For the Reluctant Soldiers

I met Janet Kanini-Ikua thrice. We attended a transformational breathing class together, a fundraiser and a charity walk. We had known of each other’s journeys, but we had never met until that moment at the class. We shared our ‘war wounds’ after the session and wished each other strength on this journey.

In one of our later conversations, I asked her if she was going back to TV, she said no and told me that she was going to go down the cancer awareness route. I had just started contemplating similar thoughts. Like many other Kenyans, I had known of Janet’s battle with cancer through the press. Her story was one of the first ones I read following my diagnosis. She was already on a path that I was only getting to grips with. See, why our stories matter?

I had only met her thrice, and yet I cried when I had the news of her death. I told myself I hadn’t earned the right to cry. She was not in my inner circle nor was she in mine. But cancer had brought us together. Last Saturday I had many questions and tears and I knew I wasn’t the only one crying. I know many others did and possibly still do. My friend Juliana and I consoled ourselves over cake. Juliana is also another fighter.

We didn’t care about rules at that time. We were having our cake and eating it! We also dared to ask tough questions, on why we were crying yet we barely knew Janet and whether the tears were also for ourselves. Yes, they were. Those tears weren’t for Janet alone. As cancer patients, we knew this journey. Its highs and lows, and its twist and turns. There is its maddening nature and its strength. I like Juliana was angry at cancer. For it had struck again. It had taken one of ‘our own’. We had lost a member of our team. We couldn’t help but think of our respective battles.

Janet’s passing away felt like punch, and I was winded. However, I recognised that there will be still more punches to come. It’s the nature of the disease and this is life. I had to get back up, but then I also wanted to stay down a bit, to ‘hide behind the count’ albeit briefly and then get back into the fight.

I’m one of many fighters in a battle that we didn’t ask for. However, we all have a choice on how we face this bout.

The same Saturday afternoon, I was at the hospital for blood tests, and as they drew my blood, I found myself talking to each of the four vials and pleading, ‘be good, please be good’. I’ve had many wins in this journey, and I needed one again. There is a lot of waiting in this journey. From sample to results, to next sample to next results. I listen to every ache and ponder and wonder. Am I dwelling on my disease too much, I ask myself? I cannot not think about, but I know I will not be bound by it and will therefore get out on with my business.

I got punched again today again, but I won’t let these punches keep me on the mat for too long. This is where the mental strength kicks in. Though still hurting, eyes still glassy, I get up and gather myself so that I too can land a few punches.

Being diagnosed with cancer is like conscription. You are forced to be in a war that you did not sign up for. But once you are in, you should fight — though it is up to the individual soldier to decide how to fight.

Janet and David and to the other fallen soldiers, I salute your fight.

“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.” Stuart Scott