I always feared to confirm my suspicions of breast cancer

Tuesday October 22 2019

Roselyn Rukuna while receiving her

Roselyn Rukuna while receiving her chemotherapy treatment.  

By Phionah Nassanga

At the beginning of 2017, I started feeling a pea-sized lump in my left breast. I did not pay attention because I thought it was a simple swelling that would disappear after a couple of days.
However, I was wrong. It was more than just a swelling; it was something that would not leave my life the same.
Ignoring the condition I was in, I had to resume work and fulfil my responsibilities to my two children. I kept the pain a secret. Even then, I was drowning in fear and not ready to confirm my suspicions.

Continuing to live a normal life, I went partying with friends and decided not to think about it. Instead, I would take pain killers to relive the pain as I convinced myself that nothing was wrong.
Months down the road, the lumps had advanced and the pain was unbearable. One day, I was forced to talk to one of my workmates about the swelling in my breast.
I remember her saying once such “things” are operated, they sometimes turn out to be cancerous. A claim I believed was right.
During our conversation, she offered to take me to a herbalist who she said would help with my condition.

Turning a blind eye
In the company of my friend, I went to meet the herbalist in Iganga District and she promised to cure my condition.
I was given a full bag of herbs. Some were for drinking and the others were for massaging around the infected breast.
At that moment, I was not ready to go for a cancer screening. Besides, I had not heard of any cancer cases in my family.
After days of using the medicine, I felt relieved and would have a good night sleep. This gave me hope and got me thinking I would soon be fine.
However, it was not long before the lump burst. This scared me, the wound was about 10cms deep, but even then I was not ready to visit any hospital.

I resorted to dressing it with cotton every morning before leaving for work. I did not want anyone to find out.
However, with time the situation became worse; people started distancing themselves from me because of the bad odour that was coming from the wound. I started using boda bodas because I could not sit in a taxi for long.
One day, a doctor friend advised me to visit a specialist. I recall him saying: ‘I don’t know what to say, but probably you need to see a specialist.’

Visiting the cancer institute
In March 2018, I went to the Uganda Cancer Institute where I was diagnosed with stage four cancer. According to the CT scan results, the cancer had grown towards the neck and the liver.
At the moment, the results did seem to scare me, but the thought of how to tell my 12-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son puzzled me.
After the CT scan, the oncologist advised me to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. For the sake of my children, I was willing to live through each difficult day of my chemo treatment.
The next day, I went to office and buried my head in work as though I had not spent the previous evening crying.
After I had my first chemo treatment, I developed sores in my mouth causing my teeth to almost fall out of the gum. Through it all, I had to be strong.

After six months of chemo, my cancer’s activity had dropped and chemotherapy had performed a miracle. I was elated.
My body felt more like my own again. By the end of August 2018, I was back to normal, the wound had healed and the lump had shrunk.
A few friends that knew about my condition celebrated with my “recovery”, but the smile on my face was short lived.
By December 2018 the lump had resurfaced. Recalling the painful chemo secessions I had gone through, the resurfacing of the lump tormented me day and night to an extent of asking God: ‘Why me?’

Taking a personal discussion
When the lump resurfaced, I got so bitter with myself and almost everyone around me. I was confused; I could not imagine myself going for chemo treatment again or bear the pain of another cutting to remove the lump.
When the symptoms advanced, I was forced to schedule for an appointment with the doctors at the Uganda Cancer Institute.
However, on the day I was supposed to get an operation, it so happened that the doctors had gone for a retreat.
I was asked to go back the following day. For unknown reasons, I was still not attended to.

After three days of helplessly waiting at the Uganda Cancer Institute, I decided to stay home.
Meanwhile, a friend who had come to visit discouraged me from going for an operation, as she kept saying they do not operate stage four cancer because it would worsen the situation.
This scared me the more because the first time the doctors were taking samples from my breast, I was cut four times in the same place.
Giving it a second thought, I decided not to go back to hospital, but instead resume the herb medicine. When I talked to my caretakers about my discussion, they seemed undecided.


Breaking the news to my children
Much as I tried to stay strong before my children, my daughter started getting suspicious.
I think at one moment she overheard me talk about my condition with a friend.
One day after school, she approached me and asked if I was fine. Composing myself, I said: ‘Yes.’
I remember her reply was: ‘Mummy, I know you have cancer.’
This shocked me. I saw tears in her eyes but for her sake, I had to continue pretending that it was nothing serious. The following days, I realised this had started affecting her.

She became a loner and before I knew her teachers had starting calling me to find out what was happening.
Her performance was deteriorating every single day yet she was a Primary Seven candidate.
It was then that I was advised to take her to a boarding school to save her the trauma of seeing me in this condition everyday.

Through all this, I was strong because I knew I had a job to help me take care of condition and also foot my children’s school bills.
However, all this came to an end in September this year when my bosses laid me off.
I was sent away without my August pay. Amid all my struggles, a friend to the father of my children happened to contact him to seek for help, but when he came around, his response was: ‘I will only help you if you are ready to take me back as your husband.’
Something I thought is not possible because we have been separated for quite long and all I wanted from him was to at least foot the children’s school bills.
Today, my children and I are surviving on the mercy of other people with my landlord who we owe 10 months rent.