Crescentia Nashakhoma could not have noticed that she had cervical cancer, had it not been for the Covid-19 lockdown.
The deputy headteacher of Maluku Primary School in Mbale Municipality, says she would not have taken the watery discharge very serious if she still had to supervise children at school.
“We, teachers, are always busy teaching. I do not think I would have paid better attention to a problem that started in June this year,” she recalls.
Nashakhoma,56, a mother of two, is battling cervical cancer which is now at stage IIB.
During the interview for this article, while we are both seated on a chair I notice how uncomfortable she is; gasping for breath and her words are breaking.She wants to stretch her legs on a flat surface.
We have to do the interview while seated on the mat where she is more comfortable.
“I am not able to sit on a chair for long. I usually want to sit down,” she says in a calm tone and steadier voice.
How it started
In November 2019, Nashakhoma started having cold attacks and feeling weak whenever she would be in class or in the garden but she would not fall sick. One morning in mid-June, she woke up in a wet bed.
“I do not remember ever feeling the urge to urinate that night and yet I did not have any problems controlling my bladder before. I was very confused and not sure, but I thought it was just urine. How had old age just come in so fast?”
The next night, she put a towel to find out what it exactly was.
“It was a clear watery substance and there was no pain associated with the discharge. I also gave it another try during the day to really find out what it was. I would not have as much time to be this observant if it was a school season,” she says.
Nashakhoma felt weaker as the discharge continued. She then went to Mbale Regional Referral Hospital, where she was referred to the family planning unit.
Since the doctors suspected she could be having cancer, she was reviewed by a gynecologist who recommended that she does a biopsy before it was confirmed she had cancer.
Nashakhoma thinks she would now be in a dilemma because she did not feel any pain or any other symptom. If it was not for the discharge, she would not have sought medical attention.
“I am a salary earner and for three months, I had not received any money. I did not know what to do because the gynecologist recommended that I start treatment immediately before cancer progresses to another level that would be hard to treat,” she says.
She adds: “I borrowed Shs500,000 and fortunately, I got my salary that same day. I did not pay back the money because I was not sure about the journey ahead.”
On July 28, her brother-in-law brought her to the Uganda Cancer Institute
She had never been to Kampala before and did not know anyone around. It was not hard for her to start getting treatment but she had to stay with her brother-in-law in Seeta, Mukono.
“I started getting treatment immediately and was on chemotherapy and radiotherapy concurrently. From Monday to Friday, I get the exposures of radiotherapy and the chemotherapy on Wednesdays,” Nashakhoma reveals.
“I commend the service of the doctors at the cancer institute and if it was not for the many patients, the treatment process would be an organized one.”
She has so far had four cycles of her chemotherapy, left with one cycle.
She got 20 exposures of radiotherapy and is left with only eight days to complete.
Her discharge stopped on the second day of her exposure to radiotherapy and now she does not need to use pads anymore.
“My treatment time has been very short from the stories that I hear from colleagues. I have hope that I am going to be even much better soon. I only get a few side effects of body weakness, vomiting, loss of appetite and sores in the genital area,” she says.
Due to the high transport costs, Nashakhoma could not go back to Mbale.
She sought refuge at her sister’s home in Seeta, Mukono District, because she needed to be at the cancer institute almost every day.
“I would come to UCI every day with my niece and spend Shs40,000 per visit,” she recalls.
She adds: This was very expensive for me. At my age, I could not bear the coldness and sleeping on the veranda like the other patients. I asked some health worker if he knew of a place where I could rent near the hospital instead of spending all this money [on transport].”
She was then led to a social worker who took her to Patient Relief Mission shelter and there, she receives free meals, accommodation, and transportation to the cancer institute.
Nashakhoma says: “I could not believe everything was free of charge. It was a big relief that I got. My relatives were struggling. I still haven’t paid my debt and sometimes I even fear telling people that I have cancer. The times are hard; I do not want people to get worried about me.”