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.  The news left me 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.

I was booked for an operation one month after my diagnosis. 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 peeled.  I thank God because I was in a nation 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.

The hardest part of that illness for me 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 out 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 your trust in my doctors. 

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. 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’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 always 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. 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 after three months but I have no complaints.

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.

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