“I woke up without knowing where I was, in a very bright room, hearing voices that I didn’t recognize and beeping and harassing sounds of machines. I had been unconscious for almost 10 hours”.
Before continuing this story of my life, let me first introduce myself. My name is Herve, the first born in a family of five children and I am an amateur basketball player, music lover and tech enthusiast, and this is story of my battle with cancer.
It was a normal day like all others in the morning and as usual I went to brush my teeth. While doing it I felt something strange in my mouth. It was as if I a cut in my mouth and could feel a little bump in my mouth but I didn’t bother much about it. As time passed and it kept on increasing in size I decided to go see a dentist for consultation to get a professional medical opinion. That dentist asked for how long I had this bump and I said that it had been quite some time and she suggested to look for a more adequate treatment that fitted with my health insurance.
My first and second surgeries
My journey to search for adequate treatment continued on to the local health center, then to the district hospital. After having two different diagnoses, I was left perplexed about my situation. Then I had an appointment at the Rwanda Military Hospital, and the doctor with whom I talked said that the treatment would require a surgery. After hearing and consulting me for a second time, he gave me a surgery appointment and a few months later I had my first surgery which seemed to have been successful and gave me hope.
But after a while, that bump grew again and this time, it was at a faster speed rate than previously and the pain was even more unbearable. Up to this point, my situation was being considered as a treatment of getting rid of this bump as it was considered to be a non-cancerous tumor. After another consultation, that doctor said that the remaining solution was to completely remove my jaw bone that was infected, but that it would require a private surgery that was not covered by my insurance company. Later on, i was blessed enough, to get an appointment with a team of doctors who specialized in head surgeries, who happened to come here in Rwanda with the purpose of helping patients with rare complications and who needed surgery. I was appointed to get a surgery on the 27th Feb and the surgery was successful. As I said in the beginning of this story, I woke up after a long surgery and I was in the ICU because I couldn’t chew anything, food and drinks had to pass through a tube. After gaining consciousness I realized that for the surgery to be successful the doctors took a bone in my leg (fibula) and used it to replace my defected and removed jaw bone. I can’t forget the way I felt when one of my family member came to visit, because right after looking at me she cried and I was moved and started wondering if my situation was alarming to the point where people would start crying just upon looking at me. I started wondering if I was about to die, but as time passed I started gaining some strength and hope that I would walk again very soon. Then shortly after, as any young man I felt like I could walk on my own without the assistance of others but when I tried it, I almost fell down. But it was a big improvement already in the process to heal. As time passed I kept getting better and better, started eating without a tube and later on went back home.
My introduction to cancer
After almost a year, I had another appointment with the doctors who were originally in charge of my situation and with his team they asked how I was feeling at the moment. I kept on thanking them for their kind and gentle attention and care towards me and I couldn’t hide my smile of joy for all they have done. But suddenly the conversation seemed to change when the doctor inquired about my work. He told me to do all I could to gather some money because the result from the jaw bone that was taken out of me proved that I had bone cancer known as Osteosarcoma. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, because it was an unexpected turn in my life as young man in his early twenties. At that time I tried doing researches on the internet and the more I read the more hopeless I became because the result I got from my researches proved that cancer was just like a death sentence. But as time proved, it is not the case because here I am sharing with you my experience of facing reality and living with hope.
It was a dilemma to know how I would break the news about my fatal illness to my family and friends, especially because I too couldn’t understand it very well. Long story short, I told my parents briefly about the result that the doctor told me and left right away so as to hide my feelings at that moment. I didn’t want them to know that I was suffering. Seeing how affected my close were by this devastating news, it made me feel even more sad and had a very negative impact on my mental health. The good news is that, in that same year the Rwanda Cancer Center located at Kanombe had just started receiving and treating cancer patients and that is how I met my dear doctor Achile who helped along the whole process of my cancer treatment. The method of treatment that was prescribed to me was Radiotherapy or Radiation treatment. I had to do a total of 33 times for this procedure in order to achieve estimated completion. During this period I had some side effects of the treatment and one of them was that my skin especially the part surrounding the cheek and the mouth turned a bit black and I thought that I wasn’t cleaning it very well. But the doctor explained to me that it was normal that my skin turns black and told me to not worry about it. The treatment was successful and after a few months I received very good news. I was told that I was cancer free but that I had to keep coming for checkups every three months. My battle is not over yet, I try my best to live a balanced life by eating well balanced meals, exercising and maintaining my stress level as low as I can
As a survivor, here are the main important things I learned that helped me along the way and that can help others:
• For those with a religious background, I found prayer very important during this whole time.
• The importance of being optimist when a close one is struggling (Not mentioning cases of cancer victims rather focus on the survivor’s story), and learn to listen to those in need
• The importance of being open about your feelings (ask doctors for clarification whenever you don’t understand on what is going on) and share them with those who deserve to know like the closest family and friends.
• And most importantly, cancer can be treated and cured when done at the right time. So it’s important to do checkups when something feels wrong and be optimistic about it.