You are just like any other Nairobian stuck in the rut that is middle class life. You have an 8 to 5 that pays your rent in a decent estate, puts your kids in a ka-private school somewhere and pretty much feeds your family. Of course you want more. It’s human nature, who doesn’t? Some day you hope to finally save up enough money, quit your job, start a business, move your family to one of the more exclusive neighbourhoods and take your kids to fancier schools. It’s the urban dream, right? But for now, you’re just happy and content with the way things are; nothing to complain about.
Then one day you begin feeling extremely tired even when you don’t do any draining activities. You quickly dismiss it because your job entails a lot of travelling. Must be the effects of hitting the road too hard, you reassure yourself. But then, 2 weeks later, the fatigue gets worse. You pick up random fevers and your appetite is no longer there. You have to literally force yourself to eat. It must be malaria (it’s always malaria), everyone tells you. Seeing as you have nothing to lose, you finally man up and decide to drive down to your doctor in Thika. They run a couple of blood tests on you and tell you to come back later; common hospital procedure.
You go back for the results. The look on Dr. Wachira’s face is enough to tell you that this isn’t an ordinary ailment. It certainly isn’t malaria. There’s something abnormal with your blood, he says. He suspects something but they’ll have to do further tests. On 24th of November 2015, your fears are confirmed. You are diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukamia (AML). The name itself is enough to scare you. The more the doctor speaks, the more your fright is heightened. A lot of questions are racing through your head. You never thought cancer happened to ordinary folks like yourself. How did you even get it in the first place? Is this one curable? Most importantly, if not, how much more time do you have to live?
When my friend Lucy Wamuyu (the one Bikozulu keeps talking about in his office tales) called me to do this post, I was at home, busy sipping a huge mug of honey, lemon and ginger tea while staring at our chicken walking around. Life couldn’t have been more blissful. A family friend of theirs, one Mr. John Nyanjui, had been diagnosed with leukaemia and she was starting a social media campaign to help raise funds for his treatment in India. “Magunga is a bit held up right now, will you mind doing the article?” she asked. “Sure thing,” I quipped. At that moment, I didn’t think much of it. Surely, how hard could it be to type a few words about some disease? Easy peasy. Child’s Play.
The reality hit me hard 2 days later when I tried coming up with something. I had zero clue on where to start. I had only heard about AML on medical series (House, to be precise) and I was one of those people who slept their way through biology classes. So I did what any wise person in my position would; consult good old Google. I scoured the internet for articles on AML just to find out more about this disease.
Acute Myeloid Leukaemia is a rare condition that occurs when the bone marrow manufactures very large numbers of immature white blood cells . This interferes with the production of normal blood cells which leads to a significant drop in platelet count, red blood cells and normal white blood cells. (By now those who hated Biology as much as I did have already switched off, but hang on). In simple words, what this means is that your blood is messed up; your immunity is lowered and you’re susceptible to infections. Your immune system is basically like an open window without blinds, the sun comes glaring right in. AML progresses really rapidly and can be fatal if left untreated within weeks or months after diagnosis.
On visiting Mr. Nyanjui at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital where he was admitted, the harsh reality of the disease hit home. There’s nothing as disheartening as seeing a grown man who has his life ahead of him looking so frail and helpless on a hospital bed. He was getting a blood transfusion, something that has become part of his routine as he awaits to go for further treatment. Despite his state, the man has not lost his humour. “Ndio nimekuja servicing kwa garage,” he says comparing his blood transfusion to getting an oil change. He’s lost so much weight since he became sick. Water and food taste horrible on his tongue; he’s stopped going to work because he’s become too weak. His life has practically come to a standstill as he awaits treatment.
He’s supposed to go for a Stem Cell Transplant and chemotherapy in India at a total cost of Kshs. 8.1M. So far, his family, friends and colleagues have been able to raise 2 million. Right now all his hopes of ever resuming his normal life, being a husband and being a dad to his two lovely children are banked on receiving that transplant. He’s counting on your generosity to help him and his family meet the 6.1 million shilling balance. I know its January; things are thick and wallets are light, but kindly dig deep into your pockets. That 100 bob, 50bob, 1000bob is enough to make a difference. If you can, send your contributions to MPESA No 0720 974 686.