In rare occurence, Nyeri couple fights breast cancer

John Mwangi Kariuki and his wife Theresa Mwangi

John Mwangi Kariuki and his wife Theresa Mwangi during an interview at their home in Chehe village, Nyeri County, on October 18, 2022. The couple is fighting breast cancer.

Photo credit: Stephen Munyiri | Nation Media Group

When Mzee John Mwangi Kariuki, 73, from Mathira in Nyeri County, noticed a lump in his right breast, he thought it was harmless and would soon disappear.

However, a few months later, he received the shocking news from his doctor that it was breast cancer.

The same news had hit the family some years back when his wife was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast. 

To mark October’s breast cancer awareness month, Mr Kariuki and his wife Theresa Mwangi, 71, both educationists, shared their story with Nation.Africa on Tuesday at their home in Chehe village about how they have coped battling the disease that is a leading killer.

Theresa Mwangi

Theresa Mwangi during an interview at his home in Chehe village, Nyeri County, on October 18, 2022. He and his wife are breast cancer warriors.

Photo credit: Stephen Munyiri | Nation Media Group

Treating the ailment, they noted, had drained their resources.

Mr Kariuki, albeit jokingly, says the situation almost rocked their 45-year marriage when he was diagnosed with the disease two years ago because he initially thought he had contracted it from his wife, who was found to have it in 2003.

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I actually didn’t worry too much,” says Kariuki, who is still undergoing chemotherapy for stage two breast cancer.

“Maybe out of ignorance about the disease, I first thought my wife had transmitted it to me because she also had suffered the same. In fact, I was making fun of the situation with my doctor because I would be telling him I didn’t know what had happened.

“I even thought about getting wazees to send her back home, but the doctor convinced me that cancer is a non-communicable disease.”

He had noticed that his left nipple “had begun to turn inward”. He also had a painless lump and the breast tissue had thickened. He made an appointment with his doctor though he didn’t think it was something to worry about.

“The doctor thought it was likely to be a benign lump and he referred me to have it properly investigated and later I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” he said.

John Mwangi Kariuki

John Mwangi Kariuki during an interview at his home in Chehe village, Nyeri County, on October 18, 2022. He and his wife are breast cancer warriors.

Photo credit: Stephen Munyiri | Nation Media Group

“I underwent surgery and later chemotherapy sessions and the doctor told me I would be okay, but I was really terrified because I had earlier seen my own aunt killed by the disease.

“It was frightening but I was lucky I later met a lady who was a cancer survivor for many years and I shared my story with her. She introduced me to another doctor and also encouraged me that as long as I follow the doctor’s advice, everything would be okay.”

Ms Mwangi has also interacted with other breast cancer survivors, who have encouraged her and the journey “is so far so good”. Save for her swollen left hand that is still under treatment, the mother of four can do her household chores.

Her husband says he has spent a lot of money managing the disease but his condition has drastically improved and he hopes he will be totally healed. 

Male breast cancer is rare. It forms in the breast tissue. Though breast cancer is most commonly thought of as a disease that affects women, it is increasingly occurring in men.

Experts say male breast cancer is most common in older men, though it could occur at any age.

The signs and symptoms of male breast cancer can include a painless lump or thickening in the breast tissue, changes to the skin covering the breast, such as dimpling, redness or scaling, changes to the nipple, such as redness or scaling, or a nipple that begins to turn inward.

Men diagnosed with breast cancer at an early stage have a good chance of healing. Treatment typically involves surgery to remove the breast tissue. Other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be recommended based on a patient’s particular situation.

Ms Mwangi said she and her husband were initially devastated, but they were determined to face the diagnosis head-on, trusting in the treatments encouraging each other.

They hope to come through and feel “happier and stronger”.

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