Janet Kanini Ikua,Pampers Diapers Brand Ambassador
NTV – presenter of the N-Soko Property Show
4 weeks ago I came to India seeking a medical answer – well I found it, and it was not what I expected. At all.
Before I write more, let me explain that my case of Deep Vein Thrombosis is not the typical case. It has gone on for a while so I don’t want anyone who gets it to be anxious that their journey will be the same as mine. Usually, anyone with DVT will go through the initial stages same as mine – a swollen leg, painful foot that makes it difficult to walk, hospitalization to stop the clot growing and return normal blood flow through the leg, plus anti-thrombotic stockings and blood thinner pills for a few months to dissolve the clot and ensure that it doesn’t travel to the danger zone – heart and lungs.Usually within 6 to 12 months DVT disappears though it can recur later, otherwise you can get back to work and life as usual even during treatment.
My case of DVT has turned out to be a symptom of something else, something more. Hence its stubborn refusal to respond to blood thinner pills and my reliance on Clexane injections that should ideally be used for 10 days – instead I have used them for more than 3 months.
So here’s what the latest medical reports say.
Lung cancer. Stage 4, meaning it has spread from the primary lung site into lymph nodes.
Clearly my body is staying true to my love for drama and theatrics because a blood clot has also decided to hang out in the heart muscle. Doctors have called it ‘organized’ – yaani it’s fixed in the muscle with little chance of moving so I’m safe from that. We can focus on treating the cancer.
It has taken me weeks to decide to publicly admit that this is the diagnosis. One reason is that it is not advised to give voice to sickness. What you declare is what is. However I realize that discussing this condition over the past 3 and half months has helped people – those with similar symptoms, those with other ailments and those who are affected by caring for the sick. I know that sickness is not my portion, and if by sharing my experience I can help to educate and comfort others, then so be it.
Let me start from my arrival on Thursday 10th September. Coming to an Indian hospital was an excellent decision. These guys do so much medical tourism that they’ve turned it into a well-oiled machine. My husband brought me, and as soon as we walked out of the plane someone received us, helped us through immigration, negotiated the best foreign exchange rate and put us in a taxi straight to hospital. At the hospital door someone else who speaks English picked us, carried our bags and led us to the International Patient lounge where we were quickly registered and hotel confirmed before going to the doctor’s office for our first appointment. And this was another major surprise for us – our doctor is a top Surgical Oncologist, world-reknown, he even invented a surgical procedure that is named after him. And yet he is the most humble man, soft spoken, ready to listen to all concerns and questions; and his consultation fee is 1,000 rupees (kindu 1,600 bob) – far less than the amounts you find in Nairobi. After meeting him we were transported for free to the hotel – patients are entitled to one free pick and drop per day. Next morning I was promptly admitted and prepared for this machine that brings many Kenyans to India – the PET MRI scanner. It uses radiation to get an amazingly accurate picture of the internal workings of the body, so that you scan the entire body at a go. If I had stayed in Nairobi I was going to go in and out of CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds around my body to discover what’s up, which would have meant a lot of money, time and uncertainty. So on Friday 11th September I was injected with a substance that made me radioactive. I was hot! LOL! smile emoticonEven hubby had to wait an hour before I was safe enough to be around him, and for the next 10 hours I drank loads of water to wash out the radiation. Apparently we don’t have this technology in Kenya because we don’t have nuclear laws that would enable safe handling of the radioactive isotopes. It is amazingly effective so I look forward to the day it comes. Most Indian hospitals have the PET CT scan and the multitudes of patients from across Africa and Europe are testament to their affordable effectiveness. Add to this the nursing care. Despite the language barrier the nurses and medical attendants are able to make patients comfortable and their expertise is unquestionable, because across the globe medical language, drug names and procedures are standard. Service with a smile is what you get here.
This hospital is huge so patients are pushed around in wheelchairs and the attendants make sure that your seat belt is strapped properly first. Though I think one of the attendants secretly wants to be safari rally driver because he sukumad that wheelchair fast…which honestly I enjoyed (I hope this doesn’t reflect on my driving!)
On Saturday the PET MRI scans were back so Doc sent me for an FNAC (Fine Needle something something..) where a very long needle was inserted to the lymph node at the base of my neck just above the shoulder blade. This is the test whose results led me to remember Sunday September 13th as a significant day in my life – the day I was told there is cancer in my body. I won’t bore you with my emotional reaction. At least hubby was by my side and the nurses turned out to be very supportive. Before I left Kenya my friends prayed that I get a medical team who respect and value my Christianity. Prayers were answered because I have been told of God’s compassion and healing by many Indians, which is great comfort.
The next day I was given a local anaesthetic and the lymph nodes on the left side of my neck-shoulder blade were cut into – a lymphatic incision – so as to get a tissue sample. The weird thing is that I was awake throughout the procedure, and they wanted this so that I indicate whether I feel any pain. The local anaesthetic makes it relatively painless, but I could feel the pressure as they tagged at the nodules that were like little balls….straaaanngee feeling. At one point my body was tilted so my head was lower than my entire body….really straaaannnggee feeling. But their operating theatres are well equipped and the personnel know their work. The tissue sample was then sent to the lab for a biopsy to determine whether I have the specific gene that will allow me to be treated with tablets only instead of chemotherapy.
Shock on me when the relatively painless procedure was over and the local anaesthetic started wearing off. OUCH!!! Suffice it to say hubby had to feed me like a baby for a full day coz moving my neck and head hurt. I was discharged to rest in the hotel as we awaited the biopsy results that would determine the way forward with treatment. Now, if you’re planning to travel here don’t stress about accommodation. Hospitals negotiate special rates with hotels. In a 5 star hotel on bed and a huge breakfast with free WiFi you can pay kshs.4,000 per person per night including taxes.Yes. In a 5 star. Special rates are also negotiated for 1 to 4 star hotels and self catering guesthouses, especially if you’re here for long. In the hotel meals are also discounted for patients, and unless you’re going shopping or sightseeing your transport to and from the hospital is sorted. You just need to be careful about prices because most goods and services are quoted excluding taxes. And find out cab rates before you take the ride because some cabbies think of us as rich tourists. I’ll tell you more #TalesFromIndia in the coming days.
Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and wonder how scans can show that I am sick inside, because on the outside I look okay and, other than getting tired occasionally, I feel fine. People I meet say I look and sound fine. To deal with the situation I marvel at the way people react when I finally admit that I’m here for treatment of the C word. Suddenly expressions change and I am offered anything I want…..hmmm I wonder if I should take advantage of that?…. Perhaps ask to stay in the presidential suite… or ask them to buy me silk saris in all my favourite Kamba colours…..?
Chemotherapy begun last week with 22 hours continuous of pre-med drip to control side effects, then the chemo drug, a saline solution, more chemo drug, post-med drip, a one week break with a cocktail of pills and injections, then cycle one ended yesterday. I’m supposed to remain in New Delhi for sometime till the doctors confirm the best drugs that I can come home with to continue chemo. Fortunately hubby returned home two weeks ago to be with our babies because it was hard leaving them without us for so long, and it was heartbreaking watching them say “Come here” whenever we Skyped. frown emoticon My Mum came to replace him and to fuss over me smile emoticon “Kanini drink more water…make sure you eat…are you warm enough..” Hehe it’s interesting to be the baby again.
Has this time in India been easy? Not always. The other day a family with a daughter who’s my daughter’s age sat in front of me and I started crying as I showed the mother my kid’s photos. I do not claim to be the strongest spiritual person however I have learnt, and I’m still learning, to Be Still And Know That He Is God. He is the Lord that healeth me. He is not done with me yet. I remember the blind man in the Bible who Jesus said was not cursed but was born blind so that God’s glory could be seen at work in him, just as it will be seen in me through my testimony. John 9:3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
I remember the woman who touched Jesus cloak after years of bleeding and this faith healed her. I remember Job who was afflicted continuously, just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. But he held onto his faith and beat the devil’s plans. And so I will stand firm. There is too much evidence of miracles that have happened. God has already shown us favour in ways that might be considered small by some, but which make a big difference when you’re a patient in a foreign land. Medics who respect God and their calling to heal the sick no matter where these sick come from. Housekeepers who give extra water bottles because they know I need excess water to handle the chemo drugs. Restaurant staff who mill around me when I feel faint in the restaurant, to check if I’m okay and get my food sent to my room till I’m strong enough to come down. Taxi drivers who check on me because they became good friends with my hubby who’s a very social and happy guy, and who now treat my Mum very respectfully courtesy of that.
This morning we met a South African who’s here for a conference to discuss improving accessibility of healthcare to the mass African population, not just the rich. And after I told him the reason I’m undergoing treatment, he came to our table and for about an hour he ministered to Mum and I, despite his colleagues calling from the conference. And what he said made so much sense – about how sometimes God allows attacks such as sickness to make a person stop the life they’re living because it is not sustainable, not for their best; this downtime forces them to take time to recharge and re-think their goals and values, reconnect with God for that perfect relationship where we learn to give God genuine time because now we realize that He truly is the one in control. He is the Alpha and Omega. And as we successfully go through this season we begin to live at a higher level of wisdom and righteousness, with the Holy Spirit leading us all the way, all the time. Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Let me leave you with that and go drink more water before Mum says I’ve forgotten to do so smile emoticon