, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 16 – In most cases when bad things happen, it is human nature to ask ‘why me?’. But according to Jane Francis, dwelling on ‘why me’ does not change the situation.
Instead, it makes one feel like a victim other than a victor.
Jane did not realise the power of altering the ‘why me’ worry question to ‘why not me’ until she was diagnosed with breast cancer stage three in July 2014 when she realised ‘why me’ caused her more worry than hope.
“I kept on asking why me, why me. After a lot of reflection I asked why not me? Why should it be somebody else? I realised God has a reason for this to happen in my life,” she recalled.
She says she got cancer because she has the strength to fight it and also give hope to other survivors.
It all started a year after she had been to hospitals doing several blood tests to check swollen nodes under her armpits.
It was big reprieve after they all tested negative for cancer. However, a sharp pain under her armpit was threatening her peace.
“Halfway through my PhD studies I decided to stop first because my hand became a bit heavy and it was difficult to work on my laptop. I decided to take further serious tests,” she explained.
She got more worried because in 2006 and 2009 she underwent two surgeries for the removal of fibroids and ovarian cysts.
Jane’s worry stemmed from the death of her father due to cancer.
She decided to see a doctor who performed a series of tests after she explained her history of the aching armpit and that of the fibroids and ovarian cysts.
“The radiologist told me, ‘don’t worry about the fibroids. That’s not the danger we have. We have another danger. We have a very big lump under your left breast’.
It was recommended that she undergoes further tests to ascertain if the lump was cancerous.
About a month after, the test results were out.
And that confirmed her worries. She had cancer at advanced stage three.
“It was very invasive. It was moving fast, it had moved to the neck, under the armpit, it was under my breast. They said it was almost going to stage four and I had to start treatment immediately,” Jane recalled.
Breast cancer treatment usually takes three major cycles; chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery though not necessarily in that order.
“In my case they said it was invasive they were not going to start with surgery; they recommended I start with immediate chemotherapy to curb the spread so that it does not reach stage four.”
Going through the tests had already drained her financially.
Money was urgently required for six chemotherapy sessions to curb spread of the cancer but she did not have it.
“Cancer does not wait for one to look for money. It spreads mercilessly. They told me if you start planning and doing harambees it will be moving quite fast.”
Jane is a woman of the people.
She is in Catholic Church groups, other women groups, a lecturer and has been a student at Aga Khan University Hospital and Jomo Kenyatta University.
The support from the friends she has met socially and professionally was a blessing that gave her a shoulder to lean on and helped her raise money to start her treatment.
“I did four sessions of chemo, I was to do six but the tumor responded well to the four sessions. The tumor had dissolved and the nodes had also burst after the surgery,” she appreciated.
After a break of two months following chemotherapy, she started radiotherapy sessions which were equally expensive.
Kenyatta National Hospital which has affordable rates for cancer treatment was a challenge because of the long queues that would have made her to wait for about two years.
She opted for a private hospital.
Jane could not always borrow money from friends who had supported her in the first phase of her treatment; “I had to sell many of my things, I had to take a loan, I got help from Aga Khan Hospital where I am a student.”
She is expected to undergo two further tests because her cancer is rare and also doctors want to establish how genetically serious it is since she has lost several relatives to the disease.
“Unlike other cancers, mine is being referred to as one of the rare cancers called triple negative. It does not have preventive hormonal treatment. I have to do a (Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan to determine whether it had spread elsewhere.”
If the genes are found to be high; “I have to remove my breasts and my ovaries because I am one of the high risk groups – I have a recurrence.”
Despite the complication of the type of cancer she has, Jane anchors her hope on her faith and willpower to fight the disease.
“I realised if somebody wants to live, you really have to fight to live if you have cancer. I have deep faith in God, I am very prayerful. At that time even prayer is not easy.”
But she believes engaging in support groups and sharing each others’ experiences are important in keeping the hope and encouraging others not to give in to the disease.
She is also urging the government and the private sector to share the double pain of suffering of cancer patients to reduce the financial strain that she blames for many cancer deaths.