Kilifi woman moots plan to raise cancer awareness

Florence Kitsao who lost her mother to cancer and later on lost her job after taking too much time attending to the deceased speaks to the media in Kilifi recently. She twice tried to commit suicide after life took a nose dive for the worst. Photos: Benson Karisa
Florence Kitsao who lost her mother to cancer and later on lost her job after taking too much time attending to the deceased speaks to the media in Kilifi recently. She twice tried to commit suicide after life took a nose dive for the worst. Photos: Benson Karisa

Florence Kitsao, 49, knows too well the pain and anguish of losing a loved one, the burden of clearing accrued medical bills and eventually becoming a beggar at it.

Kitsao is now living at the mercy of well-wishers. She had a well well-paying job at Kenya Medical Research Institute and a good poultry business until her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. She sold everything to enable her mother undertake medication but she later died after she had exhausted her finances.

“My problems started in November 2012, when my mother Juliana Mwenda was diagnosed with Oesophageal cancer. It started at the oesophagus and spread to three quarters of the stomach,” she said.

Oesophageal cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide.

According to Kitsao, her mother underwent oesophageal stent surgery in December 2012, a procedure that involved inserting a tube from the oesophagus to the stomach to aid her in feeding. The oesophagus was almost blocked. “This happened at the height of the nurses’ strike and the procedure had to be done in a private hospital in Mombasa since government hospitals were not in operation because of the strike.”

Burden

She said that although there were other siblings in the family, the burden of footing medical bills for her mother was put squarely on her, a task that was too tough for her but she soldiered on.

“Through friends, I raised Ksh30, 000 to enable my mother get admission for the procedure at the private hospital. The cost of the operation stood at Ksh230, 000 during the time of discharge,” she said.

Through the help of a friend, she managed to secure a loan of Sh200, 000 from a bank and her mother was discharged.

“For a whole year, my mother survived on liquids, and whenever she fed on solid foods, she had to take a soda (Coke) to clean the tube. Unfortunately my mother lost the battle and died in December 2013,” she said during the interview.

Apart from the pain of losing her mother, Kitsao had to clear the loan she had acquired to treat her mother. At the time of her mother’s death, the debt had accrued to Ksh1.5 million.

“My fortunes began to dwindle because for the whole year after surgery, I had to buy painkillers for her at a cost of Ksh18, 000 every two weeks. By then I had lost my job and my poultry business was tumbling,” she said.

Experience

Burdened by the situation and lost for thoughts, and after failing to get any other means of settling the loan, she decided to sell a piece of land where she had constructed the residential house she was living in.

She is currently writing a book on her experience with cancer. In her own words extracted from the book on her experience with cancer, Florence says, “The pressure of debts was mounting and I had to think and come up with a solution. The only asset I had was my house and plot where I lived and ran my poultry business. I asked God to open my eyes and see what I had that I would sell and the only option would be my house and my plot,” she says in one chapter of the book.

She in the end sold the property at a cost of Sh1.2 million and she was paid a lump sum of Ksh700, 000. The remaining amount was paid in instalments for a period of two years. She used all the money to service the loan but it was not enough.

She lost hope after the financial institutions she took money from started putting pressure on her to pay.

With pressure mounting on her and life becoming unbearable she decided that life was no longer worth to her and the only remaining option was to end it. She attempted to commit suicide and she was rescued several times as she was about to jump from a cliff into the Indian ocean near the Kilifi bridge.

“I could not go back to my maternal home after a spat with my siblings over their negligence to cater for her mother’s hospital bills. My matrimonial home did not serve as an option either because I had separated with my husband and life was not making any sense at all. All I needed was to die,” she said.

But through friends, she managed to rent a single room where she now lives with her three grown up children-the first born completed high school while the other two are in high school. The children’s school fees are currently also being paid by well-wishers.

Initiative

Currently the debt stands at Sh1.8 million. With the debt burden and her  urge to create cancer awareness, Kitsao started a cancer walk that covered 421 Kilometres from Lunga lunga in Kwale county to Hola in Tana river county.

Her aim is to raise funds to create awareness for the cancer menace and also clear the debt she is laden with.

She started her walk on September 1 with her friend Anne Kombe. Their walk involved making several stopovers to talk to people about the cancer problem. Kombe only walked 118 Kilometres from Lunga

Lunga to Kilifi because she had to go back to work. She was on leave when she joined Kitsao.

“When my friend told me about her initiative I decided to join her because I do not have the money to give to her course but walking with her motivates her,” she said during an interview when the duo reached Kilifi town.

Kitsao targets to raise Ksh8 million to support her organization, ‘ Elite hope for change’. She said that her journey though successful, has not yielded the funds she needs but was optimistic that the message was well received.

The cancer scourge has left many families destitute in Kilifi county and Kenya as a whole.

The situation is worrying because most families are unable to get the right diagnosis leave alone cancer treatment. In most cases cancer patients are misdiagnosed and when they eventually get the right diagnosis, it is too late to handle the situation.

Cancer statistics in Kilifi county are scarce. The Kilifi county health department only recorded 340 cases by February 2017.

Chief officer in Charge of Health Dr Timothy Malingi said the number is higher as most cases are not reported.

“We sometimes have challenges in getting the exact number and figures because most of these cases go unreported and it is proving to be another problem we are facing in the health sector in the county,” said Dr Malingi.

The cancer data was captured from the three main hospitals in Kilifi county; Malindi sub county hospital, Mariakani sub county hospital and the Kilifi county hospital.