Seven years ago, Eunice Muriuki was only 28 years old when her doctor during her annual check-up found a lump in her right breast. The prospect of a lump being found in her breast, however, did not leave her in a cold sweat. After all, it was just a lump and it could as well just be nothing, she convinced herself.
A Fine Needle Biopsy was recommended to determine if the lump was indeed cancerous, but the results came back inconclusive. Next, the doctor suggested that a whole lump be taken out for a full biopsy. After six months of consultations between doctors and samples of the lump sent abroad, she received a positive diagnosis.
The results showed that she had Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, a type of breast cancer that begins in the lobules, milk-producing glands of the breast. It is a rare type of breast cancer. “I went numb. I felt a mixture of negative emotions. But I did not break down,” Muriuki remembers.
As if the diagnosis was not enough, she was told that she had no choice but to have the breast removed as soon as possible so that the cancer, which had reached stage three, does not spread further. Surgery was scheduled to take place within two days. Still, she did not cry.
Maybe because this was not the first time she was being diagnosed with a lethal disease. As a toddler, Muriuki had been diagnosed with Urine Reflux, a condition that has urine flowing back to the kidneys from the bladder. She has had this condition monitored all through her life.
On the material day, all brave to the amazement of the doctors, family and friends, Muriuki walked into the theatre waiting room to have the mastectomy done. “It was while I was seated on that chair, at the theatre waiting area when the reality of what was about to happen to me sank in.
The thought of having one of my breasts cut off became too much for me and I was inconsolable,” she recounts. The surgery had to be delayed for a few minutes to allow her time to grieve and even at some point the surgeons contemplated postponing the procedure.
She was able to recollect herself and was ready for the surgery. What followed was cycles of chemotherapy and then radiotherapy that drained all her energy and saw her hair fall off.
The treatment process was heart-breaking for her and her family. She is glad she was able to pull through and today she has been declared cancer-free. But there was one nagging issue after the surgery. When the layer after layer of bandages were peeled off, one side of her chest remained flat.
“It felt weird when I went to the bathroom or changed clothes and all I could see was a bare chest. It brought feelings of emptiness. I decided to take matters to restore some normalcy to my body and I ordered for prosthesis through a friend who lived abroad,” she says.
Then one year down the line, an encounter with a woman she met by chance during a check-up visit at the clinic helped change her bitter lemon into lemonade. “The woman who had also had a mastectomy wondered how my chest looked so normal. I told her about the prosthetics and she was excited about it.
The lady went on to look for them in town, but she could not find her size. Only one shop in town stocked the artificial breasts, but for a while they had not been restocking and she could not find her size.
So the lady asked me to order some for her,” she narrates about how her prosthesis business began. Having always thought of being an entrepreneur as well as learning from her father’s entrepreneurial skills, Muriuki did her research and came across a company, which allowed her to be one of their distributors in the East African market; SimplyMe boutique was born.
The success of her business has been largely due to her good relationship with doctors. She meets most of her clients either at clinics and support groups, some being newly diagnosed breast cancer patients who just lost their breasts.
Being a survivor, she also offers victims of mastectomy words of encouragement and a shoulder to lean on. A bra without a prosthesis ranges from Sh5,000 and one with a prosthesis costs up to Sh15,000.
Gym-goers or swimmers will part with Sh25,000 for suitable prosthesis that has ripples on the inside that enable water to flow and also for aeration purposes. The more expensive ones are stick-ons, which make a woman feel as close to natural as possible. Her dream for the future is to be able to manufacture her own bras.