MY STORY: I Battled Stomach Cancer, Then My Son Committed Suicide

March 9, 2020

Richard Kiundi is a consultant with Bimanet and a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2014 and was bedridden for several months.

Mr Kiundi lost his business and was just about to give up but he recovered thanks to his resilience. However, shortly afterwards, his son took his own life.

Kiundi shared his story on and here are the excerpts:

What exactly do you do?

I work for a company that facilitates the acquisition of affordable life insurance covers for individuals. My work days start at 7 am when I set up meetings with various stakeholders. I then spend the rest of the day meeting individuals or leaders of different organisations to talk about our products.

How do you go about the process of getting a viable business idea and implementing it?

Someone said that if you get into business to make money you will fail, but if you start it with the aim of solving a problem or filling in a gap, you will succeed beyond your wildest imagination. To succeed, one must conduct thorough research to identify a need, and a simple, cost-effective method to solve it. I did this and found out that small to mid-size enterprises (SMEs) could not afford to put up advertisements in mainstream media channels, so I came up with the idea to put up small posters inside matatus. Now, someone with a supermarket in Kitengela can place an ad in the buses plying that route and get clients without having to spend much money.

How did you manage to regain your footing after the debilitating illness?

That was the darkest period of my life. My company wound up and in fact, I am still struggling to get back on my feet financially. Thankfully, thanks to the resilience and determination I have developed over time, I can now see a bright light at the end of the tunnel, which I am sure is not from an oncoming train.

The memories of patients suffering in the hospitals in India and Kenya are still fresh in my mind. Then my son committed suicide a few years ago and that made things even worse. I am still on the path to recovery, both financially and emotionally. I have since developed a strong social support network that includes my family, neighbours, colleagues and former schools mates.

How did your experience with cancer change your perspective on life?

That was a really tough time, and it forced me to realise that life is transient. As human beings, we have very little control over how we come into this world, what we become or how we leave it. I have learnt not to take anyone for granted, and I am now more compassionate and less judgmental to myself and others. I’ve also learnt that people come into your life for a reason, and that you should make proper use of those interactions. Also, not everyone who smiles at you means well.

What more do you hope to achieve?

When I was battling cancer, my high school friends were very supportive and this came as a surprise to me. They stood by me even though we had lost touch for many years. After I recovered, I felt the need to repay the Alliance High School community for their support. I now hope to create an endowment fund for needy students who have been admitted at Alliance High School but cannot afford the school fees. I am also working towards bringing together the school’s alumni to mentor the students and help them find their footing once they complete their studies.

Do you think masculinity is misunderstood in Kenya?

I’ve talked about this in the Inside Man podcast. “Kufa Kiume” is a really misleading statement. Ridiculing our sons when they cry and calling them sissies conditions them to hide their feelings. We need to change the narrative because men get hurt too and they need our support.

How do you unwind?

By listening to Lingala music from Franco, Tabu Ley, and other musicians from the 60’s, and hanging out with former schoolmates over a cup of tea.

From your experience, what’s the difference between being employed and running a business?

The level of responsibility required. When employed, you are guided by your job description, which may limit your performance. You can quit the job any time you feel like and find another workplace. But as an entrepreneur, you are responsible for everything and everyone in your company. The fate of the whole enterprise, including the staff, is in your hands. The end of the month is usually the worst time for employers because they have to pay everyone, sometimes excluding themselves. However, the satisfaction that comes with building a successful company is something an employee will never experience.

What gives you fulfilment in life?

Repaying others for being kind to me and for supporting me in my time of need.


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