“I am very sorry Ronnie. I did not want to tell you that I have breast cancer. I have been trying to treat it.” The news perplexed Ronnie Nsubuga. His plans for Rebecca Nakintu were shattered. He suddenly felt like he had been hit by a train as he stood beside her at the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI).
The year 2013 was a beautiful chapter in the life of Nsubuga, the managing director of Crystal Models, a modelling agency. He had found love in Nakintu. “I had completed my Bachelor’s degree in Procurement and Logistics. Years earlier, I had established a modelling agency and was dating a fine piece of art I had met at the YMCA basketball court,” Nsubuga recalls.
The six-foot tall Nsubuga was a regular at most games but often played at the Friday Night Lights (FNL) basketball tournament. Meanwhile, Nakintu was pursuing Business Administration at YMCA and frequented the FNL games as a fan. She was head over heels for Mr Nsubuga who was nicknamed ‘kikankane’ because of his fast-paced dribbling skills.
“I would shout Kikankane at my teammates and every player would know it is dribbling time. But nevertheless, I often mimed GNL Zamba’s club banger at the time,” he recalls.
Nsubuga and Nakintu dated for close to a year. In March 2014, he decided to manifest his love by taking a bold step at the FNL. He hatched a surprise with the commentator, which he hoped would lead them to marital bliss.
And 23-year-old Nakintu, who was in the company of her sister and friends, was having fun in the stands when the commentator called her out to the court amid cheers from other fans who thought it was one of those moments where one is called to take part in a basketball challenge for a prize.
“They blindfolded her and instead of handing her the ball, I walked straight to her and knelt down. When the blindfold was removed, I asked her to marry me,” narrates a teary Nsubuga. Spectators and players chanted ‘Kikankane’ as they hit the stands. Others clapped and cheered Nakintu, urging her to say ‘yes’.
She was dumbfounded. She shed tears of joy as she said ‘yes’ on the microphone. But something strange also happened; Nakintu fainted. The court was panic-stricken. The first aid team attended to her and took her to a nearby clinic. “I lost focus and morale to play. But when she regained consciousness, she could not believe she had a ring on her finger,” he smiles as he wipes tears.
Two days later, Nsubuga was at the Makerere University swimming pool training his models when he received a call that Nakintu had been admitted to Mulago hospital. When he went to see her, she told him it was just fever.
“I assumed it was malaria. I was not responsible enough to dig deeper and consult the doctors or friends in the medical practice,” he regrets.
Fortunately, she was discharged, but a week later, she was brought back to Mulago. Nakintu kept her secret and insisted it was just an ordinary illness. Sadly, it was the last one week before her demise that Nsubuga received a call from her sister. “Rarely would her sister call me. Becky [as he often called her] had been transferred to the Uganda Cancer Institute. Upon arrival, everyone looked heart broken. I looked into her eyes and she was totally different and sorry. She had fear in her eyes and she held my hand in a tight grip. I knew the institute was for cancer patients, but still wondered what had befallen her,” Nsubuga recounts one of his unforgettable moments as he bends forward and backward in his seat during the interview at his Equatorial Mall office.
Things fall apart
Nakintu had run out of time. She had secretively treated herself without the knowledge of her family and love of her life. She did not want to break their hearts when she earlier confirmed that she had the abnormal growth of cells in her breasts. By the time her family realised the plight of their daughter, she had few days to live. “Telling me that she was sorry broke my heart. But the thought that we will never meet again shattered both my heart and spirit,” he says.
Sadly, Nakintu was laid to rest at her ancestral grounds in Kawempe Division, Kampala, two weeks after the proposal.
Months after her death, Nsubuga lost a sense of purpose and lived a life of regret and pity. “I was depressed. I stopped training models but gladly, my students were patient with me. It hurt that she had kept her health status a secret,” he recalls. He also quit playing basketball because he could not stand the memories of a game that brought them together.
Dawn of hope
Later in 2014, he embarked on an initiative dubbed ‘Kampala Pink Affair’, in memory of his late fiancée. “Together with my models, we began to create awareness about breast cancer. Since then, we organise awareness activities every October and encourage men to watch out. We conduct photo shoots, visit schools to sensitise students about cancer through fashion, and bring people together to learn about cancer. It always has a lasting impact,” reveals Nsubuga who is now newly married. He adds that the Pink Affair introduced him to event management and show production.
“My friend, the late Keturah Kamugasa, had embraced the Pink Affair concept and plans were underway to make it bigger and better, but unfortunately the plans stalled because God needed her. I am back to the drawing board to push forward the event we both envisaged,” Nsubuga says.
He currently teaches his models to be bold and speak out as a way to suppress fear that engulfed Nakintu to death. “Thank you Daily Monitor; all these years, I had never shared the ordeal of breast cancer and its effects on my love life at length. Sadly, Nakintu was not bold enough to face cancer and its effects. I encourage my models to be bold; love birds should confide in their partners and men should learn to share their experiences to create positive change.”
According to statistics from the Uganda Cancer Institute there are more than 60,000 cases of cancer per year in the country, of which 25,000 are incident cases. Each year, about 22,000 deaths occur in the country due to cancer. The risk of cancer before the age of 65 is 10 per cent.
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