Four operations later, stricken girl can smile

Relatives of Christine Baluka (left) jubilate after she returned home better, having undergone a successful operation. She has battled with cancer for the last four years. PHOTOs | MUDANGHA KOLYANGHA

What you need to know:

  • A medical report from the Uganda Cancer Institute shows that while the tumour was noted in October of 2019, a diagnosis was not arrived at until February of 2020.

Four years ago, Christine Baluka developed a swelling on her upper right arm shoulder that she initially brushed aside. It will go away, she thought to herself. But when the pain became excruciating, she knew that something had gone awry.

Baluka’s doting parents, Mr Geofrey Tazuba, 56, and Angella Nankoma, 43, had the fourth of their 12 children walking in and out of different health facilities like Budaka Health Centre IV.  They would always leave none the wiser.

A medical report from the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) shows that while the tumour, described in medical parlance as a “high grade soft tissue sarcoma”, was noted in October of 2019, a diagnosis was not arrived at until February of 2020.

Baluka, 20, was referred to Mulago National Referral Hospital from Mbale Regional Referral Hospital on April 20, 2020. The former was not equipped to deal with her ailment.

“Cancer specialists from Uganda Cancer Institute in Mulago Hospital tried to treat me to a point of becoming fine, but eventually the cell grew worse,” Baluka told Sunday Monitor, adding, “That is when I had to be referred to Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi.”

Before, Baluka’s parents—who lead nondescript lives in Bwase Village, Budaka Town Council in Budaka District—had sold their cows and goats to clear a Shs10 million bill UCI had slapped them with. Now Aga Khan Hospital in Kenya needed 20 times that amount.

A November 12, 2021, report indicated that Baluka needed “neoadjuvant chemotherapy to shrink the tumour and ease definitive surgery to be done.”

The surgery would be been “upon completion of 2-4 cycles of neoadjuvant chemotherapy.” And, of course, payment of Shs200 million.

Christine Baluka.

Beating cancer is a punishingly expensive undertaking. It also helps a great deal if patients and their families showcase great mental fortitude. Baluka had more than shown this by defying the odds to write her 2020 Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) at Kabuna Primary School. Weeks before she had been rooted to a bed at UCI. Baluka’s parents say she performed “fairly.”

The medical bill that Aga Khan Hospital wrote for Baluka’s parents was, however, an insurmountable hurdle. Recommendation for what UCI described as “further management” had been done on July 28, 2021.

“Unfortunately, my parents failed to secure Shs200 million in a bid to enable me undergo the operation,” Baluka recalls, adding that she badly needed a lucky break.

Mr Vincent Watolya helped her get one when he organised a fundraising drive that ensured four operations were packed into 2022 at Entebbe Hospital. The last one in November left Baluka pain-free. Unassuming, Mr Watolya told Sunday Monitor that the “generous support both in kind and cash” of Baluka’s friends came in handy.

“All the praise goes to Mr Vincent Watolya, who has been at the forefront,” Mr Tazuba said, adding, “I couldn’t believe that my daughter could return back home as a normal person.”