Below is Janet Kanini Ikua’s message from india where she is undergoing cancer treatment.
“Githeri ya maharagwe mbili na mahindi kumi…” that’s what my cousin says he’ll bring to the airport when I return from New Delhi because I have seriously missed eating Githeri! Marro! The stuff that my dear Precious Blood Riruta Class of 95 classmates and I enjoyed for 4 years in seco, sometimes layered with BB, avocado and for some (i.e. Cucu), with Peptang tomato sauce and Marie biscuits thrown in, since these were the only extra ‘goodies’ we were allowed to carry to school. Mchanganyiko maalum but very tasty!
There’s no marro here in India, although there are many peas, beans, green grams and other lentils cooked in different ways since many people are vegetarian. One dish that’s very tasty is Chole Bhatura yaani chick peas eaten with Purri – a kind of white mandazi that’s fascinating to watch being cooked – I’ll post the video so you can see. It starts flat and then suddenly swells up into a ball and is very, very tasty with the Chole.
If you’re feeling brave, add some gunpowder.
Okay not the black stuff. This gunpowder is an orange spicy powder that adds flavour to your dish.
Then there’s Hummus – pronounced Hamus – although the first time I saw its spelling I remembered the manure which my high school agriculture teacher used so I was worried…. but it turns out to be blended chick peas with garlic and olive oil, a healthier substitute for mayonnaise and thousand island sauce. Recently I started eating fresh Basil leaves from my friend’s kitchen garden (My husband says I’ve learnt how to chew the cud!). We’re staying with her and her Indian cook is excited to have a patient who he can fatten up on healthy Indian cooking. The diet includes one Amla fruit morning and night – now this is a fruit which Indian themselves aren’t fond off but which is very healthy. The reason? It is bitter. And sour. And did I say bitter? But after a couple of days I got used to it. Now it’s just a healthy, necessary part of everyday.
Chicken is popular, and there are many fast food restaurants that can deliver to your hostel / guesthouse / hotel. Indian spicy chicken dishes are great for people whose taste buds go on leave sometimes because of medication, like mine did. If you’re here for a long time look for places that sell pork and mutton, because you can not eat beef. It is actually illegal and you can be jailed! Ng’ombes, both male and female, are sacred to Hindus. They consider them to be their mothers because cows also produce milk. In fact my Mum was surprised one day when she was in a taxi and suddenly, without warning, the driver stopped, jumped out, ran to the boot, removed some chapati and went to feed a random cow on the road which was just chilling. It happily ate the chapo and the driver returned to the taxi, equally happy that he in turn has received blessings by that action. However most milk drank is from buffaloes…. that’s right. Don’t think about it too much, and preferably drink Indian masala tea which is full of flavour.
So if one day soon you see a Mama at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport digging into a flask of steaming githeri with a side dish of nyam chom and soup please understand. I salivate just thinking about it…. :-0
I’m glad I can write about food without feeling nauseous. After the second cycle of chemotherapy last week my appetite just disappeared. The thought and smell of food, even vegetables, was nauseating. I couldn’t escape drinking 4 litres water per day under my Mum’s watchful eye but why lie – eating was purely for the sake of creating a cushion in my stomach for drugs. It seems these side effects are unpredictable – the first chemo cycle left me with seriously bloodshot eyes (I won’t be surprised if people thought I had a massive hangover!), a 4 day fever as well as the grandmother of all migraines who came with her cousins to dig a shamba in my head with very blunt jembes, Non-stop. For 4 days. Fortunately these doctors or their residents/registrars pick their phones at any time so painkillers were quickly provided.
What begins must end, so here I am back to full energy, applying some funny-smelling Amla hair oil that helps to prevent hair loss in cancer patients. I came here with natural hair and one nurse was so jazzed when I plaited home-made twist dreadlocks like those that took me through campus in KU. She’s used to seeing Kenyans in weaves so she was quite fascinated! Anyway, after cycle 2 I noticed some extra hair staying on my comb. Women are advised not to put any chemical, weave or plait hairpiece until chemotherapy is over – your hair follicles are weakened – research online for more about hair care. There’s a lot of information on the internet so check it out BUT it’s important that you ask your oncologist and chemotherapist whether the info is true or false, because cancer types are different and so is their management. Different patients also have different side effects so don’t expect to look and feel like someone else – just be patient and take each day as it comes; you’re not alone. If side effects appear – sawa. Deal with them. Discuss them with someone, DO NOT keep things to yourself. It is frustrating going through the chemotherapy session in hospital feeling okay and then waking up over the next few days feeling like your body and mind are attacking themselves. Knowing that now you have to be careful of things that before didn’t matter so much – don’t eat fruits and veggies from anywhere unless very clean because your immunity is low and if you fall sick that’s bad….don’t expose yourself to colds and coughs – in fact some patients wear surgical masks to minimize the risk… don’t get bitten by a mosquito resulting in dengue (the worst outbreak in Delhi is currently on; it’s like malaria; lowers your blood platelet count badly and weakens a person for 2 weeks).
To our dear medical attendants and support system – please be patient with us. It is not easy keeping a positive spirit when your world has suddenly changed and people react to you like you’re already dead. CANCER IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE!!! So many people have recovered, even those in stage 4 like myself. The treatment, management and a lot of prayer will get you through. and miracles do happen. A lady I know didn’t start chemo at all and almost 2 years since her diagnosis in both Kenya and India she’s still living healthy. Other patients have been pronounced healed after 2 cycles instead of 6. I continue to believe that Healing is my portion, in fact I’m already sure that the clot which was sitting in the heart muscle is gone even without getting it checked out! I have learnt to smile through all this because, a few weeks ago, I finally surrendered all to God. I honestly did not know what to do next; or what my future held for me and my family. Will I be able to work properly? I have learnt that When you leave everything in God’s hands, you see God’s hands in everything! When you’re down to nothing, God is up to something! And let me tell you I can confidently testify to this scripture…Ephesians 3:20 “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.”
One of the hardest lessons to learn these past six and a half months has been patience. Waiting on God’s plan. So a friend sent me this message “Our prayers may not be answered quickly as expected. God’s timing is perfect; He knows all things perfectly. As we wait, let us set our minds, our hearts, and all our plans on things that give Him glory, honour and praise.” This setback is simply a set up for your comeback!
So, Wait on God.
Waiting is hard. Why lie. I have missed my babies so much. I thought this India trip would take maximum 2 weeks, little did I know it would end up as 7 weeks. Skyping home daily, except on days when chemo side effects are so bad that I know if they see me they won’t understand why I’m in pain
They tell me to ask daktari which day I am coming home. It took all I had to tell them with a smile that daktari is making sure I am very okay so that when I come home I can play football and dance with them without getting tired.
And this is where I want to recognize all spouses and partners who walk through this cancer journey with us. My husband, George Ikua, deserves the biggest crown with the brightest Kamba colours that I can make. That man has taken care of our boy and girl for 5 weeks since he left me here to go back home to them. My fellow patients, I want us to appreciate and celebrate these spouses and partners who look beyond the bad days that we are having when even looking presentable is hard work because our mood is off. These men and women who take the vow “For better or for worse, In sickness and in health” seriously. May God bless you all abundantly for your selflessness, courage and tolerance!
Let me also thank those family, friends, colleagues and strangers who step up to help patients and their families. When a person is down, at their lowest point, that’s when you learn who genuinely cares about you and your loved ones. Which is a good thing because the dishonest people no longer take up your energy. My journey has been so much more bearable knowing that my friends were constantly visiting the kids, taking them a ka-surprise cake here and ka-healthy juice there, visiting with their own kids so that my babies could make new friends and discover new aunties like Aunty Nina and the Neurons (named by my daughter after the cartoon character)
To my girls who made time to buy fruits and veggies na maziwa ya Tuskys whenever needed. To guys who distracted hubby and the kids with birthday parties and junk food so they wouldn’t have to think about my absence for a while.
And now I must include all of you, most whom I have never met or spoken to. All of you who opened your hearts and pockets to this woman who still doesn’t fully understand all the goodwill that has come my way. My PB classmates begun a fundraising out of the goodness of their hearts and this has just developed into something so overwhelming! And do you know why I praise God in this? Because many cancer patients will benefit from increased knowledge of the condition, leading to better accessibility and affordability of diagnosis and treatment services. That is undoubtedly my hope and prayer. This is a sickness that can get anyone, rich or poor, and we don’t always know why. My doctors all asked me if I smoke – which is the most obvious cause of lung cancer – but I don’t. Neither did my father who passed away from it almost 8 years ago. Neither of us had been hospitalized before, except me when my babies were born. Now we know that Deep Vein Thrombosis can be a symptom of cancer, because cancer thickens blood, hence the reason why my chemotherapist insists that I continue to get morning and night blood thinner injections daily till treatment has progressed further (Ouch! My pot is not happy). Now we know that you must be extra vigilant when getting medical insurance because acute / chronic / critical sickness can hit you unpredictably – I’ll write more about this later because many people have been affected.
And finally, now we know that as Kenyans we are capable of helping each other financially without kuomba serikali. I am humbled by those who have donated even the little that they have and I encourage everyone to set aside 1, 5 or 10 shillings a day to support anyone in need of medical care – there are many cases highlighted in media and social media, not just cancer. Much needs to be done to provide quality healthcare to the majority of Kenyans, not the minority who can afford to fly out frequently to the UK, US etc for treatment.
Mum and I have met so many Africans who come to India for medical care – from Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Liberia. People who were written off by their doctors back home, told that they would die or remain helpless. Some have gone through successful operations and flown back home within 6 days. Others wait as the doctors consult with medical experts in developed countries to find the best proven techniques and treatment. My surgical oncologist is qualified to do Robotic surgeries – these guys have vast experience! I have heard disturbing stories about Kenya that forced patients to come here. One mother was told that she should prepare to bury her 5 month old by a paediatrician who couldn’t even tell her to her face – he was busy talking on his phone while looking at the baby. Without speaking to her he then proceeded to walk out of the room and when she followed him she overheard him telling his students the negative news as he walked away. Fortunately her son is alive and well 7 years later, following her seeking treatment in India. Such inhumane treatment is a story I am now getting to hear and read too, too many times from both people I know and strangers. When did Kenyans qualify to be treated as less than animals? When did the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors turn hypocritical? What I truly want to see from here onwards is not millions of Kenyans coming to india for treatment.
No.What I want to see is millions of Kenyans getting more accessible and affordable healthcare.In Kenya. Where they live. At home. Not giving up because they can’t even begin to afford a bus ticket from shags to Nairobi for consultation. India should be a last resort for cases that can’t be handled by Kenyan equipment or personnel. Such as for the PET scan that I did which requires nuclear law.
What I want to see is doctors who aren’t afraid to admit that they can’t handle a case, again based on lack of equipment or prior expertise, and who can comfortably tell a patient to seek further treatment beyond borders. Currently so many doctors hate the word India, in fact some refuse to write a referral letter for their patients. Others refuse to continue treating the patient on return back home. Come on! These doctors give a bad impression of the many other Kenyan doctors who go out of their way, day after day, to save lives. I know these kind selfless doctors exist because I know some, and my late father, Dr. Peter Muiva, was one of them. I am impressed by my cardiologist Dr. Muriithi Nyamu. Even after successfully treating me for blood clots in my heart and lungs in June, he kept following up, genuinely concerned at the recurring Deep Vein Thrombosis, even though I was now seeing a chest physician and gastrointestinal doctor for other tests. When hubby and I told him we want to go get the PET scan in India he readily agreed, wrote referral letters to the hospital, India high commission and airline. And during these 7 weeks that I’ve been here he has checked on me asking about my treatment plan and how I’m reacting to the chemo. Now THAT, is how I believe more doctors should be. Find him at Professor Nelson Awori building next to Nairobi hospital, 0708-292024, 0700-433648.
In my next post I will give more contacts of doctors and organizations that have tremendously helped in this journey, so that more people may benefit.
For now, let me go and eat some raw Basil leaves from the shamba….Today is a special day in India. Wives fast all day as prayer for their husband’s wellbeing and prosperity, and then in the evening the husbands are supposed to dress their wives up in jewellery and beautiful saris….
Enjoy your weekend.”
Source Janet Kanini Ikua fb update
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