By: Elizabeth Ragui, Kenya
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2004. This experience changed my life. After completing my treatments, I wanted to know more about cancer so I could tell others about prevention, detection and treatment. Although I was not illiterate, I did not know and had not done very much in regard to Self Breast Examination. Therefore, I decided to use my experience to educate the public-especially women-about breast cancer. Within a year, I was trained by Reach to Recovery International (RRI) as a volunteer in breast cancer support. This enhanced my skills and was an eye opener on how much I could do for those affected. I helped them to live a quality life by accepting their new status, overcoming the challenge and regaining self esteem. Breast cancer support was not enough. I wanted to educate the general public about this issue. In a culture where cancer is associated with witchcraft, I set forth to demystify the disease through cancer awareness. It soon occurred to me to address other types of cancer, especially cervical and prostate. Along with other breast cancer survivors, I registered Reach to Recovery Kenya which is affiliated with RRI and an Associate member of UICC Geneva. In partnership with voluntary healthcare givers, we have been able to create the much needed cancer awareness. This worked well in churches because we lacked funding. It’s a drop in the ocean. The demand for our services is so big that we pray for the day the government will get involved, subsidize projects, and make cancer drugs available in provincial hospitals. The truth on the ground is that 1 in 10 women screened needs treatment. Cancer medication is out of reach for the majority of people and 80% of the cases are diagnosed when it is too late. Therefore, our message is “when diagnosed, early cancer is treatable”. In order to reach more people, we translated brochures on breast cancer treatment and other issues into 5 local dialects as well to Swahili, which is understood and spoken by the majority. We have also sourced for affordable mastectomy bras for breast cancer survivors and this has greatly boosted their morale. Yet, I write this with a very heavy heart because most of my co-founders of Reach to Recovery Kenya have succumbed to cancer. I vow to continue the fight by joining others locally and globally.