NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 15 – When Sally Agallo was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2007 after going for a pap smear on a whim, she didn’t believe it; she’d thought life had dealt her all the misery her deck could possibly hold.
She was after all HIV positive, had survived a suicide attempt, the death of two of her only children and the break-up of her marriage.
“The doctor told me I had cancer so flippantly, ‘after all,’ he said, ‘you already have HIV. What could be worse?’”
But Agallo was devastated and still, the worst was yet to come.
First they took out her uterus, rendering her incapable of having children; chemotherapy wasn’t an option on account of her already compromised immunity.
The removal of her uterus, she’d been told, was the surest way to prevent the cancer cells from spreading to another part of her body.
But in 2010, it was discovered that they had – to her colon. And so inch by inch, they cut it out till there was nothing left.
“When the doctor told me a colostomy would solve the problem I didn’t hesitate. I had after all been under the knife at least 13 times but I had no idea what it would mean.”
It meant no longer being able to go to the bathroom.
It meant living with a hole on her side.
It meant lugging around a foul smelling bag, in the event it leaked, for the rest of her life.
“I’m lucky,” she unexpectedly says, “it could have been worse.”
Worse because she might not have had the medical cover that affords her a colostomy bag or two daily.
“They cost between Sh600 and Sh1,000 each. Some people can’t afford it and even end up using plastic bags.”
It’s in solidarity with them that she took to the microphone on Tuesday to share her story; to garner support for the Relay For Life – an event aimed at raising funds for cancer awareness and to help mitigate the cost of cancer treatment where possible.
“During the inaugural event last year we raised over Sh6 million and used the money to go out into the counties. The reason cancer is the leading cause of death on the continent is partly because of late diagnosis so women for instance need to know that when you feel a lump in your breast, even if it is painless, you need to have it checked out,” Kenya Cancer Association Chairperson Ann Korir urged.