However, her boss thought the surgery had been rushed and recommended that she visits the Cancer Institute at Mulago. At the centre, she was advised to first have a few tests done to ascertain that the cancer had not spread to the rest of her body. Going for chemotherapy “I had my chest, stomach and many other parts of my body scanned. After this, I was advised to first go under chemotherapy before undergoing surgery. So my first chemotherapy appointment was scheduled for Monday, the following week. I was however told the side effects of the chemo, like my hair would fall off, my nails darken, and many other side effects,” she adds. Mwesigwa was supposed to undergo six cycles of chemotherapy, beginning with three after which she would have surgery then have her breast removed, before proceeding with the last three chemotherapy cycles. “By the time of my second chemotherapy, I was very bold. My nails also began to darken, and I had also lost my appetite, so eating became very difficult. I had sores all over my body, diarrhea, constipation and many other effects,” she says. Finding strength Mwesigwa not only drew her strength from her family especially her husband that was with her every step of the way, but also from testimonies of other cancer survivors from UWOCASO. “I had attained some inspirational reading material like the Jane Plant, a literary work by an author who had survived cancer five times. I drew a lot of strength and inspiration from this book,” she says. On October 25, 2011, Mwesigwa underwent her surgery at Nakasero Hospital to have her breast removed. “The surgery went well. A month later, I went through the last three chemotherapy sessions. After this, I had to have radiotherapy done, to ensure that there were no cancer cells left in my body.” However since there was no equipment at Mulago Hospital to carry out the radiotherapy, she had to travel to Nairobi, to have it done. With some assistance from friends and workmates, she was able to raise the funds. “I underwent six weeks of radiotherapy on a daily basis. After this, I had some tests done that later proved that I had been healed of cancer. This was the greatest day of my life. What people need to know is that if the cancer is detected early, there are chances of one surviving as long as treatment is done early. Strain of her cancer on family “At the time of my diagnosis, my daughter was due to sit for her primary living exams. And so my illness was a great blow to our family. I just felt that everything was moving too fast. At one point, I was healthy and strong, and here I was going through surgeries, tests and numerous treatments. It was just too much for my family and I to take in. Mother had to move in with me so that she could take care of me. Even the people that came to see me never seemed to be so encouraging. Many thought I was going to die. I was bold and had lost a lot of weight.” . She adds that the reason why many people do not survive cancer is that they do not have the cancer detected early and by the time they go to the cancer institute, its too late. She however advises people especially those with cancer to be positive and go on with their lives. “In some cases like mine, where I had my breast cut off, it can be psychologically torturing. The thought of living with one breast when I was born with two was very traumatising. But later, I managed to pull through and thanked God that at least I was alive, and I could live on, even with one breast,” she says. She is however quick to point out that cancer is actually genetic, and remembers an aunt that died of cancer when she was still very little. Grateful for second chances Among the many problems she faced and believes that many cancer patients face is the conflicting misleading advice from their friends and colleagues. “People will fill your mind with all sorts of weird advice. Sometimes people would tell me not to have my breast cut off, that I would die. Others advised me to resort to herbs. And the most shocking of them all was of some people that told me to just pray and that would be enough to cure me,” she says. As her final remarks, Mwesigwa attributes her second chance to life to God, who granted her the will to live again and go through her cancer. “Aside from God, who saw me through the cancer ailment, I would also like to thank my loving and caring husband, Pius who stood by me, and supported me all the way,” she says. She also wishes to extend her gratitude to her family, friends, in-laws and the management and staff of the public procurement development authority for standing by her and all their support and prayers. Her special thanks go to Dr Jackson Orem, Dr Victoria Walusansa, Dr Nelson Owori, Anselmy Opio and all their nurses for their love, support and care.

    Hilda Kemigisha MwesigwaBreast Cancer Survivor