Cancer’s bitter secret: Abandoned by family

Monday February 11 2019
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Nothing hurts the most than your own family abandoning you at the time of need, and 21- year-old Rajabu Mohammed knows this too well. He is the first born in a family of four children and he is one among 20 or more abandoned [by family] cancer patients at Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI).

He describes himself as an adventurous person who loves people and being social. He narrates his story to Your Health.

“I am a former Head Prefect at Kanga Hill Secondary School in Mvomero District, Morogoro Region. I developed oesophageal cancer in 2017 when I was in form four,” Rajabu tells.


The illness develops when abnormal cells in the food pipe (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach) grow in an uncontrolled way.

“It all started as an on and off earache around May of 2017. I then started experiencing weakness. I was forced to drop out of school several times due to the illness,” Rajabu recalls. It was due to this reason, he failed the form four national exam.


“I started having dizzy spells towards the end of September and that progressively got worse until I started feeling pain when swallowing food. I was purposed to go for a check-up which did not happen because my family did not have money to afford the treatment costs,” he says.

Since Rajabu’s ill-health, his father has never paid attention nor paid him a visit, let alone taking responsibility to take care of him. “I also have other sisters and brothers from the same father but different mother. But they are minding their own business,” he says.

Rajabu’s mother had to sell 10 timber trees which earned her Sh350,000, but the money was not enough to cover his treatment costs so he had sought further financial assistance from his uncle.

“But he said he did not have the money that time. I started to lose hope. My whole body was aching and I was feeling very cold,” Rajabu says.

His mother had to seek further help from her father (Rajabu’s grandfather) who contributed some extra funds.

“Many thanks also to my aunt for her support but then she could not push the check-up any further,” Rajabu tells.

When things got worse, Rajabu decided to go to a private health facility in Dar es Salaam to see a doctor who said he had to do tests to ascertain what was wrong.


The results took some time to come out. He had to wait. He was laying on the hospital bench close to his mother. “She looked more worried than I, but she didn’t want me to notice it. I got my results back which showed that I had a tumour in the oesophagus. So the doctor suggested we should go to the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) to take it for biopsy to determine if it was cancerous,” he says.

At MNH, Rajabu had to be admitted, something which he opposed to do because he only came in for a check-up. He, therefore, underwent several tests, including CT scans and X-Ray scans.

“I got my results back, which showed that the tumour was cancerous. The doctor explained that she would transfer me to the ORCI for further specialised cancer treatment,” Rajabu further tells.


He was referred to the cancer facility. “I had a lot of hope. I began chemotherapy in November last year, and as of now, I have undergone several sessions,” he says.

But during his treatment time, Rajabu’s mother and aunt abandoned him in the hospital.

“Their pocket money had finished. I couldn’t blame them. It was a very depressing moment for me,” Rajabu continues, “What hurts me most is to see my father ignoring me all these days since I developed the disease as he has neither called me nor sent me words of encouragement.”


Rajabu has always been passionate about becoming a successful business tycoon. Though he knows in order to achieve this, he must win this battle. The field he is passionate about is agriculture.

“I have never been employed in my life and it is my priority. I want to be free from cancer to run my own business. I believe one day I will achieve this,” Rajabu is full of hope.


The oesophageal cancer is the leading disease affecting mainly men followed by Kaposi Sarcoma (KS) and Prostate cancer, revealed the ORCI Executive Director Dr Julius Mwaiselage when he spoke to Your Health over the telephone.


The National Health Policy stipulates that all cancer patients visiting the ORCI should access free treatment.

Despite the existence of the policy for free treatment, Rajabu discloses that he is sometimes forced to dig in his pockets to pay for medicines at the institute.

“It is true that medicines are provided free of charge, but sometimes we are instructed to buy other medicines from the pharmacy,” says Rajabu while seated on the hospital bed during the interview with Your Health.

Responding to that, Dr Mwaiselage elaborated that at least 95 per cent of the inpatients at the institute have access to cancer medicines and other medical services free of charge.

He further added that those inpatients and outpatients who use health insurance cards have access to cancer medicines by 100 per cent at the institute.

“The government through the Medical Store Department (MSD) supplies all the essential cancer medicines and medical supplies here at the institute, therefore all the medicines are available,” Dr Mwaiselage said.

He added, “We have also opened the drugstore here to cater for inpatients and outpatients who demand to buy other types of medicines apart from the cancer drugs like antibiotics to treat infections.”


Dr Mwaiselage further revealed that the cancer facility is currently offering free food and accommodation services to 240 cancer inpatients.

He also commended the stakeholders for their continued support to complement the institute’s commitment to delivering high-quality cancer treatment in the country.

“We spend over Sh100 million per year, an average of Sh12 million per month for food and other expenses like transport fees for some abandoned patients who have been discharged from the hospital,” says Dr Mwaiselage.

Referring to the rapid growth of abandonment of patients at the ORCI, Dr Mwaiselage elaborated “The problem starts from the regional referral hospitals where these patients are being taken for initial treatment before they are being transferred here,” he continues, “The doctors in the regional hospitals do not inform the patients’ relatives that the cancer treatment involves a prolonged medication, this is why when they come here, the relatives find it difficult to stay and take care of their patients for that long.”

According to him, the cancer treatment involves between 4-8 weeks of prolonged medication.