Weaving mats to sustain cancer patients
By Harriet Owalla
While much emphasis has been placed on Covid 19, many cancer patients feel abandoned and are suffering in their homes to access hospital and more so because of funds to assist them gain treatment. Some, even lack the bus fare to take them to the hospital for treatment. Some of those living in slums, have lost their homes during demolitions and have no place to sleep. However, Millicent Kagonga, a cervical cancer survivor, living in the settlements of Kariobangi is assisting these patients access NHIF. She is weaving mats and selling them and the cash received is assisting these patients access treatment and fare to get to the hospitals.
“NHIF was a challenge and when we find a partner who has financially supported the patients, we give them the mat to appreciate their efforts. With the virus sometimes doctors delay to discharge cancer patients and NHIF pays for the specific number of days indicated which sometimes go beyond and the patient is forced to cater for their treatment with their own cash which sometimes they don’t have. The family supposed to pay cash is poor and could not even afford to pick their mother from hospital,” she narrates
Currently, 67 cancer patients have had access to treatment thanks to the initiative. Each mat goes for three thousand shillings 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.
“The mats are like therapy because after you have been treated there are different things that happened to you. I know the stigma that these people have gone through because I too have gone through them. Like for me, I am 30 years and I can’t give birth and maybe I’ll never get married. And also once you are treated, there are jobs that you can’t do and so the mats sustains us and also helps us cope with these difficulties mentally,” she says
They also make prosthesis breasts for the breast cancer patients who have had their 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 of what she had noticed. Millicent also didn’t know what cancer was, and believed that it was a disease for the rich and would never affect her. For six years, she remained in this condition until she met a friend she could talk to that she shared what she was going through and the friend advised her to have the discharged checked at the hospital
“When I went there, the doctors examined me and found out that I had cancer. At first, I wanted to end my life as the news was too heavy for me and I didn’t believe that I could get it.”
She braved on and began her treatments in the year 2017 at Kenyatta hospital. Her treatment involved 25 radio therapy, 6 chemotheraphies, and three bracitheraphies. The lack of cash made her miss some of the treatments and sometimes money to even take her to the hospital.
“Sometimes she would walk all the way from Kariobangi to Kenyatta just to get treatment. I would sometimes even sleep at casualty because of lack of fare. In that year alone she received 17 pints of blood because with cervical cancer one keeps bleeding,” she recalls
The cancer patients whom she found at the hospital became her friends and they encouraged each other. Some would bring food where 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, for cancer patients who like her, faced similar challenges and had no one to talk to. Millicent had also faced a lot of stigma in her community at Kariobangi and wanted to change their perception on cancer.
“I would stink and sometimes when I go to the toilet no one would allow me to get in. some would not even greet me because they thought that I would infect them with the disease. That’s when I began a support group called symbol of hope whose first meeting began at her home. When I began to talk the patients gained the courage to share what they were experiencing and that’s how it all began,” Millicent narrates
She first began by showing people directions and discovered that some didn’t even know where the NHIF offices were, or where they could find pain killers at the hospital in case they arrived in so much pain just before treatment. What began with just 4 people has not grown to 123 cancer patients receiving a shelter to cry on in their greatest need.
“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.”