Christine Kaseeta Katoroogo is a beautiful woman with a radiant smile that lights her face and melts away the years. She speaks with the warmth and assurance of one who knows a major secret about life and she really does. A while back when Ugandan celebrities were dropping like flies from cancer, she reached out to me with a message of hope: Yes cancer sucks, it is very fatal but fortunately it is beatable. As a survivor she felt the need to teach others how to protect themselves and to encourage those in the throes of the disease.
Born in 1953 in Mbarara District, she went to Kyebambe Girls Secondary School up to 1971, when she joined Uganda College of Commerce current MUBS for a two year stenography course. After qualifying as a secretary, she worked with Ministry of Commerce and Industry till 1984 when she left and started learning tailoring at YWCA after which she was self-employed until 2001 when she left the country. She married Mr E. A:Katoroogo in 1973 with whom she had three boys and two girls. The couple separated in February 1987.
Katoroogo is a survivor in every sense of the word. She has risen from an impoverished background and made something of herself. At a time when leaving one’s husband was considered taboo in her family, she courageously left behind her dysfunctional marriage and started afresh. Just when she thought she was getting there, she found herself in a foreign land where she had to learn everything from language to culture again. Shortly after she had settled in her new land, she was hit by the biggest blow of her life so far; breast cancer. Yes she has done it all and done it well. She shares with us what she learned from her fight with cancer. Her story is so pertinent and moving, I wanted to share it with you all I hope it makes a difference in your lives.
Lesson 1: I’m mortal
There I was busy consumed by things like landing the perfect job after my nursing diploma, and planning my entire life in my head. Like we say back home in Uganda, when you are planning your things God is also planning His for you. I was a happy woman on 16th May 2008 the day I finished my two and half years course knowing I was going to start working. Three days later on 19th May, 2008 I was told I had breast cancer. At that moment I realized the extent of my mortality. That sounds strange, but previously I was under the illusion that I could control how long or how I lived my life. I now realized that I couldn’t control anything. This realization has the power of giving you clarity about who you choose to spend your time with, and your priorities – because life is too short.
Lesson 2: Family and friendship are all that matter in life
When I got the news I was shuttered and for the first time in a long time I had this intense longing to be with my own family and friends. All my life I had been the brave one in the family; accomplishing one insurmountable feat after another. I had psyched myself to believe that I was all I needed to survive. But I realized that I need my family as much as they needed me. In the meantime my friends in the church, my grandson who was living with me at the time and my doctor filled in the gap. They put their arms around me and didn’t let go. For this I am eternally grateful to every one of them. My doctor was my rock assuring me that I could beat the cancer.
Lesson 3: Early detection is the difference between life and death
As a trained nurse I always checked myself because I knew what to look for. On the day I detected something I made an appointment for a mammogram which confirmed my fear. I was booked for an operation one month later. After one month I started chemotherapy which gave me a blackout with the first dose but after 10 minutes, I stabilized. I got six doses in five months and lost all my hair after the first dose. I rested for one month and started radiotherapy which took 25 days.
With radiotherapy I lost my taste, and I turned charcoal black. I started losing my nails one by one and my skin was peeling. I thank God because I was here where medication is free and advanced or else I wouldn’t have survived. To make matters worse, I learned that my mother was also fighting throat cancer to which she succumbed after two years. This gave me the resolve to beat the cancer. I would survive if not for me, then for my mother. As soon as I was able to travel, I made the trip back home and seeing everyone’s hope in me made me stronger and more determined than ever to live.
Lesson 3: Don’t try to control everything after the diagnosis
The hardest part of cancer was worrying about those who depended on me. After the diagnosis I decided to keep it a secret from my children. But I reached a point when I had to tell them. They would never forgive me if I went into the operating theater and never made it back without having informed them. So I told them they were mad as hell that I could hide something like that from them but were very supportive. As a nurse I also had the tendency to dwell on what was happening to my body but I learned to pray and to put trust in my doctors.
Lesson 4: Laughter really heals
Even with my hair and toes falling all over the place, I learned to find the humor therein. Laughter can get you through anything. Just focus on the silly things that happen. They are there if you’re willing to look for and see them.
Lesson 5: Don’t fear life, live it
Call it survivor’s guilt or hindsight but I now live my life the best way possible as a tribute to all those who died. At my age, I don’t look back. I don’t regret. I deal with whatever it is and move forward. I exercise regularly, I eat a balanced diet and pray a lot. I’m also trying to learn ways to ‘give back’. Women are great at sharing ways to get through breast cancer treatments so that the next woman might have an easier time of it. I have taken it up to myself to tell my story so that others could learn from it.
Lastly: My beloved sisters and daughters check yourselves every morning. If you get a chance go for a mammogram. In case you are unfortunately diagnosed with the disease adopt a positive attitude. Your attitude is as important as the drugs; if you give up the fight, you die. It is as simple as that. Take time to read and inform yoursleves about the disease and how to prevent it; ignorance has never been a viable excuse. I want you all to know that cancer isn’t a death sentence, it can be beaten. I know that because I have been free for six years now. I still go for checkups every three months but I have no complaints.