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Cancer has robbed our children’s joy

No parent wants to hear that his/her child has a life-threatening illness. But cancer is not a respecter of age and children, too, have fallen victim. Najma Yusuf and John Mberia share their experiences after their kids were diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and leukemia, respectively 

Najma Yusuf grates beetroot for her young one in the ward that is now their new home in Kenyatta Hospital. She wants to make orange and beetroot juice. Her only hope is to make sure that her son has enough blood, especially after the chemotherapy treatment.

At this time, her two-year-old son Kalam Mohamed is deeply asleep as the rest of the children in the Cancer Ward play with their mates. To them, the tiny bed isn’t just a place they sleep in or where the young boy receives medication from, but it has become his second home.

About two months ago, Kalam began complaining of stomach upsets. At first, she would give him painkillers, but still, there was no change. “We checked into Kenyatta National Hospital.

Tests were done and the doctors said he has intussusception (a medical condition in which a part of the intestine folds into the section next to it). Later, they carried out a surgery and everything went on well. We were discharged after a couple of days,” recalls Najma.

A month later, the problem recurred. The boy started complaining of stomach as well as leg pains. “I brought him back to the hospital and a biopsy was done, the doctors later discovered that he has non-hodgkin lymphoma (cancer of the stomach),” she says.

The 25-year-old mother of four explains that this was the hardest point of her life. She didn’t know how exactly to handle the situation because of her son’s cries. She couldn’t bear to see him in pain. He was started on treatment immediately and has been undergoing chemotherapy.

Najma Yusuf’s two year old son has stomack cancer. The once joyful child now cries in pain. Photo/Sandra Wekesa

She hopes the hospital bill, which keeps on accumulating will not be too high for the family.

“The National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) caters for half the price, so I need to look for the rest of the money.

It is not an easy task, but with the help of my husband I am sure I will be able to pay for it all,” Najma says.

“My husband and everyone else have been supportive; they always make a point of visiting. Also, my other children are staying with my mother back in Mukuru kwa Njenga,” she says.

What Najma is sure of, is that her family has never been the same since her son was diagnosed with cancer. And it’s not any different for John Mberia who has been battling his three-year-old son’s leukemia, cancer of the blood, for the past eight months. Their only prayer is for Keith to get better.

Mberia recalls the day he returned from work and noticed his son’s stomach was swollen. At first he thought the boy had a bloated stomach, so he decided to treat him with painkillers.

However, the swelling didn’t subside, so he decided to seek medical advice. The moment they went to hospital  in Mombasa, the doctor prescribed antibiotics claiming that Keith had a bacterial infection. But the swelling didn’t go away. John says he got worried because his son’s health kept on deteriorating.

“Keith wasn’t getting any better. It got me worried that his stomach was swollen and hard. I kept on wondering what was going on. The most heartbreaking part was the fact that my ever-joyful son became dull and couldn’t play around with his older sister. I therefore, decided to come to Nairobi to seek further treatment,” says Mberia.

However, the family had to make an important decision. Mberia was to travel to Nairobi with his son, leaving his wife and daughter in Mombasa.

At first, Mberia decided to seek medical help from Gertrude’s Children Hospital. This is where he was diagnosed with leukemia. But the hospital bill became too high and the family decided to go to Texas Cancer Centre, Nairobi.

“A bone marrow test was the one that confirmed indeed my son had leukemia. I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do. I would cry and pray for my son at night. My son then started bleeding and became pale due to blood loss. However, with time, Keith started responding to treatment and was put on chemotherapy. His condition then improved,” he says.

Mberia says though he didn’t know anyone in Nairobi, he established contact with every blood transfusion centre incase his son required blood.

“My son and I have got a new home in Texas Cancer Centre. It is quite hard that we cannot be with the rest of the family members. Though they spare time to visit us, we hope everything will be okay and soon we will return back home,” he says. 

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