Compassion Has Many Faces

Art by Artidote

Ada’s Tale Part 2 – written by Cabral Opiyo

Ada had lived the lives of two full grown adults in that one year where she took care of her friend Amani, it had ended up in her losing her confidant and friend and before she could take a breather she was plunged into a cycle of caring for another friend and being drawn into a world of always being aware of her friend’s mortality every time they parted. This is the second tale of Ada being a caregiver to a friend who had brain cancer and the journey of self-discovery it took her on.

Ada saw Kennedy’s story on social media as his story struck at the core of Kenyan hearts, they all wanted to help the confident yet soft-spoken young man get better. Since she was already going through the same illness and had a passing knowledge of the young man, Ada reached out to him on Instagram via direct message after her diagnosis in 2016 and they became friends. They chatted over the phone and when she was sufficiently comfortable in his company, Ada shared her vision of starting a cancer support group in Kisumu to which Kennedy heartily agreed to. They held the Runway against cancer event where fashion designers showcased their products in partnership with the cancer awareness group and they sold their merchandise in support of their cause, Ada, Amani and Kennedy were front and centre during this event.

2017 was Ada’s most difficult year, she was in and out of hospital and was mostly ill and yet Kennedy featured more prominently among her circle of friends, he introduced her to other people living with cancer and they formed a support group of sorts. In mid-2017, Ada went back to work and found a job in Kakamega, she had no accommodation though and the ever-willing Kennedy found a solution to her problems, she would live with them in his brother’s house and since they were already friends, she gladly obliged.

By that time, Kennedy was already very ill and Ada was plunged into a caretaking role because his mother and sister were absent and his brother was often working. Kennedy’s speech was slurred and indecipherable and Ada voiced out what he was saying or pointing out since they had grown close and she had learned his patterns. As a nutritionist, she would help to prepare his meals by advising on meal prep, accompany him to hospital and help him clean himself whenever he was too weak to do it by himself. Ada would also call his brothers to help out with the heavier work, like driving him to hospital because she wasn’t a proficient driver at the time.

Ada admits that it was much easier taking care of Amani mostly because she was a lady while Kennedy being a man presented obvious challenges to her. Every time she had to clean him or dress him, she felt like she was invading his privacy and crossing a boundary at the same time. There were several lessons she had learned from taking care of Amani that she applied during her time as a caregiver for Kennedy though and she fully applied them.

As a nutritionist, Ada knew which foods were best for certain illnesses but she had learned when she tried to push foods on Amani, resentment built up because she had been choosy so she never tried to force foods on Kennedy, instead she calmly advised him on different options providing different nutritional value. She also learned that men were difficult to take care of when unwell because society prescribes that they tough it out and it was no different with Kennedy. He did not like going to hospital or resting, preferring to stay at home and deal with any deterioration of his condition and Ada often had to call on the intervention of his mother to force him to go to hospital.

During her time as a caretaker to her friends, Ada learned one of the most profound lessons, she had to think of them more than herself and she fully threw herself into her role as if detached from herself.

Inevitably, the time came where Ada had to relocate to Nairobi but that did not mean that she abandoned her friend during his time of need, she made the weekend commute from Nairobi to Kisumu and vice-versa every weekend. His condition deteriorated in early 2018 and he was flown to India for further medical treatment with his mother taking over as primary caregiver. Even then, Ada found a helping role and she helped with all the passport and visa applications to ensure a smooth journey.

When Kennedy came back from India six months later, he had an incision on his neck with a tube used to feed him and he couldn’t talk at all and all Ada could do was relieve his mother whenever caregiving took its natural toll on her. She offered her companionship mostly by gathering a group of friends around him, playing music and told jokes to which he feebly nodded, there wasn’t anything else she could do because he was now fully hospitalised.

He was transferred to Kisumu after severe weakness and the doctors telling his mother to take him to the village because there was nothing much they could do and Ada resumed her silent companionship. One day Kennedy’s mother broke the news to an intimate group of friends that the doctors did not think that he would make it and immediately Ada felt that familiar cold feeling of fear wrapping itself around her, she knew what came next.

Losing both Amani and Kennedy hit Ada hard and she started having doubts, “I always wondered whether I was next to go, seeing as the two closest friends I had had already died.”

The death of Kennedy fully hit Ada at the funeral, the enormity of the loss fully settled in her belly and she started grieving once again for the second time in two years. Just when she thought that she had healed, the grief would strike her afresh and she would be plunged into fresh mourning. But she couldn’t grieve forever and she dealt with her grief using tools grasped in the programme and she concentrated on activities that brought her happiness including; drawing, writing and reading.

Ada is now better and while the body takes a bit of time to bounce back, she is coping better mentally and physically she is much healthier, eating well and taking her medicine religiously. She even quotes with a smile on her voice, “stage one cancer is curable and has a 95% cure rate over five years, I will be fine.”

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