Loss of a loved one. Five years ago, Johnson Mayamba lost his mother to cervical cancer. Before being diagnosed, Mayamba did not know what his mother was suffering from, he shares his experience with Pauline Bangirana
My name is Johnson Mayamba, a journalist at Daily Monitor. The year 2013 is one of those I can never forget. All my life, I had never seen my mother fall sick.
One night in November the same year, I had just finished my day’s work and returned to my residence to rest.
At about 11pm, I received a phone call from my mother. She told me that she was unwell and needed me to be with her as soon as I could. ‘My health is deteriorating, I need you here,’ she said.
At that point, I got so scared. So many things were running through my mind because growing up, I had never heard that my mother was sick except for flu or cough, which was always treated immediately.
I immediately jumped on a boda boda from Mukono Town to Seeta, where she used to stay. On getting there, I found her seated on a floor and there was blood flowing out of her.
Since I could not clean her directly, I called one of the female neighbours, who came and helped me. Thereafter, we rushed her to Mukono Church of Uganda Hospital although the nurses were not of much help.
They kept guessing what could be wrong. I decided that we needed to go somewhere else. When I asked her, she told me we could go to St Francis Hospital, Nsambya, which we did.
We arrived there at around 2am. We were attended to and my mother was admitted there for three weeks. However, after being discharged, my mother kept going back to Nsambya hospital.
I did not know what her cause of sickness was. Whoever would ask what my mother was suffering from, I would tell them that it was internal bleeding but everything would be fine. She kept me in the dark; I believe she wanted to protect me from panic and being scared.
However, much later, a friend of hers told me that she could have been suffering from fibroids. I read online in detail about fibroids and realised that there was no cause for alarm because fibroids can be treated.
Five months after discharge from Nsambya hospital, she was suddenly referred to Mulago hospital. This was in March 2014. When I asked her, she told me she was just going for reviews but everything would be fine.
I witnessed my mother lose weight tremendously to a sickness I could not tell, it got me concerned.
In June 2014, that is when she became weaker and by mid-July, the situation had worsened. She was then given sick leave from work (Seeta Parents Primary School). Whenever I was around, she always showed strength.
One time she forgot to keep her medical forms and I found them in the sitting room. I quickly looked through, took screenshots and picked out key words and consulted my medical friends about them. They did not want to disclose details and everyone I asked told me that my mother would be fine.
I picked a few words and searched about them online. That is when I realised that my mother was suffering from cervical cancer. I read about cervical cancer, the stages and effects.
That is when it hit me that my mother was really sick. We moved her to Entebbe, at the sister’s (my aunt) place since I was working and yet she needed all the help she could get.
However, my mother was becoming weak had stopped eating and could hardly sleep on the bed and preferred staying in the chairs. I started embracing the situation.
In August 2014, her situation got worse and she was admitted at the Uganda Cancer Institute in Mulago. The trauma was unbearable. The day we were admitted, all beds were occupied.
We slept on the floor. Before dawn, the patient we were next to passed on and we took over the bed after the hospital took out the body.
Every day, I saw two or more cancer patients lose their lives and it was depressing. You would see someone today and the next day, they are no more.
In September 2014, my mother stopped talking or eating. I felt weak watching how everything had happened so fast.
On some days, I would break down, though not in her presence. I did not see myself living without her, I did not see myself raising my little brother (Jasper) without her.
The first week of September was tough because I could barely recognise my mother. She was a very healthy woman and now had become very thin and none of her clothes could fit her anymore. One time, I was by her bedside and she had to be fed.
I watched the nurse try to insert a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (feeding tube) through her mouth and yet she was in so much pain but could not talk.
The medication was strong and whenever we fed her, she threw up everything.
One day, I broke down in her presence and started crying. However, there’s a lady from a certain organisation who came and pulled me away from her presence and took me outside.
She hugged me for more than 30 minutes and thereafter, counseled me. She advised me that I had to be strong because when I broke down in her presence, she too, would give up on herself.
The counselling gave me strength to keep strong for my mother. I felt that she was going so soon and yet needed to see the fruits of everything she did for me.
During her time in the hospital, different people came with all sorts of suggestions, such as trying herbal medicine, others concluded that she was being bewitched by her colleagues who were jealous of her progress, but I chose to ignore all this. One even said someone had picked soil from where she had stepped and taken it to the witchdoctor.
Amidst all this, I kept praying and sharing with my aunt, who advised me to ignore and trust in the Lord.
On Tuesday 23, September 2014, I had gone home but later on in the evening, I was called back to the hospital by my aunt. When I reached the hospital, I found many relatives consoling each other.
My mother was no more. Her body was fully covered, her legs and arms were straightened. I quickly removed the cloth but my elder cousin quickly grabbed my hand and hugged me. I broke down.
I knew I had to pick myself up. This is the point I knew I had to stay strong and move on. My worry was my little brother. He was going to grow up without ever knowing his mother, enjoying his mother or even talking to her to experience a mother’s love.
In less than a year, cancer had weakened my mother and claimed her life. We did all we could but we had exhausted our finances. I used up all my savings and my mother’s savings to get treatment. Cancer is deadly and very expensive. However, there are those patients in villages who cannot afford medicines and nothing much can be done.
I am thankful for my family because they were and still are supportive. My aunt took on my little brother as a care taker.
It has been five years since her passing on, but I cannot say I have moved on from the loss. There are times I wish that she was here.
She gave me her all while growing up and I wanted to do the same for her so that she would be proud of me. A lot keeps running through my mind.
It is not an easy road because my mother was everything…
I have always wondered if she’d known earlier, perhaps she would have checked and treatment administered earlier. But she discovered when she was in the last stage. It is a matter of checking.
I encourage everyone to always do body check-ups to know their health statuses. That way, we can know early enough and treatment is administered.”
About cervical cancer
Growth. Cervical cancer occurs when the cells of the cervix grow abnormally and invade other tissues and organs of the body. When it is invasive, this cancer affects the deeper tissues of the cervix and may spread to other parts of the body (metastasis), most notably the lungs, liver, bladder, vagina, and rectum.
However, cervical cancer is slow-growing, so its progression through precancerous changes provides opportunities for prevention, early detection, and treatment. Better means of detection have meant a decline in cervical cancer over the decades. Most women diagnosed with precancerous changes in the cervix are in their 20s and 30s, but the average age of women when they are diagnosed with cervical cancer is the mid 50s
Symptoms. The first identifiable symptoms of cervical cancer are likely to include abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as after intercourse, between menstrual periods, or after menopause; menstrual periods may be heavier and last longer than normal, pain during intercourse, vaginal discharge and odour, pelvic pain.
Prevention. Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that’s almost totally preventable. It comes down to avoiding human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is sexually transmitted. HPV is the top cause of cervical cancer. But it doesn’t always cause the disease.
Many people have HPV and do not develop cervical cancer. There’s also an HPV vaccine that you might want to get. It targets some of the strains of HPV that are the riskiest.
You can also make some lifestyle choices that will lower your chances of getting HPV so that you’re less likely to get cervical cancer.
Treatment. Before getting any treatment, the doctor will have to determine the cancer stage: its size, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. The doctor will choose a treatment that’s most likely to shrink the cancer based on the stage and what type of cervical cancer it is. Cervical cancer treatments include chemotherapy, radiation surgery, targeted therapy.