One of the toughest news a person can ever receive is a loved one being diagnosed with cancer. This is even worse when they have never heard of it or met someone with such a condition.
According to a report by Kenyan Network of cancer organisations, 70-80 per cent of cancer cases is diagnosed in late stages.
This is due to lack of awareness, inadequate diagnostic facilities, lack of treatment facilities, high cost of treatment and high poverty index.
The process of a cancer diagnosis is shocking and often sudden. You wake up one day and your loved one complains of being unable to use their hand, the next moment they are unable to speak, you take them for a local medical check-up only to be diagnosed with a stroke.
You immediately book them for physiotherapy and after many sessions, you are told the treatment is not working. It is at this stage that you are referred to an oncologist where your journey begins.
You immediately sort your money issues including consulting your insurance provider, if at all there is an existing policy and your loved one is admitted.
The admission is immediately followed by tests like MRI and CT-Scan. The next day, results are out and you are told your relative has stage 4 cancer and you are required to make an urgent decision on a treatment plan. Where do you start?
Moreover, you probably have other close family members who are as clueless as you are. You are only left with ‘google.com’ and if you are lucky to have faith in a supreme being then you have God.
This is a typical example of how every caregiver receives news about a cancer diagnosis. One is required to make urgent decisions with little or no information. The only information they receive is what the doctor shares with them and they are required to believe and move on as soon as possible.
Caregivers play an important role in offering basic home care to therapy and spiritual guidance to patients.
Cancer awareness should be addressed immediately. Most caregivers have no idea what to do or where to go when their loved ones are faced with such diagnoses and which in most cases happens too late.
No hard feelings, I think doctors do a great job and give factual and proper information for the benefit of their patients and caregivers. The problem is not at this level.
However, the problem we currently have as a nation is at the sensitisation level. Did you know a ‘kawaida’ 28-year-old who has gone through the 8-4-4 system has not encountered cancer or mental health in any stage of the curriculum?
I know I should not blame anybody for my lack of knowledge but I have valid reasons to. Almost every family is affected by cancer including our leaders. Cancer is the third highest cause of morbidity in Kenya (7 per cent of deaths per year), after infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases.
This, therefore, means then that there is no way as a country we are going to run away from this tragedy and we need to address it soon. Doing so will also move us an inch closer to achieving goal three in the sustainable development goals (SDGs) which is attaining good health and well-being for all.
Palliative care training is key to caregivers. Some people are faced with very hard realities and are left to take care of a relative with such little knowledge which affects them mentally as they see their relative deteriorate. Some are left with a huge financial burden with very minimal options.
I have to mention, friends who pop up to visit caregivers with adult diapers, household shopping and encouraging words have a special place in heaven.
When you hear your friend, colleague or relative has been affected; this is not the time to distance yourself because you do not want to share your hard-earned money and time.
It is not the time to compare, who is better now? At this point, a simple phrase as ‘It is tough, but all will be well,’ goes a long way. Caregivers are often faced with trauma and they need as much psychological, emotional and spiritual support as humanly possible.
A key thing to remember is to always be nice to people get their story first. You never know, that colleague of yours might be happy and bubbly but deep down they just need a hug or a shoulder to lean on.
Last but not least, to all those currently fighting this battle with their loved ones, take care of you as well. Remember you are of better help to your loved one when you are of good health and healthy state of mind. —The writer is a communications consultant at P&L Consulting. —[email protected]