Thursday, June 2, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

June 1, 2011

After being on this subject for three weeks, I thought I would let the ghost of my shock rest and move on to other things. However, as I lay in my bed and opened my laptop; I saw a completely different picture. 12,000 and counting messages of all kinds on my face-book and mail box were too much to ignore.

There was something special in these messages; they were full of groups or individuals and churches praying for me all over the world , urging me to fight heard and survive because so many people had learnt of my bravery that followed in the footsteps of my professor Anyang’ Nyongo’ in going public and help other innocent victims.

These messages also came from diverse backgrounds; practicing medics, research institutions and individual herbal practitioners from Africa and the United States. Most cancer research institutions in the USA directed me to sites that could contain all the information I needed to cope with my ailment.

Most prayers by congregations I didn’t know came from Kenyan, Ugandan, Californian, Massachusdsets and Atlanta churches I had never been to. Then I realized that many of my Ugandan readers in the Diaspora and their East African brothers who had followed my writings over the years had taken the lead in interceding for me with a plea to the Almighty that I was still needed here on earth to continue sharing my thoughts with them. For this reason; with this number of responses to my articles on my condition, I found it appropriate to thank all of you individuals and groups that have prayed for me, wished me well and given me free advice on how to cope with my condition.

At another lever, a number of my relatives and friends who visited me in hospital; someone like Kimenyi Waruhiu who lost his father to the same disease in March 2011 was brave enough to visit with me in my bed and encourage me to continue talking about it to help other people not die in silence.

Listening to my close relatives in America; I received mixed signals about this disease. Some of them, quite in informed about many things had never bothered to go for their screenings. Now, despite my experience, they were ready to brave the trauma and know their status.

Having said the above, any successful measure to curb this disease in East Africa is to thoroughly improve healthcare facilities in the region so that many hard working East Africans can enjoy universal health cover as well as be availed state of the art screening machines that can detect early infections to make treatment easy and more affordable.

Hospitals like Mulago General Hospital in Kampala, Kenyatta National Hospital and Dar as Salaam’s National Hospitals should be elevated to international referral facilities capable of handling cases of many now treatable terminal illnesses associated with cancer, TB and Aids.

Our Medical Research Institutions like KEMRI in Kenya, Malaria Research Center in Tanzania and I know there are others in Rwanda and Burundi should be elevated to credible Medical Research Institutions with adequate funding that can enable them partner with more endowed institutions in Western countries to help combat this menace at home .

However, the biggest drawback in fighting prostate cancer is the African attitude and cultural beliefs surrounding it that makes its victims suffer in silence and solitude. The fact that it attacks prostate glands that are responsible for facilitating productive organs in the male body; the fact that the cancer cells feed voraciously on the male hormones produced in the prostate area, our fear is that once we have it, the only chance we have is to remove the prostate gland and render us impotent for the rest of our lives. In Africa, the fear of inability to have normal sex or produce children at any age is a huge psychological barrier to dealing with prostate cancer.

Right now, there is so much literature churning out of credible institutions in the USA and Europe on how to handle cancer and even avoid the hazardous routes of surgery, radio and even chemotherapy. All one needs to do is to do the simple things of life; get screened early and help yourself, family and friends to cope better with your illness.

This cultural attitude must change with diseases that attack our reproductive organs. We must not fear talking about these taboos with our children. It is better to warn them earlier rather than later. If we have broken the myths over HIV and AIDS, we can break the myth over this killer called prostate cancer.

If we can declare HIV and Aids our national disasters with support from the International Community, we can declare prostate cancer that attacks nearly 100,000 rural and urban Kenyans a year. If this disease can kill 9 million Americans in one year; you can imagine how many people die of this disease in Africa alone where detection and treatment mechanisms are barely there even for the urban dwellers.

Yes, this region needs many voices to combat this disease. Ambassadors of good will may be required to champion this new frontier. I’m ready to help in this area as a suffering victim.