I have had multiple surgeries

Tuesday October 27 2020

Ms Shanitah Kyewalabye is now cancer-free. PHOTO | NOBERT ATUKUNDA

By Nobert Atukunda

At 25, Shanitah Kyewalabye was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the course of breastfeeding her one-year and five-months old son, she discovered a lump in her right breast. She thought it was clogged milk that would go away with time.
“I was pushed to do an ultrasound scan which showed everything was fine. Since it was painful, I was given painkillers and told to go home and rest. They thought it was just Fibroadenoma,”  Ms Kyewalabye narrates.
“I looked it up on google and also thought it was a Fibroadenoma, but the pain was persistent even after taking painkillers. I was told to do a biopsy because Fibroadenoma doesn’t hurt but still they said breast cancer lumps also don’t hurt,” she recounts.
Given her age and the fact that she was unaware of any family history of cancer, the breastfeeding mother was confident that it was not cancer. 
The biopsy showed otherwise. The revelation a week later was that she had breast cancer. This came as a shock.
At the time of receiving her results, Ms Kyewalabye did not wait for the doctor to share the results. She followed the doctor to the laboratory.
“As they were typing, I saw the word carcinoma. I was able to notice that I had cancer given the words that were written on the computer. I usually do my research, I knew carcinoma meant cancer,” she recounts. 
Ms Kyewalabye’s husband, Steven Mbidde says: “When she called me crying and told me, I knew I had to be there for her. I was terrified because I knew the journey wouldn’t be easy, the stress, stigma.”
In about four-and-a half months, Kyewalabye’s cancer was at Stage Three, it was so aggressive and she had to choose between losing her life or the breast.  
She, was, however, worried about her appearance after the operation.  To her surprise, the operation left only a small line which has since disappeared.
After the surgery,  Ms Kyewalabye says she had to rest for two weeks before chemotherapy but then the cancer returned and she had to go for a second surgery. In less than a month the cancer had moved from the breast to the armpits. Thus the lymphnodes had to be removed. 
“These lymphnodes are the ones that transport the cancer cells to other body organs so I had to go for another surgery to remove the lymph nodes. Then, I started chemotherapy,” she says.
Although it was not an easy experience, chemotherapy was not as bad as she had been told. 
Ms Kyewalabye says the triple negative cancer is very aggressive, rare and lacks medicine. 
In spite of what she was told by the doctors, she still had faith and encourage that hers would be easy to treat and she would make it through.
During the first cycle of chemotherapy, she started experiencing headaches, stomachache, and constant vomiting.
“When you are on chemo you have to drink a lot, at least three litres a day, eat fruits and foods that give energy to your body. The first cycle was okay. On the second cycle, I lost my hair. It just fell off. I knew the hair had to go, so I was not traumatised,”  Ms Kyewalabye says.
Aside from hair loss, her tongue turned black, the nails darkened and the lips changed colour.
She covered the nails with polish and always wore a wig when going out so that her children would not see her without hair. Some days, she would however, embrace her bald head. 
After the eight cycles of chemo, Ms Kyewalabye was told to have CT scan to see how the body had responded to treatment. Although, the scan showed all the body organs were perfectly fine, the armpit still had tissue which needed to be removed, a process the doctors termed aggressive vasectomy.
Currently, she says she is cancer-free since during her hospital visits, she has been told she is okay.