The last one of them died today. The cancer patient who came to the newsroom seeking to have their story aired so that they could pay their bills in private facilities when public hospitals were closed during the doctors’ strike. One of them died on the day his story was published. I think my greatest test of emotional intelligence as a journalist and a woman was covering the doctors’ strike, arguably the longest doctors’ strike in Kenya’s history after independence. On the first day of the strike, my colleague photographer Dennis Onsongo and I met people with infections that we knew would have killed them if they did not get medical attention fast. So we put our notebooks and cameras in the pocket and placed human life before a story, then went on with our work later.
I met Rose Adhiambo through Kenya Cancer Association (Kencasa), an organisation that offers some little support for cancer patients in Kenya. She was at Nairobi West Hospital where she was being treated since Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) was closed. My colleague Leila Mohammed from NTV shot her story.
As she talked of how her friends ran away from her, how she was worried for her two girls and sonnwho now have to fend for themselves, I felt a knot in my tummy. I looked at her daughter standing near her, wiping her tears, willing to give anything to see her mother okay, and it just broke my heart that people had to live like this. Her children stopped living. They work, go to school, make trips to the hospital to see their mother. They had no time to be children. Rose died on Wednesday, just a few days before the death of Jesus. Her daughters are now in Kibera, without a guardian or a means of income. I do not need to tell you just how tragic that narrative can turn for those girls and a son in just a few months and they will have no future. As Rose kept calling after the story aired, asking whether anyone offered to help, she made it clear that her greatest fear was that she would die and her children would be alone. She died; they are now alone.
These stories just made me wonder. Isn’t great to have a choice? A choice to work on this one story over that; to talk to this person or not; to attend this event or that… That is a choice that people with cancer do not have. Rose’s diagnosis and death will not even make headlines like Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o’s. She is poor. When you have cancer, you will have to pay attention to your body because of the pain. It will stop you from doing the things others take for granted like a friend calling you for coffee and you turn it down because you “do not feel like it”. A choice to stay indoors for Easter for instance. For them, time is a luxury. Every second counts because they do not know when they will wake up and they would not be able to hold their children. Sometimes that fear comes to pass and they die.
As we celebrate Easter, I would like to make an appeal to us Kenyans. I have no right to tell you how to spend your money, but I would like to make a proposal. What if your bottle of beer tonight changed the life of a needy orphan such as Rose’s? At Kencasa, there are so many of these people who have been impoverished or completely tethered to misery because of cancer. They cannot afford food, rent or just basic life necessities like water. It is easy to rubbish this as “these cases of appeal have become too many” but today I’d like you to imagine that another human being’s discomfort is greater than yours and deny yourself something for them. A sacrificial act of kindness makes us supernatural. We become little gods when we resist the temptation to attend to our needs and take care of another creature who may not even pay you back. Sometimes helping others leave you in material need yourself but I am in faith with you that you would be kind today.
We are a kind generous and hospitable nation. See how many refugees live amongst us? Kenyans pay bills for people they do not know to get medical care in India. We share those posts of requests for fees or funeral expenses on our social media walls. I know we can get into the discussion about how we need to fix the system so that there are no cases like Rose’s but the truth is, she is dead. Her children are now orphans, and it does not matter whether they lost their mother because of a broken health/social system or not. It could have been an accident. As we fix the system, those girls need food to eat and have a roof over their head. Jesus is dying today, and with him I would like you to deaden your desire to take care of you, just this once. Be a Judas and betray your needs and attend to another. Today, be kind to someone. Mothers, give some of the clothes your children have to another mother or an orphanage. Ladies, allow the woman who does your laundry to take those clothes/ shoes/ bags you have never worn for ages and you probably never will.
Should you want to help Rose’s kids( two girls and a son) please contact Kencasa: Moses Osani, Programmes Officer, Kenya Cancer Association, Situated at Nurses Complex at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) and the phone number is +254716145616