Thursday, May 26, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, KENYA

For the readers who follow this column, let me apologize profusely for having let you down last week. On the Monday after I had been admitted to this hospital, I was busy being ferried across the city from one lab to another in rickety matatus masquerading as ambulances. Apart from the discomfort, one got the impression that the only sane persons I had on these trips were the nurses that accompanied me. For the ambulance drivers, one could be forgiven for thinking that they were graduates from a matatu driving school. To a passenger like me, they could very well assume I was a bag of potatoes or sack of cabbages to be delivered to an open air market in Nairobi’s Eastlands at breakneck speed.

Being in hospital is like being in prison. You get the uniform that resembles those ones won by prison inmates except for the colour difference. Otherwise collar and shape designs are the same.

The other reason prison is a twin brother of a hospital ward is the nature of restriction of movements of patients. When patients with serious conditions are in bed, nurses, doctors, administrators , security guards and even cooks and cleaners keep a keen watch over them on 24 hour basis. They leave nothing to chance. More visibly if they are on drips, blood transfusion or dialysis, they are chained to their beds wherever they may be.

Just like a criminal in prison ward, there is a chain of command upside down. Doctors give directives to the technical staff and these directives must be obeyed to the letter even if they are unreasonable to the patient.

The reason I’m writing this article is because I would strongly advise my friends and family members to avoid the mistakes I made. I had thought I was one of the healthiest Kenyans; drank tea with lemon without sugar; hardly ate salty and fatty stuff. I was careful which cooking oil was used in my house and bought all the advertized healthy products I could lay my hands on. I never went for regular tests for anything except HIV. In fact I only knew about prostate cancer when professor Nyongo’ started talking about his condition.

The prize you pay for failing to go for regular check up on a regular basis is shock and devastation. Unless you get strong family members and trusted friends that encourage rather than start planning your demise; it is difficult to survive the attack even with the best of intentions. It is the reason I must repeat even if it is the umpteenth time that we have to embrace the culture of routine medical examination for all manner of terminal illnesses.

Since writing my first article on this subject, I have received overwhelming responses from home and abroad.

I have received encouragement from people as far as Canada, USA, Uganda and South Africa apart from my country Kenya marveling at my courage to go public and help fellow human beings all over the globe to stop living in denial under similar circumstances. More so, a number of them have directed me to advanced cancer centers abroad that can deal with my case without going through radio and chemotherapies. I will be discussing with my doctors information from these sources,

The physical pain I have endured in the last ten days between medical laboratory centers in Nairobi is the type that defies definition. First they took me to a Medical Centre for MRI imaging that lasted 90 minutes as I lay in a fixed position under a heavy x-ray machine.

The instruction was simple- if I moved, wriggled or changed position, the machine would stop and start all over again. The charming girl who prepared me for the MRI ordeal informed me that I would feel no pain but I would hear at least 40 different sounds during the entire procedure.

The first trip to Aga Khan Hospital for the bone imaging was interesting in more ways than one. My nurse and doctors at MP Shah had assumed the procedure would last thirty minutes. They were wrong. All I got was an intravenous injection to prepare me for bone scanning. We were then asked to go back after three hours. We ended up in my hospital bed for all those hours. Our 12 0’clock appointment with the bone scanner ended up starting at 1.20 pm after I had fallen asleep on my stretcher and ended at 2pm.

Biopsy and dialysis incisions were probably the most painful of all. These were done at my hospital. Shooting nearly 10 needles without anesthesia through my rectum to extract cancer tissues was like going through circumcision ceremony or worse.

When cancer attacks, the victim should do a quick survey to locate competent and tested medical specialists in that area. Along with that the hospital type is just as important as the specialists. Treating cancer requires multiple disciplines depending on the level and type of the malignant. It will require a lead urologist surgeon, a kidney specialist, an oncologist, a nutritionist and even a physiotherapist, all working in tandem.

In my case, my lead surgeon was brutally honest with me from the first time we met. He chose not to promise heaven and deliver hell. He told me that the infection had reached a very high level with PSA measuring 817 instead of the maximum 4. Then my blood count was almost nil- about 1.5 instead of a minimum of four. Coupled with my loss of appetite, I became anemic, weak and tired resulting in my losing 22 kg in just three months.

Because of these deficiencies, he chose to deal with consequences of cancer, arrest their spread and help me regain strength before attacking the cells directly. For this reason I’m still at the stage of blood cleansing, kidney restoration and feeding program in my ward at MP Shah Hospital.



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

When in December 2011 Kenya’s Minister for Medical Services, Prof Peter Anyang Nyongo’ stunned friends and relatives across the globe that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, it was a revelation to behold in a country where political leaders are always reluctant to reveal the state of their health.

What I did not know was that at the same hospital in Nairobi, I would be diagnosed with the same prostate cancer, only that mine would be more advanced than that of my professor friend.

Wednesday last week was no ordinary day for me although I had been ailing for the past seven to eight weeks. It was the day fate took me to the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi to seek a second opinion from a specialist on my persistent indigestion that had worsened with time though in retrospect, the signs were all there to see as early as October 2010 when I started losing my appetite, weight and desire to go to the gym.

On being asked to lie on her table, one squeeze on my loins made her realize instantly that I could be having a more serious problem than I thought. She immediately ordered that I go for a CT-SCAN at the nearby M P Shah Hospital because in her opinion, the hospital had the best facility in the city.

Two days later, the story was out. I had an advanced prostate cancer that had spread beyond the confines of the glands.

Within one hour of receiving the information I had to be rushed to an urologist who ordered PSA test to be carried out to confirm a few details of the extent. Two hours later, I was back in my house contacting my family locally and abroad to break the news to them. It was the most harrowing moment in our lives. We did at first not know how to handle it because in our family, we had never gone through this experience except for our last born sister who lost her husband to cancer 15 years ago.

By Friday 11pm, Professor Nyongo and his wife Dorothy arrived at my house having been informed by my brother-in-law Peter Odoyo. Having gone through the same experience just a few months ago, they gave me the first therapy. They urged me to be positive, go through all the tests and let the specialists take over.

What was annoying in this episode was the fact that the two doctors I had consulted earlier failed to recognize the obvious physical signs of mass formed around my rectum. For this reason, I lost nearly three months of precious time I could have used to start the fight.

As I write this article, I’m lying in my hospital bed at M P Shah Hospital for the initial management process. I have gone through ultra sound examination, bioscopy, MRI and bone scanning, all intended to confirm the extent of the spread.

On admission to a hospital with cancer, I have learnt the value of relatives and caring friends.

My niece Julie Aura who was with me when the news was being broken remained calm, even calmer than me despite her tender age of 23. My nephews Moses Aluodo and Barry Odhuno whose father died of rare cancer 15 years ago took time off and got me admitted as quickly as possible. Friends and their friends started pouring in.

When it was realized that I was anemic due to low blood count and the hospital needed donors of my blood group, volunteers started pouring in. It was really humbling experience.

Now that I have done the tests; I must start the hard road to do my battle that may go beyond the borders should my doctors advice whichever way because according to them, my condition will probably require a three pronged approach; hormonal injections, radiology and chemotherapy and a combination of expertise of diverse backgrounds.

Because this disease comes like a thief in the night; it has taught me one thing- that we need regular medical examinations if for nothing else but to know our status. Another thing; not all doctors are the same and diligent. Some are; others are not. Those who are reckless can cost you dearly in the long run.For the days that I will remain in this hospital I will keep you updated on the treatment regime that my doctors will have put together and update you on my progress.

Now I value Professor Nyongo’s campaign for comprehensive healthcare insurance for all with the state of the art medical facilities in the country. Yes, according to my doctor, 84 new cases are reported in Kenya daily with thousands more that go unnoticed.