What you need to know:
- Serah Muthoni and Francisca Cherotich have a bond that goes beyond patient and caregiver.
- The two have survived Covid-19 together and trust each other with their lives.
The most striking thing about Serah Muthoni Mwangi and Francisca Cherotich is the palpable bond they share. One could easily mistake them for mother and daughter, given how much they look alike.
“Chero’s laughter makes my soul dance,” says Serah, as she tries to explain their connection.
The interview is often interrupted by laughter from the two, who seem to share inside jokes.
“I’m proud of many things in life, and Chero is certainly one of them,” says Serah. They burst into more laughter as they settle down.
It was “love at first sight” for the two, and the relationship goes beyond that of a caregiver and patient.
“I loved the way she presented herself on day one. It was admirable. She was very neat, which I needed at that time and kept my house very clean. She cooked well. She is very obedient. She is not confrontational,” says Serah.
Francisca is a trained community health worker, a qualified tailor and once worked as an artisan at a construction site. By the time she met Serah, she was washing clothes for people at a fee.
Serah’s daughter, Angela Jawiambe, concurs with her mother’s sentiments.
“Francisca is Godsend. She has done things which I could not be able to do for my mum as her daughter. She has filled in a huge gap. She has been with mum throughout her sickness, and she has never abandoned her,” says Angela.
Francisca is Serah’s caregiver. Serah, 48, has lived with HIV for the last 23 years and is a survivor of cancer of the vulva and Covid-19.
Theirs is a special bond like no other. They sometimes disagree, they make-up, they laugh, and they cry. It’s a soul connection that has baffled friends, neighbours and family members.
But behind this laughter and tight bond, the two have gone through some trying moments in their four years’ bond.
Francisca has walked with her as she battled cancer which was complicated by the outbreak of the deadly pandemic. She has been a crying shoulder.
Francisca has put her employer’s comfort and happiness above her own.
“She is an angel. A total sweetheart, kindhearted, has the sweetest smile and helps out all the time. I don’t know how I would survive without her,” says Serah, a teacher at Afraha High School in Nakuru Town.
“I sometimes look at my life from a bird’s eye view and wonder whether there is any other caregiver who can sacrifice her time and do the tasks some very personal that Francisca does for me.
She has become a beacon of true love to my extended family, who keep on referring to her as an amazing person.”
Serah says Francisca is hardworking and time conscious and is always punctual and doesn’t require any supervision to accomplish her daily tasks.
“I sometimes become moody about what to eat because of the medication and chemotherapy session I attend, but Francisca will be strict on my diet and ensure I stick to it as advised by the doctor,” said Serah.
Serah says due to the kind of rapport they have, they discuss everything, including her private life.
Adds Serah: “I normally tell Chero when she gets a good man, she should bring him to me to see whether he is husband material. I love her like my daughter and wish her well. I don’t want to see her with a joker masquerading as a husband to be who is out to waste her time.”
She adds: “If there is a good man out there that I know who is seeking for a wife material, I will not hesitate to recommend to him to Fransicsa. She is a hidden gem.”
Serah, who is a staunch Catholic, says she does not stop to pray to God to protect Fransicsa because of the extraordinary good work she performs while she is recuperating.
“Before I go to sleep, I pray to God to preserve her and broaden her horizons.”
She says she is not worried that Fransicsa will one day bid her goodbye and leave her house.
“I don’t want to imagine for now that one day Fransicsa will no longer be my caregiver.
However, when this discussion arises when we’re having our good times, I keep on telling her that when her time to leave will come, she should look for a suitable replacement for me.”
“When her season come to an end which is bound to happen as that is part of life, I strongly believe God will provide me with another one. My only prayer is that when she finally goes, she should go to a better place. My joy would be one day to see her settled in her home and is happily married.”
Serah recalls her first impression when she met Francisca in 2017.
“I had just undergone a delicate surgery in Eldoret, and my daughter was overwhelmed. When I was introduced to her by my former househelp, she had just started dating and was hearing about chemotherapy on her first day on duty. I could see she was struggling to cope with the workload. She didn’t know how to take care of me in terms of diet as I was doing chemotherapy, but in her humility, she accepted the offer.”
Valuable life lessons
Serah says she has picked many valuable life lessons from Francisca as her caregiver.
“I have seen humility, commitment and love. She doesn’t have time for gossip with neighbours. She is trustworthy. I send her to the bank, and I’m not worried. I’m at home with her. We discuss anything under the sun, and we have good laughs.”
Francisca, 32, and a mother of two girls, enjoys her work despite the challenges she overcomes daily.
She is good-humoured, witty and charming and is happy to see her employer happy.
“It’s emotionally and sometimes physically exhausting. You’re constantly pulled between wanting your own, normal life back and, it’s difficult when you’re burnt out. The job is exhausting. So I balance caring for Serah and caring for myself,” she says.
Francisca says to ensure her health and wellness remains a priority; she replenishes herself physically and mentally.
“I exercise by walking, eating healthy, and listening to music and taking a day off.”
“Caring for cancer and Covid-19 survivor brings challenges and stress, but what makes me happy is that this is also the God-given opportunity to make someone else’s life easier and more enjoyable.”
She adds: “Teacher (Serah)is often in physical pain in the middle of the night. That certainly does not make me happy, but I am happy to spend some time with her. My relationship with her does not consume my whole life.”
The two go for errands together, and when they are out, it is hard to know their relationship unless you interrogate.
“Whenever I’m hospitalised, she manages the affairs of this house and has access to every corner of the house,” offers Serah, adding, “my sister wants to construct a permanent house and has requested me to allow Francisca to supervise the construction work. That is the trust that she enjoys in my family.”
Serah admits the job is not easy as Francisca has sacrificed her happiness for her sake.
She says at one stage Francisca suffered from burnout but still stuck by her side.
“I remember when I contracted Covid-19 last October, Francisca was overwhelmed as I battled cancer and the infection. I saw her love and commitment. Her humility touched me. I will never forget her sacrifice as long as I live.”
Francisca had early symptoms of Covid-19, such as coughing, body weakness, among others, before Serah contracted the deadly disease. She went into self-isolation when Serah contracted the disease.
Caregivers face incredible stress and are at risk of psychological and physical problems.
Side effects of caregiving include general burnout, self-neglect, depression, family conflicts and more.
“I know what it means to be a caregiver. I stayed with my mom in the hospital, and I saw the importance of a caregiver,” says Francisca.
She advises other caregivers to be humble while executing their duties.
“It’s not an easy job. Treat your patients with a lot of humility and love, and they will heal faster,” she offers.
Serah says the role of a caregiver should not be underestimated in the journey of healing and condemns people who mistreat caregivers.
“It is sad that some caregivers work in a graveyard environment as they are mistreated and abused. A caregiver suffers more than the patient they are taking care of and should be handled with the uttermost care and showered with a lot of love and overwhelming appreciation gestures,” says Serah.