44-year-old Michael Juma Oloo kept avoiding doctors’ appointments until the hard truth about cancer finally hit him. After rigorous treatment, Oloo is now counting the days to a test that will declare him cancer-free.
He shared his story with Sunday Magazine.
I started having stomach upsets and a severe heartburn in 2010. The hospitals I checked into treated me for various ailments and gave me medication to ease the pain. I also remember being treated for back pain which I associated to having fallen from a roof while at work. But when the pain didn’t go away, I visited a doctor who referred me to Nairobi Hospital for an endoscopy and colonoscopy. I was told to wait for two weeks for the results but I didn’t wait.
Instead, I went for a job-related trip and forgot about the test. I went back to my doctor in 2014 when I couldn’t take the pain anymore. By then, I had also started noticing large bloodstains in my pants and wondered where the blood came from. I shared this with my wife who pushed me to go back to my doctor. Fresh tests at Nairobi Hospital showed that I had what the doctor explained as a malignant tumour in my colon. At that time the tumour had grown significantly bigger than what the doctors had observed during the initial tests whose results I hadn’t picked from 2010.
The doctor referred me to the hospital’s emergency section where I was to undergo emergency surgery to remove the tumour. I said I needed a day to understand the magnitude of the diagnosis and left the hospital, taking with me painkillers that the doctor gave me. They say men are foolish when it comes to managing their health. I agree.
After taking the painkillers, I dismissed the doctor’s instructions to report to the hospital. And thinking myself in perfect health, I resumed my daily activities and forgot about my medication. This was until February 2015 when my health plunged once more. My stomach pains became worse and I started passing bloody stool, and this was also a very painful process.
Once more, I went to my faithful doctor who was very angry and scolded me for not taking my health seriously. I remember him drawing something on the paper to illustrate how the insides of my stomach were damaged. He explained that the tumour had become very large, actually about 17 centimeters long in my colon and that it needed to be removed. He openly told me that I had been diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer. This meant that cancerous cells had spread from the colon all the way to my rectum. He had wanted to tell me but couldn’t find me on my phone. The revelation didn’t shock me because I had already been through immense pain. All I asked the doctor was if anything could be done to ease the pain I was going through especially when I passed stool.
I can’t describe how relieved I was when the doctor explained that, a surgery, if successful, would ease the pain. This time, doctors at the facility didn’t let me escape. They confiscated my car to ensure that I went back to the hospital for the surgery. Two months later, I went to the hospital, this time, eager to receive treatment. But it was here that I almost lost my life. I suffered from the worst form of negligence through the surgery that left me with a bigger scar. The surgeon, I think accidentally, cut my small intestines and they started leaking in my stomach. Tests at a different hospital revealed that indeed, there was a hole in my small intestines but it could be sealed.
My surgery involved pulling part of my rectum to the surface of my stomach to make a hole from which I was to pass stool. The exposed a part would be fitted on a stoma bag in which the stool would be emptied.
Adjusting to a stoma bag wasn’t easy. Having stayed away from my job for a long time, I was receiving threats that I would lose my job. And so, I hadn’t healed completely when I went back to my workplace. I also hadn’t mastered the use of the stoma bags. This made my life difficult at the workplace. But at some point, I decided to be positive about my situation.
Unfortunately, I was laid off in what management termed as restructuring.My meeting with Sally Agallo of Stoma World Kenya has given me a whole new perspective to using stoma bags. She introduced me to the network of people using stoma bags and I have learnt how I can maximise the use of the expensive bags. One stoma bag costs Sh1,300 which is way more than an average person can afford. Before, one stoma bag only took me two days. But with tips I got from Stoma World Kenya, I can comfortably use the bags for up to 5 days.
I’ve been faithful to all my doctors’ appointments and it has helped. I count myself lucky because I never went through any chemotherapy, just the surgery. I have been going for tests which show the absence of cancer. I have only one test and I will be declared cancer-free.