A string of a few words can change your life. Sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently. Some can change your life for the better and others for the worse. Like me, a lot of you reading this are currently anxiously waiting for a “We are pleased to inform you…” Something that tells you that there is some plot continuity coming in your story. But nobody is currently anxiously waiting for anything that begins with a “We regret to inform you…”
How do you deal when what follows, “We regret to inform you..” has the words “breast cancer” in close proximity to it? How do you further deal when the word “mastectomy” is anywhere near the word “cancer”? How do you even further deal when it’s not you receiving this string of words, but a loved one? There is a certain loss of control when it is you receiving that diagnosis. But when it is someone else that you love. You completely have no control.
On June 26th, 2017, Nancy Githoitho’s mum passed on after an arduous battle with breast cancer. Just a little over a year and a half after her diagnosis. A mastectomy had to be performed in an attempt to stave off the cancer. But nothing is ever guaranteed after the word “cancer” comes into play. “It was a period when we were both eating bitter lemons”, said Nancy. “This is what inspired the name Limau for this organization. When life gives you lemons… ” Nancy leads a community based organization known as Limau Cancer Connection. Her and her team travel around the country training women to knit “Knitted Knockers”.
Nancy and her team do not just provide training on how to make the woolen prosthetics, they also provide a safe space for breast cancer survivors to build a community of support around each other. “We connect Cancer survivors with affordable resources that enable them to live a healthier and longer life after Cancer diagnosis.”
As of 2016, The Kenya Ministry of Health statistics showed that out every 100,000 Kenyan women, 34 had a breast cancer diagnosis. In 2017, the Kenya National Cancer Institute reported that 40,000 Kenyans are dying from cancer annually. This is a staggering warning that our health care needs much more attention than we may think.
Other than death, breast cancer comes with the painful consequence that in order to save the life of the affected or at least slow the cancer down, one or both of the breasts must be surgically removed. It is after a mastectomy that the breast cancer survivor will then be provided with a prosthetic breast to give the impression of normalcy (depending on your definition of normal).
Being a part of the trip to Nyeri and the Limau communications network, I have had a chance to see, first hand, what it feels like to be griping with a breast cancer diagnosis. I never really imagined anyone would say something like, “I thought it only affects drinkers and smokers.” I never thought whole families were capable of abandoning someone like they never existed. Or that a husband would divorce their wife without even letting them know. How that is possible is baffling! But it somehow happens.
As difficult as it they are sometimes, we live life with a certain amount of comfort. A belief that plot continuity is assured because of various things we practice and have faith in. But a string of a few words can change life. In a completely incomprehensible way. When that happens, sometimes you need a community of people who understand to help you find the potential lemonade in the bitterness.
“We need funding for the recommended 100% cotton yarn (ultra soft) which costs us KShs950 to buy one skein . The normal acrylic yarn shrinks and becomes hard after washing and is not recommended. Women who can’t afford the prosthetics, have been using socks, rags, and handkerchiefs to stuff the bras which makes the breast look uneven. The other option is to walk without anything . Our mission here is to make sure no woman walks without a breast”, says Nancy.
Click here to find out more about Limau.
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