Uganda:Four year battles stomach cancer

Mukanfizi and Luwandaga at Uganda Cancer Institute. Photo by Rachel Irene Nalubega
Mukanfizi and Luwandaga at Uganda Cancer Institute. Photo by Rachel Irene Nalubega

 

I found William Luwandaga running about at Uganda Cancer Institute Mulago, children’s ward. I quickly said hello then asked him what he was doing at the hospital. He says he is a patient. On further probing, he tells me; “ndwade silimu” literally meaning ‘I have HIV/Aids’.
This, coming from a four-year-old, left be dumfounded. I told him everything was going to be okay then moved on to the person I had come to see; 28-year-old Mega Mukanfizi, the young boy’s mother.
A resident of Nagalama, Mukono District, Mukanfizi says her son started showing signs of cancer at three years and half.
“I realised that he would vomit everything he ate and he would also pass pus and blood whenever he would defecate.”
The first time this happened, she thought it was because of the bad food her son was being fed at school so she consulted his head teacher who refuted the claims.
She went back home, with the hope that her child’s condition might change. A few months later however, her son started limping and his stomach had bulged. Whenever she touched it, she felt something hard so she decided to visit a clinic.
Mukanfizi went to Nagalama Medical Centre. While there, she was told to carry out a scan on Luwandaga. The results showed that he had a tumor in his stomach so she was immediately referred to Mulago for further consultation.
When she heard of going to Mulago, she was worried about where she was going to get money from because her only source of income was chicken rearing.
“So I resorted to praying for divine intervention while I gave him some painkillers that I was given at the medical centre. However, there were some European medical doctors who came to a nearby seminary. When they saw him, they insisted that I take him to Mulago in order to save his life.”

Stomach cancer diagnosed
At Mulago, they cut off some flesh from Luwandaga’s stomach. This, they took for tests and later he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. That is when they referred us to the Cancer Institute.
At the Cancer Institute he was immediately put on morphine to reduce the pain. He has since been on chemotherapy for six months.

Stigma sets in
At no point does she mention the father’s name throughout her narration.
She says on learning that his son was battling cancer, he left her for another woman claiming that she (Mukanfizi) was cursed and the boy would die soon.
Mukanfizi says she has come to adjust to such stigma given the ignorance and negative perception many people have about cancer patients.
Even her own relatives, she says, could not offer her financial help saying her son would die soon.
“When he started chemotherapy, his hair started falling off, his body weakened to the extent that he could hardly move himself so the doctors advised me to make sure he is always hydrated.”
She adds, “When he completed his chemotherapy dose at the end of September, the doctors advised me to take him for an operation to Naguru hospital early next month in to remove the remaining tumors.”
She says after this operation, her son might be declared cancer free.
“The stomach swelling reduced and he can now easily defecate.”

About stomach cancer
Stomach or gastric cancer begins when cells form in the inner lining of the stomach known as mucosa grows into a tumor.
The majority of people diagnosed with stomach cancer either already have metastasis or eventually develop it. Metastasis is when the cancer spreads from the area where it first developed.

Types of Stomach Cancer
Most people (up to 95 percent) develop a stomach cancer called adenocarcinoma, which starts in the tissues that make up the stomach lining. There are three types of adenocarcinoma namely;

Noncardia (Distal) Stomach Cancer
This type of stomach cancer may be related to long periods of inflammation and irritation in the lower part of the stomach. It’s often associated with chronic infection of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori and is more common in developing countries than in other parts of the world.

Proximal Stomach Cancer
This type of stomach cancer starts in the first part of the stomach and may extend into the gastro esophageal junction a part where the esophagus joins the stomach. This cancer is more common in the United States than in other parts of the world, and tends to start in people who are obese or have gastro-esophageal reflux disease.

Diffuse Stomach Cancer
This aggressive cancer grows rapidly in the cells of the stomach wall. It doesn’t form a mass or a tumor, so it can be challenging to diagnose. It tends to start in younger people with a family history of the disease or a related genetic syndrome.
Less common types of gastric cancer include gastrointestinal stromal tumors, which start in stomach muscle or connective tissue; carcinoid tumors, which start in the stomach’s hormone-producing cells, and lymphoma, which starts in the stomach’s immune cells.

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