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How Cancer Patient Has Lived for Nearly 20 Years ‘Drugs Free’

Updated on May 6, 2020
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A Kenyan journalist and a versatile writer ready to explore newer niche.

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“Doctors gave me two years to live,” narrates 18-year cancer survivor

He descended downhill from East Africa Portland Sports Club in Kitengela, Nairobi, and pulled in at a junction letting the door ajar to usher me into his grey demio car.

Before uttering a word, he sneezed twice, lowered his window to get the breeze and then flashed a smile as he sipped water from the bottle.

“Sneezing and feeling thirsty frequently is no longer strange for me. This is how my life has been for years,” said Frederick Mativo, a cancer patient who has lived with the disease for 18 years now.

After driving slowly and carefully, he opened his office located in Kitengela town, a place where he spends much of his time planning on how to influence the lives of other patients positively.

Dressed in a checked shirt, brown trouser and in glasses, his head with grey hair implying old age; Mativo settled on a chair to narrate his rough patch with cancer.

In the year 2001, a youthful Mativo had high hopes of achieving his dream by traveling to the UK to further his studies.

He had a young family at the time and the future was bright. He had just been diagnosed with pneumonia and treated at the MP Shah Hospital in Nairobi.

Journey abroad

The 62-year-old departed the country with his family to the UK in September 2001 filled with hopes of studying Masters Degree in Business Administration.

But his whole world turned upside down with just few days into the study.

“I fell sick and was admitted to Royal Liverpool Hospital,” he said.

According to Mativo, he had earlier thought that his normal chest infections were not cleared after treatment in Nairobi. He was expecting a change but was becoming more concerned with his withering strength which was condemning him to bed rest.

He lamented that he was fatigued and weak to the extent that he had to drop out of classes altogether.

His day with fate at the Liverpool-based hospital soon cropped in after rigorous medical tests.

“The doctor was reluctant to tell me what was happening but it reached a point that I was told that I had cancer,” he said.

The diagnosis would soon be followed by a heartbreaking advisory that he had only two-and-half years to live. So he had to plan his life wisely and live every moment with a cheerful heart.

He left the hospital and headed home thinking carefully how to tell his wife about the monstrous turn of events.

“She asked me what the doctors said and straightway, I said ‘I had cancer,” Mativo recalls.

According to his wife, Josephine Kimeu, it was just fortunate that they had young children who were not able to understand the gravity of the news.

“I looked at the kids to know whether they heard the same thing. I was crashed. I was shocked,” said Mrs Mativo, during their cancer care centre launch.

Mr Mativo was diagnosed with Multiple Myloma- a type of leukemia (blood cancer) which forms in the white blood cells and in the bone marrow, crowding the healthy cells.

His wife recalls how she battled the news that she had only two years to see her husband alive. That was the point she took the mantle of playing multiple family roles-taking care of her husband and ensuring children are fed and are going to school.

“I refused to accept that my husband would die in two years. I started researching foods that fight cancer cells and boost immunity,” she said, as she narrated how she sought a lifestyle change to help her husband live longer.

She said that she read books and online articles and put Mr Mativo on a diet. His meals shifted from ordinary meals to fruits, vegetables and other plant-based supplements.

This meant that the whole family had to follow suit to accommodate and support the father who was fighting a dreaded disease.

“I stopped what I was eating and had to start eating what I prepared for him. I remember changing from ordinary milk to things like soya milk was not easy because I grew up in a farm. But as a caregiver, you have to sacrifice,” she narrated.

For Mrs Mativo, the burden of caring for a cancer patient hinged heavy weight on her shoulders as she had to juggle two jobs to sustain the family. Her daughter was also at some point forced to drop out of the university as they sought money for necessities.

Mr Mativo remembered how he underwent a bone marrow transplant among other treatments which he said never changed a lot. But after picking up from his bed and getting to move bit by bit, his health suddenly improved after he started regular exercise and the new feeding routine.

Although he is not cancer free, he got his smile back as his body rejuvenated.

The family soon found a grip of how to beat odds as Mativo lived beyond 2004, a year the doctors had predicted for him to be in the grave.

Even though he is back on his feet and doing everything normally, Mativo has adapted to his lifestyle marked with strict eating habits.

“I prepare my food, juices and eat once before I leave my house. If I have to eat while away, I carry something,” he said.

But for his wife, their journey is a mixture of pain and pleasure that she that achieved the remedy at a time it was much needed.

“I have been my husband’s caregiver, nurse, counsellor, everything,” she asserts.

“Even if one day my husband will depart (die), I know I have done everything.”

The inspiration

Despite not being on cancer medication and surviving on healthy nutrition and exercise, Mativo's life has changed and he is keen to details of his life. He visits Royal Liverpool Hospital for medical check-ups just to examine the levels of the disease to avert advancement to detrimental stages.

Another aspect of his life that changed after his diagnosis is his feeding especially at night. Josephine says that she has learnt to adjust to all the changes required for Mativo's body system.

"My husband sleeps right away after eating. So if we have anything to discuss or any devotion or prayer, we have to do it before he eats, it happens same way it does to a little baby," she explained.

The couple came back to Kenya 2012 and have been trying to set up a cancer care centre, which would provide counseling, nutritional guides and tips to the caregivers to help the patients. On November 27, 2019, with the support of close relatives and friends, the duo fundraised for their newly registered cancer care centre dubbed Ebenezer Cancer Foundation meaning 'this far the lord has brought us.'

While addressing the gathering at the East Africa Portland Sports Club, Mativo talked passionately about the management of cancer and the heavy burden the caregivers have to face.

He explained throughout his experience, he had learnt to appreciate the pivotal roles of caregivers. He said the caregivers are often stressed and they can often pass the same emotions to the stress.

He emphasized that handling cancer patients require a lot of patience and tolerance because of their varying emotions which may sometimes infuriate those taking care of them.

For Mativo, managing cancer is a path that begins right from diagnosis. He has drawn a huge lesson from his case when he broke the news about his diagnosis without taking a second thought about his wife's probable reaction.

He narrates how a young woman she was mentoring, who was diagnosed with breast cancer shocked her father to death after bombarding him with doctor's verdict.

"Cancer is not a death sentence. When diagnosed with cancer. Just try and be sensitive when breaking the news to your loved ones. Be mindful about them, " he stated.

His tales of encounter with cancer is laden with stories of giving and receiving encouragements from fellow cancer survivors. He has lost some of them but such is what he terms as the 'reality of life.'

But oncologists such as Dr Gilbert Odhiambo assert there is no exact answer to treating or managing the disease.

“Multiple Myeloma is not curable. There are many types in which some of them are more aggressive and can kill patients within few months. But there are which can go into remission and surface after a long while,” he said.

Dr Odhiambo argued that nutrition cannot be the antidote alone for the disease. He says that Mr Mativo’s type of multiple myeloma may not be the aggressive type, hence he is able to live without contemporary treatments like chemotherapy and anti-body treatment.

According to him, what makes multiple myeloma more dangerous and unpredictable is that it is not simpler to diagnose like the others. And when patients are diagnosed, the news comes after many attempts.

He said that managing it is more expensive and most patients die of kidney failure among other infections after several occasions of misdiagnosis.

What is multiple myeloma?

According to Cancer.org, a website run by American Cancer Society, multiple myeloma is a cancer that affects the plasma cells. It occurs ‘when plasma cells become cancerous and grow out of control.’

“The plasma cells make an abnormal protein (antibody) known by several different names, including monoclonal immunoglobulin, monoclonal protein (M-protein), M-spike, or paraprotein,” notes Cancer.org.

It is characterized by various symptoms such as low blood counts (anemia), bone and calcium problems, frequent infections and possible kidney problems.

A 2018 report by Global Cancer Observatory (GLOBOCAN) revealed that Kenya registered 607 new cases of multiple myeloma. The disease is ranked at position 18 as breast cancer leads the chart as the most common cancer type in the country with 5,985 new infections.

In 2019 statistics given by Cancer.net, at least 12,000 patients diagnosed by cancer worldwide could die this year. It however reveals that survival rate linked to multiple myeloma has risen to 5 years giving patients hope.

It states: “The 5-year survival rate for people with multiple myeloma is over 50 per cent. For the 5 per cent of people who are diagnosed at an early stage, the 5-year survival rate is 72 per cent. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year survival rate is almost 50 per cent.”

Another 2014 survey commissioned by the World Health Organization revealed that men are the most affected by multiple myeloma in Kenya. It stated that 5.8 per cent of all the cancer cases in men were of multiple myeloma. Women on the other hand did not register such incidents.

© 2020 Japheth Omondi Ogila

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