In May 2016, Judith Komuhangi Kyamutetera felt a lump in her breast. It was visible and hard but painless. The breast skin appeared like it had been hit by a metal and had somehow become darker.
At the time, Judith was breastfeeding. She thought the lump was a milk cyst, a swelling or sac filled with milk that usually occurs after spending several hours without breastfeeding. After five days, and heeding to advise from friends, Judith sought medical advice at a healthcare facility in Kyaliwajala, a suburb of Kampala. She was diagnosed with an infection.
She was treated for the imaginary infection together with her daughter. But the swelling did not go, long after the dose. She immediately sought expert advice at St Francis Hospital Nsambya where a biopsy was conducted, and a sample of tissue removed for analysis.
A week later, she would get the news she dreaded most. Judith had been diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer. At this stage, cancer has extended beyond the immediate region of a tumour and has invaded the nearby lymph nodes and muscles but has not spread to distant organs.
Her first thought; she had been handed a death sentence that would take its sweet time to take her life.
“Somehow I had to prepare myself, husband and children, for the worst because I had never met anyone who had survived cancer.” All my relatives who had suffered from different cancers eventually died,’ she recounts.
When the shock of her diagnosis had worn off, Judith and her husband Muhereza Kyamuterera made a resolve to face the battle head-on. They started with a second opinion sought from Medanta Africare-a private health facility in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
“We did not want to have any regrets at the end of the day or have to answer any ‘what ifs’. So, we did as much research as possible before we decided our next move.
The journey started with a treatment plan that involved surgery, 17 rounds of chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, Positron Emission Tomography -PET scans and radiotherapy.
After the surgery in and one round of chemotherapy, Judith returned to Uganda and received her remaining doses of chemotherapy at 7Hills Medical Center- a private health care facility located in Ntinda with an oncologist on call.
But it wasn’t all rosy. Judith shares a painful experience on the effects of Chemotherapy, on her body, the emotional interruption, and the financial implication the disease had on her and the family.
Judith endured 17 doses of hormonal treatment- at nearly USD 1,300 per dose. While her body endured the trauma, she lost a lot of weight and hair.
“At times I spent two days in bed, restless, throwing up, sick and unable to be the mother that I was before cancer. Every round of chemotherapy came with different side effects.”
During the time, Judith says she visited a number of cancer survivors from whom she picked the courage to soldier on.
After her chemotherapy, Judith was advised by a doctor to do a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan- used to detect cancerous tissues and cells in the body that might not be detected by computer tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imagining (MRI). That is what informed her journey to India.
In December 2016, the scan revealed that Judith was cancer free. However, with everything that they had been through over a period of seven months, the news was too good to be true.
“I am yet to come to terms with this great news,” her husband Muhereza Kyamutetera said in a post on social media. But a second opinion equally confirmed that indeed Judith had won the battle.
Judith today runs a medical tourism company-Magnus Medi-Tourism Pvt. Ltd which connects Ugandans to a variety of hospitals in India. When she is not helping Ugandans seek medical treatment in India, she spends her time visiting and talking to cancer patients.
‘Without knowing that there are cancer survivors, I would not have made it. So, I want other people to know that cancer can be fought and won.’
There are over 400,000 people receiving cancer treatment at Uganda Cancer Institute at the moment. According to the Uganda Cancer Institute, about 500,000 Ugandans are living with some sort of cancer due to inability of medical personnel in healthcare facilities to diagnose the disease.
The most common cancers in Uganda are; cervical, prostate, breast, Kaposi sarcoma, Burkitt lymphoma, lung, skin, bone, cancer of the eye, colon, and blood.