Scars of Cancer

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

| This is the 155th story of Our Life Logs |

I grew up in a very close-knit family in Kisumu, Kenya. We were like a big team because we knew we could always rely on each other. My parents were at the head of our team, making sure we were all happy and healthy–my father worked as a medical researcher, while my mother was content being a housewife, taking care of me and my five siblings. Our life was peaceful.

I had a wonderful childhood. Born as the second youngest to my family in 1988, I was my father’s darling. I could always count on him to bring a smile to my face. When there was a problem, he would take the time to talk it out with me. On top of that, he was also fun to be around, always cracking jokes and filling our home with laughter.

I thought the peace and joy of our family would last forever. I never dreamed of it being ripped away.

My family and me posing at my graduation (my father is on the second right in the top row)

I remained close with my family, especially my father, as I grew up and began my own life. My father was a principled man. Left an orphan, he saw himself through school and became one of the best medical researchers at Kenya Medical Research Institute with a doctorate degree. We all looked up to him as a man with respect and passion.

In April 2016, however, his fate, and our fate, was going to change forever.

One day, I came across a file in my father’s study. It was a medical report of cancer diagnosis. When I caught the word “cancer,” my heart lurched, and as I looked closer, it plummeted—my father had been diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer.

My whole world came crashing down on me. My mind froze; I couldn’t move. I wished I were in a dream. How could it be? Was it real? What should I do? Oh, I must do something. When I came back to my senses, I contacted Apollo Cancer Center in India and sent my father’s medical report over to see if there was something we could do to prevent it, but they said that the cancerous cells had spread through his whole body.

I locked myself in the house and broke down. All the sweet, little moments my father and I had shared rushed back to me as I wept for hours. When I finally felt I could talk again, I called my siblings. I heard my elder sister sobbing from the other side. That was the beginning of a journey of endless pain.

My father had kept his illness hidden from us because he didn’t want us to worry and endure the pain of knowing that he was dying. He didn’t like to see us hurting, so he tried to remain strong, even when I could see that he was suffering. He assured us that all would be fine, and I wanted so badly to believe him.

But things were worsening and there was nothing we could do. On top of the prostate cancer, my father suffered another blow. Both his kidneys failed. In a span of a few weeks, he went from a fully functional man to a frail dependent patient. We had to carry him around to do basic things like going to the bathroom. I cried like a child on my knees each night, begging God to spare his life. I lost myself in the pain and slid into a depression.

Patient at hospital | Image courtesy of Pixabay

My father was my mentor; he was the pillar of our entire family. He literally held everyone together and knew how to handle each one of us. His illness crushed me blow by blow, tearing into the fabric he had worked hard to knit together. I watched with watery eyes as my family stopped sitting together for meals or just chatting away the day. Our home turned into a cold place; no warmth was left. Days became longer, and the nights were scary. I watched my mother, so devastated, stop talking and barely eat. Seeing her other half slowly die weakened her, and the strong woman I knew withered away. It was as if God was testing me, to see how much pain I could bear, to see if our family could stay strong even when a big part of it was fading away.

For the next six months, Avenue Hospital in Kisumu County became my family’s on and off home. With every re-admission, the medical bill rose and in no time, we were millions of Kenya shillings in debt. My siblings and I worked together as a team to share the financial responsibilities that fell upon us.

My father’s treatment slowly became more financially and emotionally draining. We needed a nurse to constantly watch over him, dress his wounds and monitor his special diet, a standby driver to take him to the hospital in cases of an emergency, and a physiotherapist to massage his legs and help him walk. The list was endless and all of it required money.

We had to seek external help when our own sources were exhausted. I sent messages to all our relatives, friends and colleagues asking for their support. The financial plea was received with mixed reactions. Many refused to help, but there were some who touched my heart with the warmth I needed. One of my friends knew where I kept my house keys, so she would constantly surprise me by coming to my house, cleaning up, cooking dinner and waiting for my return. We would spend hours in comfortable silence. Knowing what I was going through, she gave me the room to vent and cry without judging me. Without support like hers, I might have never made it through all the heartbreak of my father’s decaying health.

Hospital | Image courtesy of Pixabay

One night in November 2016, my mother called me, exhausted and seeking prayers. She told me that my father had neither talked nor eaten for days and was struggling to breathe. I wept listening to her. How much longer did we have? A week? A month? Thinking we had that long was wishful thinking. I didn’t know that the next day would be his last.

I learned about my father’s death in the worst possible way: a WhatsApp message. A fellow doctor at the medical institute where my father worked broke the news to a WhatsApp group, which we happened to have access to, before the hospital sent us the official notice. I rolled on the floor screaming my lungs out. Our caretaker rushed to my door to find out what was wrong and when I failed to respond to him, he almost tried to break his way in. Luckily, a friend of mine handled the situation.

From April to November, in just about half a year, we watched our father suffer and pass away. If only there was something we could do to make him stay; if only cancer had never visited him to start with; if only a broken heart could be full again.

After my father’s burial, my mother peacefully ate her meal for the first time in a long while. Knowing that he wasn’t hurting anymore brought us all inner peace. In honor of our father, we decided to continue living as a team, loving and supporting each other. Until his death I never knew how strong I could be. I discovered my strengths through the heartbreak of it all.

It’s been almost two years since my father died of cancer. The journey of grieving was not easy. But I’ve since accepted the fact that every life must come to an end, and it was my father’s time to go. He had lived a beautiful life on earth, and I am happy for the time I did have with him. I’ve learned that when you lose a loved one you never get over it, you just learn to live with it. It hurts to lose my father, but I know the experience is part of the cruelty of life that all of us have to endure, one way or another. I no longer mourn him, I celebrate an icon I had the privilege to call my father.

Me at home.

This is the story of Linet Atieli

Linet currently lives and works in Bungoma, Kenya. Growing up, Linet was the closest to her father and when he became ill with cancer, her life turned upside down. She saw her family as a team, and without one of the leaders, they struggled to stay together, but found the strength to lean on each other eventually. Through it all, she became stronger and grew even closer to her family. She now appreciates the gift of life like never before. Linet holds a Bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Criminology and Social Order from Nairobi university. In her free time, Linet likes to relax at home or go out to have a glass of wine with friends.

Me posing, ready to go out, 2018.

This story first touched our hearts on August 28, 2018.

| Writer: Opondo Maureen | Editors: Kristen Petronio; MJ |

#family #cancer #team #closefamily #relationships #hope #positivity #loss #death

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