A Friend in Need

Ada’s Tale Written by Cabral Opiyo

Ada is as normal as any young woman can be and yet the things she has gone through would make most adults twice her age retreat into their shells and never smile again. In 2012, Ada was in college with no thoughts of ever being a caregiver to two close friends or being gravely ill and having to grow up faster than she thought possible. So when she had a pain on her neck and a sore throat, she didn’t think much of it except visiting the college doctor.  By the time she visited a proper doctor; the base of her neck had a more than noticeable swelling and an ultra-sound performed at the insistence of the doctors revealed a cyst and a mass on her neck.  That is the beginning of Ada’s arduous story and this is the first of a two part story detailing Ada’s time as a caregiver.

She managed the swelling with drugs and regular doctor visits but was advised not to remove the mass unless it started becoming a nuisance. Of course a first surgery followed where part of her thyroid gland was removed to help alleviate the situation. Three months later she had another surgery where another quarter of her thyroid was again removed.

Meanwhile, her cyst kept growing and as aforementioned would only be removed for aesthetic purposes and she lived with it for four years until 2016. Meanwhile she was always in and out of hospital courtesy of several headaches and unexplainable pains. It was during one of these visits that a scan found cancer and she was predictably obliged to have surgery to deal with it. Her whole thyroid gland was removed this time because of the escalation and she was immediately put on radioactive therapy and hormone replacement therapy to replace the thyroid gland’s function.

Unbeknownst to Ada, the worst part of her encounter with cancer was yet to come and it wouldn’t even come due to her condition. Her cyst also decided to choose that moment to flare up and had grown huge, she would go to hospital to have it drained but it would be filled again before she left the hospital premises. It seemed as if everything that could go wrong was going wrong and medical insurance wasn’t sufficient to cover all the costs of the procedures and medicines required for Ada’s treatment so her dad had to pay out of pocket and it was straining the family resources.

“I didn’t know it then but my cancer would help me to be more sympathetic and empathetic to my friends later on when I was a caregiver to them, emotionally and physically because I think it was easier on me than it was on them” Ada says simply.

Ada had always wanted to start a support group for people with cancer and when she and a few young people suffering from cancer were invited to a local television programme to document their experience with cancer, she met a few like-minded people and they became fast friends. And that’s when Ada’s friendship with Amani, who suffered from stomach cancer and who would shape the type of woman Ada would be began.

Amani was on both radiotherapy and chemotherapy and very quickly they settled into a routine with Ada. Ada would take her to her hospital visits and then they would proceed to sell t-shirts spreading awareness on cancer. They had a huge cancer awareness event in Kisumu where they allied with the fashion industry to further spread their message. It was after this event that Amani’s health took a turn for the worse and Ada’s journey as a caregiver began in earnest.

Amani stayed with her uncle in Nairobi and she was mostly very lonely because the people around her did not quite understand what she was going through and she requested Ada’s company, she was in a similar predicament and knew exactly what her friend was going through. So it came to pass that Ada was always by Amani’s side, helping her deal with her condition alongside several other tasks that she needed assistance with.

Ada took on her responsibility as a caregiver to Amani enthusiastically, they were good friends after all. She would help in her food preparation, give her massages, help her bathe and go to the toilet, would accompany her to her hospital visits and most importantly keep her company. Whenever Amani’s aunt was exhausted or her mother was away at work, Ada stepped into the gap and performed all the duties of a caregiver without complaint, that’s what friends are for after all.

She learned several valuable lessons that would further aid her in her life as a caregiver to another fast friend of hers, much later on. She saw Amani’s mum and aunt breakdown when things got bad and the emotional side of caregiving was the toughest aspect she had to deal with. Ada felt a lot of guilt for getting tired when carrying out her caregiving duties and even worse guilt for getting disgusted at some of the duties she had to carry out which involved cleaning Amani when she could no longer hold her bodily fluids. Even when she was overwhelmed by everything; mental, physical and emotional she still felt guilty for feeling overwhelmed.

Some of the most important lessons she learned were about herself, she realised that she was a natural empath and she felt what her patients felt very acutely better helping her take care of them. She had to learn coping methods and when she got exhausted, she would hand over the reins to Amani’s mother and aunt and take a day away for herself to recuperate because caregiving can be tough mentally and physically. She would spend some time by herself drawing, reading and listening to music just to find herself again, “it is never said just how much energy caregiving draws from you,” she adds seriously.

On her part, Amani was a positive person who never complained about her condition even as it deteriorated and only ever cried when in intense physical pain. She was admitted in April in bad condition and was airlifted to Kisumu in critical condition and the doctors gave up, they told Amani’s parents that their daughter was unlikely to make it. Ada and Amani were now in different places during the most critical time of their relationship as friends and it tore at Ada. They would speak on the phone regularly until Amani could no longer speak during the last week of her life. Amani passed on in April of 2017 and though she was at rest, her death affected Ada badly and she couldn’t come to terms with it.

After Amani’s death, Ada tried all forms of escape to deal with the pain; she incessantly listened to music, drew and studiously avoided contacting Amani’s relatives because she was afraid of doing so and their reaction to her contacting them.

Two years after Amani’s passing on, Ada finally started dealing with it and accepting it. She joined a program for cancer survivors which helped immensely to return her to the person she had been before her friend’s passing on. Her grief was finally let go, she doesn’t breakdown at the mention of her friend and patient anymore and she even reached out to Amani’s family and regularly visits their family home and she mentions that the best part about it is making the acquaintance of Amani’s younger sister who is a spitting image of her good friend Amani.

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