Sidney Misigo Chahonyo
Sidney Chahonyo was only 19 when he was diagnosed with cancer of the post-nasal space ( Ca PNS) in 2004.
This is the space where the ear, nose and throat meet. He underwent treatment and was healed in a year, but not fully; because he lost his hearing partially. The 34-year-old husband and father of one narrates how his battle led them to the calling of helping children who are diagnosed with cancer.
“I had just finished my A levels and was preparing to fly to the United States for further studies. I delayed the process for some reason, and that is when I started experiencing the symptoms that were later diagnosed to be cancer.
Initially, I would get a mild headache, which I would just take water for, or I would sleep it off. With time, the headaches got worse. I also started nose bleeding; even multiple times a week, and would have a running nose as well.
I started seeing doctors at different hospitals who would treat me for sinus problems but the symptoms kept coming back. This went on for about a month or two. Someone then suggested that I see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, which I did. I saw two specialists three times in a month’s period. They all said the same thing: that my sinuses were the problem. The fourth time I went, I met the specific doctor I had been recommended to see.
Turns out that the one I had been seeing was only filling in for him. He knew the problem once I told him my symptoms, but said that I had to go through some tests first.
I had blood work tests done, followed by a biopsy, which involved getting a piece of tissue from my ear removed. I remember going in for the results with my father, who unfortunately passed away two months ago. The doctor told me that I had cancer, and I do not remember anything else that was said after that. My mind went blank. What pained me the most was seeing my father tearing up.
I imagined how the rest of my family would take it. Most people see cancer as a death sentence, but I did not. I decided to take whatever came with strength; not for me, but for my family. I am the last born and only son in a family of eight. This was in January.
The doctor then referred me to an oncologist, who made me comfortable right from the start. He said that the cancer was in its early stages, which was a good thing. We decided to start the treatment immediately with radiotherapy followed by chemotherapy, from where we would decide on the next course. Surgery was off the table because of where the cancer was. It would mean literal splitting of my skull into two.
The radiotherapy went on for four months. The side effects began kicking in after about three weeks of the treatment. It affected my saliva glands, and for years after, I had to walk with a water bottle because my mouth would get dry. Today, I also have to drink something as I am eating. I would also get headaches and nausea. Eating became a problem because of throat pains. That, lack of appetite and the nausea made me lose 15 kg in a week. I had to be admitted in order to be fed through Intravenous Therapy. I was also very weak, to a point that I once thought I would pass out and drown while taking a bath.
I went through chemotherapy after successfully completing the radiotherapy. I would have the chemotherapy sessions for about four days of the week, and allow the body to recuperate for three weeks, of which I would have tests and scans done after to determine whether my body was fit to go through another round. The side effects were similar, except they were on a different level. The veins on my hands, which were used to deliver the drugs, were black at one point because of the toxicity.
After the fifth chemotherapy session five months later, the tests showed no signs of cancer in my body.
The radiotherapy reduced hearing in my right ear. When I was seven, I had been misdiagnosed with malaria when what I actually had was mumps so I lost hearing in my left ear due to wrong medication. My hearing was further impaired last year because of the radiotherapy and this meant that I had to get a hearing aid for my right ear.
Cancer is a very lonely and mental journey because no one, even the doctors, really understands what you are going through. One has to find the strength to fight within themselves. During this period, I looked at life through a different lens.
I had many friends, if you could call them that, and only 10 per cent of all my contacts visited me. This time made me identify my real friends. My family supported me most of the time, but again, they could only do so much.
I also realised that my life wasn’t in my doctor’s hands. I am a Christian, and I was brought up in church. It reached a point where I realised that there was no one else apart from God, so I started having conversations with Him. It brought me closer to Him. I believe that I could not have done it without Him.
I believe that God saved me for a reason, which is why I decided to help children suffering from cancer. I am the Board Chair of the Hope for Cancer Kids, an organisation that raises funds to help children from less privileged backgrounds who suffer from cancer. We work with six public hospitals across the country where we enrol the children for NHIF. The government also gets to cover the chemotherapy and radiotherapy up to a certain point.
Since January 2016, we have been able to support 486 children. We still get about 10 to 15 referrals per month because we work with community health workers, the nurses at these hospitals, who are able to tell us of the cases that require assistance the most.”