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How a tumour changed Rosemary Odinga’s view of life



On January 20, 2017, Rosemary Odinga, Raila Odinga’s eldest daughter, declared her entry into politics. Her announcement promised to carry on the storied political legacy of a family career spanning generations.

But barely a month later, Rosemary suffered a sudden and debilitating illness that edged her out of the Kibra parliamentary race and saw her held up in South Africa for months on end as she underwent treatment.

Three years after the life-threatening illness that took her sight for two years and scuttled her nascent political career, Rosemary has revealed that her recovery has been successful and she is now doing much better.

Sight regained

During a service at St Peter’s ACK in Bondo, Siaya County, in December last year, she announced that she had regained her sight and no longer needed to use a white cane. Her father described her progress as a miracle.

During a Sunday night interview on K24’s Punchline, Rosemary largely credited her recovery to her family and friends who supported her after the death of her brother, Fidel. “I have to commend my family because we had lost my brother not too long before. Everybody was very supportive. My younger brother and sister took in the kids. My friends, cousins, uncles and aunts were also very supportive. Everyone came together. I am very grateful for that.”

Rosemary also said her mother would often read her messages sent by other people, which was comforting as it made her realise she was not battling the illness alone. Her two daughters, in particular, have been a propelling force in her life. “I am still a mother; my children still need a mum. That has been one of my strengths, because I know they need me,” Rosemary said.

READ ALSO:   Rosemary Odinga: It was emotional to see my children after two years

And she has been taking her recovery one day at a time. Rosemary described her daily activities as routine, saying she starts by preparing her children for school and readying herself for physiotherapy and the day ahead. She revealed that she has worked to keep her family intact even as she recovers, which is why activities such as having breakfast with her daughters are important to her.

But even though the recovery has been encouraging, Rosemary noted that she still has a long way to go. Until now, the effects of the illness continue to prevent her from engaging in certain activities she previously enjoyed, such as reading.

Miss reading

“I miss reading. I used to love reading books – fiction, biographies. I remember going back to Chinua Achebe’s books. It’s not the same when someone is reading to you. That control of being able to read books is why I am doing the exercise. I want to build my strength so I can sit down and just read my own books.”

Rosemary described her illness as a moment of awakening, saying she was confronted with the realities of the inadequacies of Kenya’s healthcare system as hospitals were incapable of treating her condition. She recalled that apart from a nagging headache, all had been well right before she fell ill. Her illness struck during a working holiday.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Raila's 41 year daughter speaks about losing her eye sight

At the time, she was attending a women’s leadership training outside Nairobi where she had been accompanied by her daughters. One night, while her daughters were out for dinner, she got a persistent headache. But it was not until the following morning that her condition deteriorated.

“In the morning there was a knock on the door. When I opened the door, I collapsed on the lady who was coming to get me ready. She walked me back to the room and laid me on the bed.”

As Rosemary narrated to Anne Kiguta, the Punchline host, her youngest daughter quickly alerted staff at the front desk of the hotel where they were staying.

An ambulance rushed her to a nearby clinic where a doctor advised her to drive to Nairobi to seek better treatment. But she was too weak to drive and after a phone conversation between the doctor and her mother, Ida, a decision was reached to use an air ambulance to fly her to a hospital in Nairobi.

It was here that tests revealed the seriousness of her condition. She had an aneurysm and a tumour.  Rosemary was rushed into surgery and the aneurysm was clipped, but the doctors were unable to remove the tumour due to a lack of equipment.

READ ALSO:   Rosemary Odinga narrates life after being hit by a sudden mild stroke

Slipped into coma

Her condition worsened and she slipped into a coma. She was flown to South Africa where she received treatment and regained consciousness. A few months later, having suffered partial loss of her eyesight, Rosemary returned to Kenya with her mother and started on the long journey to recovery. She revealed that with everything going on at the moment, she had no thoughts of plunging back into politics.

“It’s still early to talk about running for office. The country is going through a tough time with Covid-19. It’s not the time for people to think about what seats I want, who I want to remove,” Rosemary said.

“There’s politics going on but this is not the time. We need to be more cognisant of the fact that many people don’t have jobs and many people are struggling to earn a living.” She stressed that it is time for Kenyans to come together and support each other.

She also praised her father and President Uhuru Kenyatta for reconciling. Patriotism, she said, is important to her and it is a virtue that was instilled in her at a young age. She said she is happy supporting Kenya and she does not need a political seat to do so.


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Fear after Mombasa school principal dies from Covid-19



The principal of Tononoka Secondary School in Mombasa where 11 teachers tested positive for Covid-19 has died, county education officials have said.

County Education Chief Officer John Musuve said Mohamed Khamis (pictured) died at the Mombasa Hospital where he was receiving treatment in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Multiple sources revealed that Khamis was one of the 11 teachers who were infected with the virus at the school. We could not, however, independently verify whether he succumbed to Covid-19.

“Yes, I can confirm that Khamis has died. I cannot tell you whether he was one of the teachers infected with the virus,” said Musuve.

Reports from the hospital indicate that Khamis was admitted at the ICU after he developed breathing complications immediately after he was rushed to the hospital on October 15.

Last week, Mombasa County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo said 11 teachers from Tononoka Secondary School and four at Star of the Sea Girls High School had tested positive for Covid-19.

The two schools, located within the Mombasa Central Business District, remained closed.

Unconfirmed reports said that a teacher at the third school in Mombasa has been taken ill with Covid-19-related symptoms and is currently in the ICU at the Coast Provincial General Hospital.

READ ALSO:   Anne Kiguta pulls no punches in Ruto interview, Kenyans unimpressed

Standard Digital has established that some students in the two schools have also contracted the virus.

“I can confirm that at Star of the Sea Girls High School, four teachers turned positive. More samples from staff members had been taken and results are yet to come out,” Kitiyo said last week.

He added: “At Tononoka Secondary School, the number was a bit high, with 11 cases confirmed,” he said, adding that the two institutions had been closed for two weeks.

Parents expressed anger over the turn of events and asked the government to carry out mandatory testing for all the students and teachers before they re-open the schools.

Khamis was scheduled to be buried at Kikowani cemetery this evening.

During the Mashujaa Day celebrations, Governor Hassan Ali Joho lamented over rising infections in Mombasa amid fear that the county was experiencing a second wave of the virus.

“We are seeing a spiral effect in new infections, resulting in all emergency beds being taken up by people who have turned positive,” Kitiyo said.


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Cancer reminded me why I wanted to live



In 1999 a young, tall, beautiful girl made news when she became M-Net’s Face of Africa, winning the Kenyan tittle. This win was only the beginning of her modeling career. Bidanya Barassa who was the second Kenyan to win this title made a career out of something she did not intend to be.

“My mum convinced me to go to a place called Kelu Modeling School that she had heard of, and since it was after high school, she convinced me to do it because I didn’t like computer classes.

“I was admitted to the school because I was about 5’10’’ tall. They said I could be a runway model and advised that I wear high heels (three inches) because of my height, and that is how it started,” she says.

She started immediately and within a week, she was already getting modeling contracts. But despite her success in the modeling space, Bidanya never thought modeling was a career or something she could do. At least not until she got onto the runway, started traveling around the world and started making money from it.

“I always saw people on TV modeling and I wondered what they were doing. I always thought it was not a career. I started enjoying it later on. Getting (into) M-Net face of Africa was a breakthrough for me as I traveled to the Caribbean and many exotic places.

“What I loved most about it was I didn’t have to go to my mum for money because I could now buy my own stuff and books as I loved reading,” she says.

Bidanya describes herself as passionate, lover of life, family-oriented, confident, pusher, leader and “multipotentialite”.

Battle with cancer

All was going well, then in 2010 she was diagnosed with Stage Two colon cancer. What started as a stomach ache with traces of blood in her stool, ended up as cancer which she battled for about a year.

READ ALSO:   Anne Kiguta pulls no punches in Ruto interview, Kenyans unimpressed

“I was diagnosed in 2010. I was having stomach aches and there was blood in my stool, so I went to hospital for tests. We did a blood test, an X-ray and an ultra sound but they didn’t see much.

“The doctor said we needed to do more tests. We did an endoscopy and a colonoscopy and that’s when they found a growth on the left of my colon,” she says.

Bidanya remembers waking up from her colonoscopy wondering what the problem was. At the doctor’s office, she was told she did not have stomach cancer but had Stage Two colon cancer. She was not surprised as she had called her mum earlier before the doctor’s visit and told her that she was certain she had colon cancer.

“Before the final diagnosis, I was driving to my office and I remember thinking everything in my life was going very well. My career was doing fine, my boyfriend was perfect at that time and I thought maybe God was leading me down this path for a reason.

“I was shocked when the doctor confirmed my fears but I was not too surprised. I didn’t go through the denial stages, probably because I had already prepared myself mentally for the news by telling myself that I had cancer.

“I booked an appointment with a surgeon on January 3, 2010 and asked what I need to do. I was booked for the surgery and I started my treatment,” remembers Bidanya.

After her surgery on January 5, 2010, she believed she was done with her treatment but was advised to start chemotherapy after recovering from the surgery.

“I started chemotherapy after two weeks. This is when I got scared and it hit me that I had cancer. I had read that at Stage Two one doesn’t need chemotherapy but the doctor advised that I do it so that we can kill the cancer cells and not have it reoccur after three years or so.

READ ALSO:   Rosemary Odinga: It was emotional to see my children after two years

“When I talked to my mum about it, she only had one question: Do I want to die? This had me thinking about all the things I wanted to do and all the plans I had and decided to have the chemotherapy,” she says.

After eight weeks in recovery, Bidanya started her chemotherapy, which lasted eight months. She says she prayed to God and told Him about her plans, and told Him that she did not want to lose her life.

“I was afraid that I would lose my hair due to chemotherapy. My biggest fear at that time was dying. I did not want to lose my life.

“After every three weeks, I would go for the chemo treatment and I would be in bed for about five days, get back to work then go back for my treatment in another three weeks.

“It was long and hard. I was nauseated, weak, food tasted like metal and I always had to force myself to eat so that I could recover faster. It was a long journey as chemotherapy is not easy,” she says.

After her chemotherapy, Bidanya went for another colonoscopy a year later and found no sign of cancer. Two years after her diagnosis, she went to India to do a pet scan, after which she was declared cancer-free.

“I already knew deep in my heart that I was healed. There is this verse in the Bible that says we are healed by Jesus’ stripes and I believed I was healed. The first thing I did after I was healed was pray and just thank God for the gift of life. It had been a long journey,” she says.

No more modeling

As the managing director of Top Image Africa, Bidanya has no plans of getting back on the runway.

READ ALSO:   "It hit me like a thunderbolt" Raila explains how daughter's sickness devastated the family

“People always ask me this but I only did this part-time. I think it has served its purpose. Modeling is tough because you are relying on someone for your looks. It’s hard. It’s basically you going for auditions and if they like your face, height, hands and smile, you’re hired for the job.

“At that time, I was in campus and my goal was to do my undergraduate and masters degrees. I remember once when I was in South Africa, I was asked what would happen to my education if I was selected to go to New York.

“I told them I would transfer my credits and continue with my studies in New York, and they thought I was crazy. My goal has always been to be in the corporate world and run a successful business, so modeling played a purpose because it gave me my confidence.

“My height was an issue for me because I’m 5’10 but now I love my height and I wear heels that are four inches. I can’t wear flat shoes anymore unless I am going to the mall or travelling,” she says.

When it comes to love, Bidanya blushes and giggles when giving hints that she is in a relationship.

“I’m dating someone, even though I won’t give you a lot of information. He is an amazing man and we met in Ivory Coast when I was there for business. That’s all I can say,” she says laughing.

The former model is currently creating awareness about cancer, giving back to society and managing a modeling company.

She has an awareness programme on living healthy and eating healthy, and encouraging women to get screened for cancer. She runs it every Wednesday on her Instagram account.


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The after-effects of COVID-19 pandemic to cancer patients Rosa Agutu



Corletta Mwende discovered she had a lump in her left breast in November 2019, and in January doctors confirmed it was Stage Two cancer. However, her plans to go to India for treatment were halted after all international flights were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Since I was unable to go to India, my doctor gave me some medicine to manage the pain. However, after three months the lump had increased in size from 1.8cm to 2.7cm and also moved to my right breast,” says Mwende.

In August, Mwende’s doctor advised her to do a positron emission tomography (PET) scan that confirmed the disease had spread to her bones.

She adds, “I am now on chemotherapy. My doctor told me that I will go through treatment for two years. It was hard during the inter-county lockdown, and the report that cancer patients were vulnerable also demoralised most patients to visit health facilities. So getting treatment was quite a challenge.”

Catherine Wanjiru, a Stage Four colon cancer survivor, talks about the challenges she underwent to get permits to travel during the inter-county lockdown to assist patients who underwent colorectal cancer surgery and needed assistance on how to use colostomy bags.

READ ALSO:   Twitter thrilled as Rosemary Odinga regains full sight

A colostomy bag is used if your bowel needs to heal or part of your colon needs to be taken out following a severe disease.

During the surgery, the end of your stomach is brought through an opening in your abdomen to form a stoma, a hole where your stool will come out instead of the normal outlet. Your stoma does not have muscles to control when your stool can come out so a bag is used to collect your stool.

Colostomy bags

“After my surgery, I used the colostomy bag for two years. Then I went back to India to get training so that I could assist and sensitise colon cancer patients after realising that there was a lot of stigma around usage of the bag. I get calls from hospitals and I train nurses on what to do,” says Wanjiru.

However, Wanjiru says during the inter-county lockdown some patients were unable to get the bags and that some even died.

“Two patients died during the lockdown because they could not access the bag. I had to do something, so I went to the chief and the DO to get the permit; it was a whole process and a file full of papers. But finally, I was able to travel and assisted some of the patients,” says Wanjiru.

READ ALSO:   Rosemary Odinga says she played role in Raila-Uhuru handshake

Wanjiru says people often feel uncomfortable when she talks about assisting patients on how to use and clean the colostomy bags.

“I always tell people poop is processed food, so there is nothing to be uncomfortable about. I always clean and show patients how to use the bags until they are confident enough to do it themselves,” says the cancer survivor.

Prisca Githuka, a breast cancer survivor and chairperson of The Cancer Survivors Association of Kenya, while addressing cancer patients and survivors at St Paul’s University Chapel yesterday during their first meeting since the first Covid-19 case was reported in the country, encouraged them to reach out for help.

“We have a WhatsApp platform and we made sure all members are active. Times are tough but we helped where we could, but sadly lost some patients during the lockdown,” says Githuka.

She adds, “The association is a psycho-social group, we call our members and sometimes have virtual meetings to encourage them as they go through their treatment.”

During the annual global week for action on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), the Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance of Kenya talked about the wave of later-stage diagnoses and dire complications following disruptions in routine people living with NCDs underwent.

The biggest was difficulty in accessing medication and treatment and postponement of appointments. For example in Mwende’s case, her earlier diagnosis indicated that she had Stage Two cancer, and a few months later the disease had progressed to Stage Four and spread to other parts of her body.

READ ALSO:   VIDEO: Raila's 41 year daughter speaks about losing her eye sight


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