Mercy Wanjiku Warutere’s life is a testament that one can pick up the pieces and move on despite tough challenges. Despite being orphaned as a teenager, Mercy has mastered the art of rejoicing in her mourning and dancing in her sorrows. She shared her heart-rending story with FAITH MURIGU.

Mercy Wanjiku’s looks don’t betray the tribulations she has been through in her young life. She is petite, laughs easily and has a glitter in her eyes that is quite appealing. She seems happy, full of life and very optimistic about life. She also speaks with much wisdom as she narrates her story, which she says has made her mature and become more grateful for God’s blessings, which has put her in a closer relationship with God.

Born 21 years ago in Karatina in Nyeri County, Mercy is the last born in a family of two siblings. Her elder and only brother, Martin Warutere, whom she loves dearly is married and lives in Nairobi with his family. Martin and Mercy were brought up with great discipline by their parents who insisted on good behaviour and excellent performance in school. Hard work and determination were values that were inculcated in their lives at a tender age.

“My parents worked hard to ensure that our lives were comfortable. Luckily, we did not disappoint them as we performed well in school. Dad, particularly, had great faith in me and often encouraged me telling me to remain focused in life. I did well in my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and got admission to Our Lady of Lourdes Secondary School in Nyeri in February 2007 where I continued with the spirit of hard work,” she says.

Battling with ill health…

 

“By the time I was sitting for KCPE in 2006, my dad, a civil engineer who worked with the government at the time, fell ill. Despite treatment, his condition did not improve necessitating him to retire early from employment. Mum thus took up the responsibility of taking care of him alongside managing the family businesses. Dad’s illness affected us but we admired the way mum went out of her way to care for him. The two had an admirable bond and we constantly prayed as a family and hoped that dad would get well,” she recounts.

Mercy worked hard at school and her spirited efforts paid off when she performed well to secure admission to Maseno University in May 2011 to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in interior design. She joined the university as a privately sponsored student. However at around that time, her mum started complaining of pain in her arm, an experience Mercy describes as unexpected, because her mum had no previous history of ill health.

“At the hospital, mum went through several tests without diagnosing what she was ailing from. She grew weaker by the day and out of concern was transferred another hospital for more check-ups. It was then that she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was at an advanced stage.  The news was hard hitting to the family and initially I was kept out of the loop for fear that I was too young to comprehend. However, I eventually got to know about it,” she narrates.

“This required an emergency surgery to remove the affected breast and in May 2011 mum underwent the surgery at Coptic hospital in Nairobi. She was advised to attend chemotherapy sessions soon after the surgery. I often visited her at the Texas Cancer Centre in Hurlingham, Nairobi where she went for chemotherapy. She looked calm and jovial and often reassured me that she would soon be on her feet. This gave me great hope,” says Mercy.

“However the chemotherapy started having adverse effects on her body but she persevered in the hope that it would only last for a while. Her hair fell off and her skin complexion darkened, as is common with cancer patients, but her strength was remarkable. I reported to the university in August 2011 and kept praying that I would find my mother well at the end of the three-month semester. All the same, I kept in touch with her through phone calls and hospital visits, where we would pray together,” narrates Mercy.

“Dad, whose health had greatly improved, took care of mum with great affection. He was of immense encouragement to her especially after the chemotherapy sessions, which often left her feeling worn out,” she explains.

On completing chemotherapy, Mercy’s mother was started on radiotherapy in January 2012 at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH). The treatment was costly and drained all her parents’ savings. Things took another bad turn when, in late February 2012, Mercy’s father fell critically ill. He was admitted at Jamaa Hospital in Nyeri and operated on. He had battled with stomach ulcers for several years.

“Two months after my mother started radiotherapy, she developed breathing complications and was discontinued with the treatment. One day in March 2012, she woke up with a lot of pain and had difficulty breathing and walking. She was rushed to a Jamaa Hospital in Nyeri where she was admitted and put on oxygen masks to aid her breathing. Tests showed that the cancer had spread to her lungs resulting with the collapse of both lungs,” Mercy shares the agonising times they went through.

Despite the situation, Mercy’s mother’s remained strong and would constantly offer encouragement to those who visited her telling them to hope in the Lord.

Orphaned in a span of two days…

The events of April 7, 2012 remain fresh in Mercy’s memory. It was a chilly day and her heart felt lonely for reasons she could not understand. After visiting her mother in hospital at noon, Mercy was to return at four o’clock with some porridge for her mum. That was never to be as her beloved mother passed away, hours before Mercy returned to the hospital.

“A nurse called me aside when I walked into mum’s ward and broke the news of her death without prior preparation. I stood there detached, gazing into the cloudy sky while trying to make meaning of her words. After gaining some composure, I called my brother, informing him of what had transpired. Soon enough, news of mum’s demise reached many friends and relatives who assembled at the hospital,” Mercy explains.

“Dad seemed most affected by mum’s death although he put on a brave face encouraging us that he was getting better and would soon be discharged from hospital. We had high hopes that he would rejoin us as he had shown commendable improvement,” says a somewhat emotional Mercy.

“However, two days after mum’s demise, tragedy struck again. Dad breathed his last crushing the little hope we had clung onto. With my father’s death, I was afraid that all my dreams of pursuing my education would end but little did I know that God had good plans for us. After the funeral rituals, my father’s colleagues and our relatives met and raised enough money to pay for my university education up to third year. They also supported my brother to get a footing in business. A trustworthy cousin, who had been nurtured by dad, now runs my late parents’ businesses in Karatina. He too has been a great help to my brother and I,” says Mercy.

“We are grateful to God for the immense support we got from relatives, friends and well-wishers. They made our burden lighter and they have continually stood with us through thick and thin. In May 2012, my sister in law was blessed with a beautiful baby girl, Angel Beatrice, who is named after my mother. This child has filled our lives with great joy and hope. We cherish her because in her we see that mum’s bubbly spirit still lives in our midst,” says Mercy.

“Losing a parent is heart breaking, losing both within two days was extremely painful but God has given us strength and hope. We are grateful for the time we spent with my parents and for the important life-lessons they taught us. Some days when we remember and miss them, we feel sad but knowing that they loved us and wished us well has kept us going. Their legacy lives on,” Mercy says in conclusion.

More on breast cancer…

Breast cancer is a cancer that starts in the tissues of the breast. There are two main types of breast cancer:

Ductal carcinoma. This is when cancer starts in the ducts that move milk from the breast to the nipple. This accounts for most cases of breast cancer.

Lobular carcinoma. It starts in the parts of the breast called lobules which produce milk.

Breast cancer can be invasive or noninvasive. Invasive means it has spread from the milk duct or lobule to other tissues in the breast. Noninvasive means it has not yet invaded other breast tissue.

What causes breast cancer?

 

Several factors play a role in breast cancer development. Some of these include:-

Age and gender. Your risk of getting breast cancer increases as you get older. The most advanced breast cancer cases are found in women over 50, however, young women some as young as 25 years old can still get breast cancer.

Genes. Some people have genetic mutations that make them more likely to develop breast cancer.

Family history. Your risk of developing breast cancer increases if you have a close relative who had breast, uterine, ovarian or colon cancer.

Menstrual cycle. Women who start their menstrual periods before age 12 or reach menopause late after 55 years have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Childbirth. Women who have never had children or who had them after age 30 have an increased risk of breast cancer.

 Symptoms to watch out for…

Early breast cancer usually does not cause symptoms. This is why regular breast examination is important. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:

  • Breast lump or a lump in the armpit that is hard and usually does not hurt.
  • Change in size, shape or feel of the breast or nipple.
  • Fluid coming from the nipple – maybe bloody, clear to yellow green and looks like pus.

 

Symptoms of advanced breast cancer:

These include :

  • Weight loss
  • Breast pain and discomfort
  • Skin ulcers
  • Bone pain
  • Swelling in the armpit

Breast cancer Tests…

 

Normally a doctor performs a physical exam which includes the breast, armpits, and neck and chest areas to identify if you have symptoms of breast cancer. He will also do a breast MRI to help identify the breast lump or evaluate abnormal changes on a mammography.

Additionally, he will conduct a breast ultrasound to show whether the lump is solid or fluid-filled, a breast biopsy and a CT scan to check if the cancer has spread once diagnoced. A mammography will also be done to screen for breast cancer or help identify the breast lump.

Treatment options…

Treatment is based on many factors, including the type of cancer, stage of cancer, whether the cancer is sensitive to certain hormones and whether the cancer overproduces a gene called HER2. Cancer treatment may include chemotherapy medicines to kill cancer cells, radiation therapy to destroy cancerous tissue, surgery to remove cancerous tissue – a lumpectomy removes the breast lump while mastectomy removes all or part of the breast.

For women with stage I, II, or III breast cancer, the main goal is to treat the cancer and prevent it from recurring. For women with stage IV cancer, the goal is to improve. After treatment, some women will continue to take medicine for some time. All women should continue to have blood tests, mammograms and other tests after treatment to check for any recurrence. Women who have had a mastectomy may have reconstructive breast surgery, which can be done either at the time of mastectomy or later.

Published in September 2013