Hope for Cancer Kids Walk is coming up in March 2017. The walk is to raise funds for our Health Insurance program that supports the young champions battling cancer and also create awareness about childhood cancer. Spread the word!!
Every child is a Star and Deserves a Chance to Live and Shine their Light to the World!
Sidney Chahonyo – A snippet into my life!
I am first and foremost a child of the Most High God. My favourite of all His names being El Shaddai – God Almighty. Secondly a husband to the most beautiful (both inside and out) person in the world and father to the yummiest daughter one could ask for. I am the last born son in a family of 6 children, five of whom are girls. Born and raised by two of the most awe-inspiring parents one could ever ask for.
My road has not been the easiest but I will attempt to give you a sneak peek into my life.
I can remember being about 7 years old on our habitual August Mombasa trip. For some reason I fell really ill and the hotel doctor could not contain the pain and fever and vomiting. I remember lying on my mother’s lap while everyone went out to enjoy themselves. The fever got so bad I had to be rushed to a doctor and upon diagnosing me with malaria, I was put on medication. I kept getting worse and worse and reacting negatively to the drugs. Somehow they found out that I had mumps but by then it was too late and the reaction proved almost fatal.
I went on to recover fully (save for 100% hearing loss in my left ear). I continued to live a privileged life. Raised by a loving, caring, God-fearing mother and a successful and wonderful father. Went to the best schools and had everything I wanted.
My teenage years were the best you could ask for. I got into the crowd and began to live a covetous lifestyle. Partying and drinking wherever and whenever I pleased. Through it all I was still aware of that still small voice guiding me. Were it not for my mother’s prayers, who knows where I would be today.
On completing my A’ Levels I had made the decision to go and further my studies in Daytona Florida. Aeronautical engineering in one of the most prestigious aeronautical institutions in the world. However God had other plans for my life.
The family was struggling through a cold and bitter financial storm and I was not able to travel to America. Three months after it was confirmed that I wouldn’t travel, I began to exhibit strange symptoms. A runny nose that did not relent for months on end. Then I started nose bleeding and that became more and more frequent and heavy. Very mild headaches on the top right side of my head that became more and more severe as the weeks passed. Funnily enough what scared me the most was that I realised I was losing my hearing and having lost almost half of it as a child, I knew I had to see a doctor.
First couple of visits were irrelevant as unbeknown to me the doctor I had been referred to only works at that specific clinic on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But on the third of fourth visit I saw him and he immediately knew what it was. “Did you tell the other doctor all this? Because I think I know what it is but we have to do a few teats to confirm it.”
So after a battery of tests (including a biopsy where they take a sample of the growth ; they went in through my ear) I went back to hopefully find out what it was so I could take some pills and get on with my life and education.
“You have cancer of the Post Nasal Space…………………”
That is where your ear, nose and throat cavities’ meet.
He went on to say how it is treatable and had been caught early and on and on and on…..
I had gone in with my Father that day and for the first time in my life I saw a side of him I had never seen before. For half a second I saw a tear swell up in his eyes. Until that day, in my mind, he was Superman. That is the first time I saw the vulnerable side of him. In an instant I thought of my mother and my sisters. That was the moment I decided that I had to be strong. If not for me, for them.
I never thought of it as a death sentence unlike everyone around me who sort of looked away or looked down or gave me those uncomfortable silences or ‘woiye’ (sympathetic) eyes as soon as I mentioned the word CANCER.
Back home we had to break it to my sisters and family but within a few weeks it had begun to sink in for them all. Some here, some abroad.
I was referred to in my opinion, the most humble and capable oncologists in the country who reassured me that we could fight it. And I was ready to fight for my life. I passed through all the stages. Confusion, self-pity, sadness and anger at myself, the cancer, God and life.
We decided to go for Radiotherapy first. I would go in Monday-Friday for what seemed like a 15-20 minute x-ray and then go home. At first there was no change. But after a couple of weeks the side effects started to kick in. Nausea, dried out mouth (because the saliva glands were affected). Loss of appetite, no taste because the taste buds were affected. Try to imagine being able to smell all the rich flavours and spiciness of good food but not being able to taste it. It reached a point I had to go everywhere with a bottle of water because I had no moisture and would start to choke due to the dryness of my mouth and throat.
So I can’t taste the food, have no appetite, feel nauseated and my throat is so sore that it hurts so much even swallowing water. The pain was so much that I began suppressing my yawns because it just hurt too much to yawn. Add to that the fact that the radiation had put so much pressure on my brain that I began throwing up everything to the point that even after the bile was gone I was still gagging. My body just wanted whatever it was out. I remember being admitted because I hadn’t eaten or drank anything in days. I had lost almost 15 kilograms in less than a week so they had to feed me intravenously.
I asked all the questions. Why me, why now, why was it getting worse, why did it have to hurt so much. I even became hostile to my own family because I just wanted to be treated like a normal person. I would get up from my chair and my parents and sisters would jump up and offer me all sorts of solutions to the problem. What do you need, can I get it for you, just sit and we’ll do it. You need your rest. You’re not strong enough.
I was so weak I was even scared of the shower because I knew it was just a matter of time before I fell and broke something or fell asleep in the bath and drowned. But I never admitted it and tried to be a pillar of strength for my family.
I think that’s when I began having long conversations with God. I had to reach a point where I had nothing and no one else that could help me so I could renew my relationship with Him and learn to depend on Him COMPLETELY. HIM and HIM ALONE. He was my only hope.
Less than 10% of my numerous friends (or should I call them drinking buddies because friend is too strong a word for most of them) came to see me. My one shock is that the ones I expected to be by my side through it all were the ones spreading all sorts of rumours about my impending death or that I was HIV positive. One or two people who I didn’t consider close shocked me by showing up again and again and just being there.
Skip to the chemotherapy where I would be admitted between Monday and Thursday so they could administer the drugs through my veins. Then I would rest for 3 weeks to allow my body to heal and expel the toxins and do a battery of tests to determine that I was strong enough for the next session or bout of chemo as they call it. Most of the side effects were the same to a lesser or higher degree. I can clearly remember my tattoos. By that I refer to my veins. You see chemotherapy is simply a cocktail of drugs administered intravenously. And the drugs are so toxic that if they give them continuously, one can die. So after a while of bearing the drugs, ones veins begin to fail and I remember them moving from my wrist to the top of my hand to the inside of my elbows and when that failed they even went for my legs. My veins would get a semi permanent visible black stain that could be clearly seen by the naked eye. Hence the term tattoos.
Fortunately enough I had a family that could afford to pay for the best treatment no matter the cost. Not that they didn’t struggle. But they made it work. You see two people of the same age, gender, physique and background with the same cancer can be given the same treatment and one survives and the other dies.
So I was fortunate that I got it right with my drug of choice first time round. Carboplatin is its name. It is quite expensive and not readily available. After my second bout I couldn’t find it anywhere. Not in Kenya, Not in South Africa, America or England. Luckily we pulled our resources and it was found in Dubai.
Another thing that springs to my mind is mind is the fact that chemotherapy significantly lowers ones immune system to the point that you catch anything anyone who comes within a few metres of you has. And you get it ten times as bad. So I remember my mother not coming to see me in the hospital because she was scared I would get her flu and she didn’t want to add to my suffering.
But through it all, God kept calling me closer and closer until I finally let him back fully into my life. Without Him I would not be alive today and oh the relief. That peace that surpasses all understanding. I was to do 6 bouts of chemo then evaluate the progress and decide on the next course of action. Maybe hormone therapy. Surgery was not an option because to reach the tumour they would literally have to split my head in half. But after my 5th bout I had gone in to undergo the battery of now seemingly routine tests consisting of blood work, urine, CT scans and full brain scans that would determine if my body was strong enough for the net bout of chemo.
When I went in for the results I was completely shocked. There was no trace of cancer in my body.
I know without a shadow of doubt that it was only through Gods grace that I was healed. And that he healed me for a reason. I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not had God on my side and had I not gone through it. All honour and praise and glory be to El Shaddai. God Almighty.
After going through something like that you begin to look at life from a different point of view. What was so important to you before doesn’t matter anymore. And some things that were not so important suddenly become a priority.
You appreciate the little things in life. Good health, being able to swallow, having functional saliva glands taste and so on. So many things we take for granted. Especially out family.
I went on to volunteer at the children’s cancer ward at Kenyatta hospital where I began to appreciate my situation. So many cannot afford the best treatment and are given only what they can afford. It is so bad that people sell all their worldly belongings and when that fails some even abandon their children because they have a better chance being in the hospital. And if worst comes to the worst they are turned over to Nairobi Hospice.
I did a course in palliative care there and their slogan is etched into my mind even now. ‘Put life into to their days. Not just days to their lives.’
We all need something to live for. And as Nelson Mandela once said, something which we are prepared to die for.
I can remember during my radiotherapy two Somali ladies and a little girl I would see every day in the waiting room. The girl was always running up and down and so full of energy. Asking questions and harassing the two ladies as any 8-10 year old would.
One day they came in and for the first time the girl took off her hijab. All along I had assumed it was one of the ladies who were undergoing treatment. The girl had a tube in her throat and upon inquiry from the receptionist who I had now gotten to know well as this had become my second home I was told that she had been living in the hospital for months and would come down every day for treatment then go back to her room.
From then on every time I would have a bad day I would think about that girl who was in a much worse situation than I was and showed so much strength and courage and my problems seemed so miniscule.
After having been cleared of cancer I began to re-evaluate my life and decided that I wanted to do medicine. Specialise in oncology and help people who were going through what I had gone through then get into research and see how I could be a part of revolutionising cancer treatment and moving closer towards a cure.
I had been out of school for quite some time and applied to a school in South Africa which advised me to go and do a local course so they could rate me using their standards. Luckily for me, one of my sisters was living in Johannesburg and so I went to live with her for a year while I attended classes and awaited my fate. After completing the course with flying colours I was advised to reapply. I then came back home while awaiting a response.
Days, weeks and months went by and every time I would inquire I was told to wait a while longer due to the massive amount of applications they were handling. I was so stressed and frustrated because I was sure that the reason God had given me another chance was so I could give back to people in the area of cancer treatment and research. You can be the best doctor and most learned and experience physician but when I describe the pain to you and you give me a scale of one to ten, that scale is very subjective. Understanding is very different from experiencing the real thing and that was going to be one of my strengths in my interactions with patients but God had another plan.
My then girlfriend of about two months and unbeknown to me at that time future wife, who till today has been a major influence and voice of reason in my life, advised me to get enrolled in a course instead of just sitting at home and waiting. I decided to try my luck in aviation which had been my first passion but because of the damage to my ears which had been compounded by radiotherapy I failed the physical test. So I enrolled in a business course at a local college affiliated to a good Australian university.
A few months into it I got a letter from South Africa which went something like this. Due to the amount of applications they had received that year they were not able to process my application because first they give priority to black South Africans, then other South Africans, then people from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries of which Kenya is not a member. So by the time they were done with those applications there was no room left and they were not able to process my application.
But God knew what he was doing all along. You may think you know what God had planned for you and where He is leading you but I would implore everyone, however hard it may be, to try to distinguish between what they think God wants them to do and what He is actually saying.
It was during my business course that I realised another interim plan He had for me. I had a clique of friends in high school that I was very close to and after we finished high school most of them moved to England. Within a few years one of them passed on and we had lost touch for a while due to unresolved differences in our relationship of which I had played a major part. But to hear of his passing was quite shocking.
You see He passed on in England and no one there was close enough to his family or had the courage to deliver the news to His mother. So I was called while on holiday with my parents in Kitale by one of my closest friends in England and given the bad news. It took the whole afternoon to decipher what I had been told and I kept calling my friends to explain it to me again and again and every time it hit me a little deeper. At first I was in denial then it hit me.
I don’t know if I would have been able to deliver the news but luckily for me I was an 8 hour drive away from Nairobi and I needed help getting the message to his mother. So I called one of my other friends who gave me his cousin’s number and they were able to go over and deliver the message.
I want to stress this point as much as I can now. We never fully appreciate people, life or things until we lose them. At that point all I could do was be there for Hs mother the best I could and as hard as it was we were able to give him a good send-off. But even now as I write this, the emotions are still as real as they were back then. They say it hurts a little less every day but it never really goes away.
Some time passed and as I continued with my studies another of my closest friend who was also in England passed. We had been in touch but distance always manages to affect long distance relationships so as much as we were close, we were somehow distant. It was the kind of relationship where we would talk every once in a while but whenever he came on holiday it was as if he had never left.
Again I was there for the family as much as I could and was happy that I was able to offer everything I had to help them get through the situation as best I could. As I said earlier, it hurts a little less every day but it never really goes away.
My friend’s brother who had been a few years below us in high school underwent an unfortunate series of events that led to him being in a wheelchair. But with time he was improving. Initially he came out of surgery not being able to feel from his chest down but he had worked his way to being able to support himself on crutches during physiotherapy and it was only a matter of time before he was going to be free of the wheelchair and walking by himself.
I said earlier that God had another interim plan for my life and I ended up being enrolled in the same college, doing the same course with him and was more than gad to help him get around in any way I could.
I had been told that one of his brother’s last statements in the weeks running up to his passing had been that he was so happy that I was here. He was at peace knowing that I was here and he didn’t have to worry so much about his brother.
It was then that I realised that my mission was to be of service to him in any and every way I possibly could. I would push him around on his wheelchair, drive him to and from school, and Get him (with the help of friends and schoolmates) to the fourth floor on days when the lift in school was not working. Hang out with him and even take him clubbing. By heart goes out to that boy. He never ever complained about his situation. He had a nothing is impossible attitude and inspired me to make the best of my circumstances no matter how negative they may seem.
He passed on some time after graduation and that was one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with in my life. It brought everything back. His brother, my friend before that, cancer, everything. It brought me back to asking God questions. Why was I still alive? What was my purpose? Where was this all leading?
I got back into church and put everything I had into it to the point where people would meet me and ask if I had just flown back into the country. It was a total shift from my previous life. 180% extreme turnaround.
Every once in a while I would be approached by someone who knew I had survived cancer and they just wanted me to talk to one of their friends or relatives. Give them some hope. Give them some strength. I was always so afraid of what to say but the feedback from family members was always so positive.
Even the ones who had not survived had been so encouraged by me that from our first meetings they displayed a new glow. A new strength, a new peace and were always so grateful to me. Now that is the definition of satisfaction. And to be honest, that wasn’t me but God using me to perform His will.
Had I not had my Wife and my family standing by my side through this all I don’t know if I would be who I am today.
She had always been in the fringes of my life because her elder sister and my elder sister had been best friends since standard 6 so we had known each other since primary school. There had always been something different, special about her. I had never really interacted with her until year 7 when she joined the school I was in. Wow. She was beautiful. Soon I had the biggest crush on her but never really acted on it. But then we went we would go our separate ways in life.
For some reason or another I would always ask my sister how she was doing until one day she got fed up and gave me her number and told me to ask her myself. So one day I got the courage to send her a text message and to my surprise, she responded.
We began texting and started to get to know each other and soon we became friends. This went on for years and every once in a while she would go to America to visit her sisters and we wouldn’t talk for months. But she would come back and slowly but surely we would start talking again. Somehow we lost touch but we met soon after I had been declared Cancer free and began talking.
One of my best friends had just come back into the country after years of being away and we started hanging out again. Once we got past the awkwardness of filling in the gaps, it was like he had never left. One day I had a party at home and decided to invite her over. She came with a friend and before I knew it my best friend was dating her best friend. We got to know each other over the next few months and soon the relationship became serious. Everyone had doubts about me because of my bad boy reputation.
Significant people in her life even advised her not to date me for fear that I would hurt her and ruin the relationship between our sisters and the two families. But we pursued our relationship, became very close and after about 7 years of dating, we got married on the 18th of December 2011. Best day of my life and best decision I have ever made. And to add to that, my best man and best friend married her maid of honour and best friend about a year and a half later.
Though we were not together through my cancer she was there for me from the time we began our relationship. Through the passing of my friends, through life’s frustration and tribulation and has always been like a rudder in my life. Steering me in the right direction. Helping me to rationalise when I can’t see the way forward, advising me, comforting me, correcting me and loving me. Were it not for her, I would not be who I am today. I love her dearly and I am eternally indebted to her for being my pillar. My strength when I can’t find it. My Guardian Angel.
I give all the credit and Glory and Honour to God. Serving others and meeting the needs of people who are in a worse situation than you are. A word here, a penny there, sometimes just physically showing up and being there. That is what people remember. Not who you are or how much money you have, or your position in society or what car you drive.
People will remember that day when they had no strength left, didn’t know how they were going to get through it and were on the verge of giving up. Just think of every time you have been in such a situation and try to remember what got you through it. God just came through for you like He did for me and many other people whose lives He has touched.
The story always has a similar tag line. Whoever you are whatever your situation. Then this person (often described as sent by God) came and sat with me, or listened to me, or talked with me, or helped me and suddenly I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. Every day, every one of us has the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better. It may seem insignificant to you at the time but to the person whose life you touch, it is almost always a life changing moment.
To this day I am still not sure what plans God has for my life but I am excited about the things He is going to accomplish through me. All I know is that they have something to do with helping others. Serving others, showing other people the way. Encouraging people, being there for them, giving them strength when they have none. Being His instrument through which He can touch the lives of others.
All I need to do is make myself available and He will do the rest.
September is Childhood Cancer month and GOLD is the symbolic color of childhood cancer which shows Strength, Courage and Resiliency. This is what the children battling cancer at the hospital or at home show. Let’s turn the world Gold this month. Show your #support4kidswithcancer, turn your social profiles, homes, work place, schools, communities #GOLD4Kidswcancer, #GOLD4Hope