What you need to know:
- September is the Childhood Cancer Awareness month meant to raise awareness of childhood cancers that remain the leading cause of death by disease for children under 14. Echodu is one of the children fortunate to be alive and share the the harrowing journey.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) labelled September as the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by stressing the world wide issues that come with child cancer, and how they can be solved to ensure children beat cancer.
For Moses Echodu, this month means a lot as it reminds him of his own battle with cancer as a child. Echodu battled with Burkitts Lymphoma from the age of eight until he was declared cancer free at 10 years old.
“I was diagnosed with cancer towards the end of 1998 when I developed a swelling on my jaw. This came after an operation on my spinal cord at Nsambya Hospital. We returned to Nsambya but were referred to Mulago Hospital cancer ward where I was diagnosed with cancer,” recalls Echodu, who at that time thought it was just an ordinary sickness.
While most people made a maiden journey to the city centre for an elevation in life, say school, for Echodu, it was a fight for his life.
“Coming to Nsambya Hospital, it was my first time to travel from deep in Adacar, Katakwi District and I saw (tall) buildings and electricity for the first time,” he remembers like it was yesterday.
On getting to hospital, Echodu was told he was carrying a rotting vertebrae which called for a quick operation.
It was during the operation and surgery recovery that he noticed a swelling on his jaw . Moving from home to hospital for his chemotherapy appointments was tiring. “In my morning, it was, “oh here we go again” and then after the chemo, it was “Can we just get home so I can sleep?” It was not easy,” he says.
Luckily, he was now based in Kyebando which made the journey to Mulago bearable.
Now 32 years old, Echodu is up and running, healthy as they come. He is the programmes Lead at Craft Silicon Foundation Uganda and also a volunteer Programmes Lead at Uganda Child Cancer Foundation, serving a cause he is familiar with.
Born in Katakwi District, the Information Technology graduate’s story is one of pain and hope.
“My body went through many drastic changes such as becoming weaker, darker, and I lost interest in many things,” explains Echodu.
He says reading a book, playing video games, board games and taking walks help to take one’s mind off the grueling treatment.
“I also had to drink a lot of juice, porridge, and eat fruits like my life depended on it because it actually did,” he says.
Being around those he loved and loved him back pushed him through because the most testing times were when he was all by himself.
“The hardest bit of the entire journey is the feeling of loneliness, the thought that you could die at any time. I also did not like it when my family had a worried look that something wrong could happen at any time,” he remembers.
Children are lively souls but that bit was robbed from Echodu during that time because some parents told their children not to play with him, fearing he would pass on whatever he was suffering from to them.
“However, two very good friends Juma and Tony Kigozi came and started playing with me and even reached a point of refusing to play with others if I was not included in the games. That was fantastic,” he recalls.
It kept him strong even when his hair was falling off due to the chemotherapy and radiotherapy. “Perhaps that is why I now have a receding hairline,” he jokes.
Detection and treatment
It is always easier to treat cancer when detected in its early stages. For some reason, Echodu’s cancer was discovered later than preferred. “My cancer was at stage four,” he says.
Thankfully, despite being discovered a bit late, the treatment process yielded success because of his adherence to the prescribed medicine and all treatments. Apart from being a tough experience for a patient, cancer treatment is very costly.
On many occasions, families find themselves organising fundraisers or selling off properties to fund cancer treatment of their beloved ones.
Thankfully, Echodu hit the jackpot with less to spend. “I was signed on to the most important anti-cancer medicine as a trial patient without my family having to spend a lot of money buying it,” he says.
Taking that option required approval which his parents accented to as it had shown signs of success.
Being a child, he knew so little of what was happening but was confused as to why the treatment was taking much longer than most of the treatments he was used to. Not even within his family had such a case been witnessed before.
As he battled cancer, Echodu never lost hope, something deep within told him he would overcome the disease and go on to have a normal life. He surely longed for life devoid of pain, treatment and endless hospital trips. Nonetheless, at times, he lost hope.
“Having buried an uncle at four and an aunt at six, I knew what death was and worried about whether I would beat it,” he says.
Seeing people die all around him worsened the feeling.
“In the 90s, the cancer ward was divided to accommodate children, women, and men. Every week, there was always someone dying and I feared that I was the next. Thankfully, I pulled through and was declared cancer free,” he says.
He dreamt of a time life would return to the good old days, but the dream seemed to elude him.
After about a year of fighting cancer, Echodu had gone through a lot and made a pledge to spend his life supporting the work of fighting cancer, especially in children. Today, he works with Uganda Child Cancer Foundation to help shape the foundation of fighting childhood cancer in Uganda. He even held a mock wedding as a groom to Olivia Karungi to fundraise for children suffering from cancer.