The day I lost my breast is the last day I saw my husband. I do not want to talk about it though. When I was discharged, he did not come to take me home. My friend took me to her house.
I woke up to a giant wet patch on my bed. ‘The breast milk must have leaked throughout the night’, I immediately thought to myself, because three months earlier, I was a breastfeeding mother. But on closer inspection, the patch was bloody.
Then I realized it was from my right breast. I knew something was very wrong.
I rushed to the cancer institute at Mulago referral hospital. A number of tests done including a mammogram, MRI scan and X-ray all turned out negative for cancer. The year was 2013.
My right nipple was cut off, and the discharge stopped. Meanwhile, tests on the severed nipple also turned out negative for cancer. I was given antibiotics and returned home to heal.
Two years later in 2015, I got occasional extremely sharp pain in the same breast. Once, it started when I was driving and I rammed into a car. I screamed in pain for about five minutes. The driver did not castigate me. He probably thought I was crazy. He simply drove off.
My husband insisted that I return to hospital for a checkup. I vehemently declined because back in 2013, the cancer scare had taken a toll on me. After all, the doctor said I had tested negative.
I had an ample burst, and it was obvious that the right breast was facing more to the right than front. I consoled myself that it was a side effect of nipple surgery.
Tricked into seeing the doctor
One Friday, my husband asked me to meet him at a hospital, to help someone. I hurriedly went there and he asked me to enter a certain room with him. As soon as we entered the doctor looked up and asked, “Who of you is the patient?” and my husband pointed at me. And there I knew that I had been tricked. I was forcefully undressed and once the breast was exposed, the doctor exclaimed, “Where have you been? You are very sick!”
The shape of the breast showed it had a lump. The doctor said I most likely had cancer and needed to undergo tests. Broken, I walked to my car, burst into tears and cursed the day I was born.
I knew the cancer was going to kill me. At that point I could see myself in a coffin; I could see my children crying and helpless. I wanted to be alone, to try and accept the situation. I decided to check myself into a hotel for two days.
Buying the poison
While at the hotel, I planned to buy poison to kill my two children and I. My son was three and the girl was 13. I felt like no one could take care of my children the way I do, not even their father. I had to die with them.
On the third day my husband picked me up. I asked him to take me to a supermarket. I bought rat poison, hid it my bag and continued home. I badly wanted a chance to be with the children alone so that I could poison the three of us.
Finally, I asked them upstairs to my bedroom and they eagerly followed me. In the bedroom I asked my daughter to bring me a glass of water. While handing me the glass she asked if I was fine. I said I was and walked to the bathroom with it and mixed the rat poison into the water.
On return I asked myself, What if my children die and I do not, what would happen to me? What if I die and they do not? I looked into their innocent faces and decided that because of them I had to fight and beat cancer.
I asked them to leave. Their father came up to our bedroom and I was weeping hard, next to the glass. I pointed to the glass and told him that I had planned to kill my children and I. He screamed, “Are you crazy?” and immediately poured the contents of the glass.
We then went to an imaging center, to have the tests that had been advised earlier and they were all positive for cancer. I cried but said that for my children, I would fight.
The doctor scheduled for the surgery but I did not have it done then because I did have the money. I had to fundraise for funds. People were there for me, because everything was expensive but I did not lack. My messages asking for funds went viral.
On 30th December 2015, I went to The Surgery hospital in Kololo and the breast was cut off. I was admitted for about four weeks. The pain was immense. I was discharged on 3rd January 2016.
That is when I felt the emotional pain. As I dressed up to leave I looked into the mirror. I realized it was real. I had no breast on the right.
People were waiting outside my room to receive me. However, I locked myself up and cried out. The doctors were surprised because they had not seen me cry before.
My husband leaves
The day I lost my breast is the last day I saw my husband. I don’t want to talk about it. When I was discharged, he did not care to come take me home. My friend took me to her house.
Within two weeks I had regained my strength. I could move around that I could even drive myself to hospital to clean and change the dressing. A month later I went home but I did not feel alright living there, so I went to my parents’ house.
In March I started chemotherapy, and lost my job as well. A friend got me a temporary job in Kampala Capital City Authority. Though I was undergoing therapy and only worked two weeks a month because of the tough side effects from chemotherapy, they let me be and I loved it. It kept me busy.
During chemotherapy, patients usually have suppressed immunity and can easily catch diseases but I thank God I never got sick. However, my complexion darkened, my nails and hair fell out, and I developed mouth sores. I also vomited a lot.
Many fear chemotherapy but I went through it, and I encourage everyone undergoing that they too can come out victor like me. It’s about keeping a positive attitude. I went through a lot but I told myself I had to be okay. I completed chemotherapy in July last year.
Losing the second breast
I started losing my balance because the breast on the left was heavy yet I was flat on the right. My doctor advised to have the second breast cut off to regain my balance and as well, stop any chances of the cancer re occurring in the second breast.
In September last year, the second breast was cut off. By then I knew life was more worth than breasts, I thanked God that though I did not have breasts, I had life!
I then went to Nairobi for radiotherapy. I was among the lucky few at the cancer institute to be flown to Nairobi for radiotherapy by the government everything paid for, since the radiotherapy machine at Mulago was down.
I was there for one a half months and returned in December. I went to the cancer institute for review and the results were good. I was then put on oral medication up to now.
I am taking medicine everyday worth sh100,000. I do not have a paying job but I am surviving. Sometimes I don’t know where I’m going to get money then I receive a call from a well-wisher.
Starting Cancer Pulse foundation
While facing cancer, I lost a job, my husband walked out on me. I lost many friends, yet I needed support. For starters, I want to people to know that cancer patients need support. When I was diagnosed with cancer, many considered me a moving corpse. So many have gone through it and do not want to talk about this but I will. Both cancer patients and their care givers need to keep positive.
Employers should know cancer is not a death sentence, people should learn how to live with us like they live with HIV positive people.
I also want to encourage seeking medical attention to treat cancer. Many are taking herbs. They come to hospital when it’s too late.
The foundation is not for the sick and care givers only. Cancer can be eliminated and I want us to save the world. People need to know the lifestyle they can lead to minimize their chances of developing cancer.
On 27th October, we will launch at Africana hotel, by the Katikiro of Buganda, the proprietor of Africana has provided the venue for free. People should come see testimonies of survivors and those who were affected by cancer. To be part of the launch, call me on 0701066275 or 0786021776.
Her doctor speaks out
Henry Ddungu, Nayiga’s oncologist at the Cancer institute explains that usually, breast cancer originates from the milk forming ducts of the breasts, and is among the top five commonest cancers in Uganda. He continues the commonest symptom of the cancer is a painless lump in the breast. The other symptom is a discharge, a blood stained discharge from the nipple.
Being female. Ddungu points out that only one percent of all breast cancers are in men.
Age. The older one grows, the higher the risk of developing breast cancer or other cancers.
Family history of a relative with breast cancer
Certain genes can be associated with breast cancer and celebrities such as Angelina Jolie who have over expression of such genes and have undergone Preventive treatment by have surgeries to remove their breasts
Exposure to tobacco.
The oncologist adds that the commonest cause is unknown because one may have none of the above and still get breast cancer.
He continues that the principle for cancer in general is when its caught early, it can be treated to go away.
“Unfortunately, 80% of the patients turn up with advanced cancer. And we refer them for palliative care. Breast cancer can be cured. That is why we encourage people to look out for it,” Ddungu points out.
Methods of treatment
“When one presents with a lump in the breast, we need to confirm a diagnosis. We want to be sure the tumor is cancerous. We start with a mammography which is an x ray of the breast,” Ddungu explains.
“We carry out a biopsy. People are so worried but the best way to confirm the diagnosis of cancer is by getting tissue and doing special tests on it,” he continues.
Once cancer is confirmed, then the method of treatment is decided upon. If it is in stage four, the patient is referred for palliative care, because the cancer has already spread.
Treatment, when the cancer is caught early, is started by removing the tumor.
“There is a procedure we call breast conservation therapy, where we do surgery, just to remove the tumor by doing a wide incision to remove that swelling, or we can take out the entire breast through a process called modified radical mastectomy,” he explains.
This is followed with chemotherapy. He notes that in chemotherapy, different medicines can be given to treat the disease and that most people have reservations about it.
“But we can assure you that you can make it through much as you can get those temporary complications such as hair loss, reduced immunity. These temporary side effects can be treated. There are some myths such as fingers falling off, those are not true,” he says.
It is followed by radiation therapy where special x-rays are used to treat the patient. Radiation is followed by long term follow up treatment whereby medicine is given for at least five years to prevent re occurrence of the cancer. All these treatments are available at the cancer institute.
The oncologist also warns against turning to herbal medicines in place of prescribed cancer treatment from the hospital.
“I have seen so many patients who say they have had to try herbs, they get here and its stage four, too late. We have lost so many of them including big people. There is no alternative to cancer treatment. If you don’t treat it will kill you,” he warns.
According to the 2014 Kampala cancer registry, four out of every 100 women present with breast cancer.