It all started early last year at her home in Makindye, a suburb of Kampala City. A small pain in her lower abdomen, which she did not pay much attention to but would later turn out to be the nightmare of her life.
Every day, the pain grew stronger, particularly when she visited the toilet. “Because of the pain, I would cry, scream and eventually pass out blood,” recalls Norah Nanziri. “I stopped working, resorted to eating less in order to avoid going to the toilet because, it became quite embarrassing for a grown up woman and a mother to cry in a toilet especially with people nearby”.
After months of torment, persistence and visiting small clinics that offered advice that never worked, Nanziri decided to go to a bigger hospital.
Here, blood samples were taken which revealed that she had a growing form of rectal cancer, a form of cancer that is confined within the wall of the intestine, especially the colon, often curable with surgery if patients seek treatment early. “I had severe diarrhoea consisting water, blood and mucus and sometimes, water would just come out suddenly, which stopped me from going to work,” says Ms Nanziri.
As she tried to come to terms with her illness, her husband passed away, leaving the burden of looking after their seven children on her. “I used to operate a food kiosk which I had abandoned because of my cancer and now I had to fend for all the seven children and myself,” she noted.
Because footing daily hospital bills was quite expensive yet a mandatory, through a kind nurse at Mulago Referral Hospital, Nanziri was recommended to Palliative care, a home-based care, nutritional support, ARV counselling and bereavement support pain and symptom control programme supported by Palliative Care Association of Uganda (PCAU).
Treatment offered to terminally ill
Ms Sarah Nandaula, a nurse at Hospice Africa-Uganda, one of the few medical institutions in the country accredited to offer such treatment, says, it relieves patients of pain, fatigue and sometimes the expensive hospital environments, particularly for the terminally patients. “Patients eligible for this system are at the worst stages of their illnesses and we help them directly from home,” Ms Nandaula said.
The nurse says the patients are counselled and directly helped from their homes, at stages when they (patients) they are closer to their death.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends Palliative care as an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing problems associated with life threatening illness, through prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification, impeccable assessment and treatment of other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.
In Uganda, the need for Palliative Care is gradually increasing as cancer and HIV/Aids continue to eat into the health of our people.
At the moment, there are about 20,000 patients, majority of them suffering from cancer who seek this form of treatment at various palliative outlets. Waiting for a miracle at her home, today Nanziri still receives all the necessary help; physical and psychosocial on a weekly basis, from medical officers from Hospice, who deliver medications she needs at her doorsteps.