My journey of hope with cancer

Monday January 22 2018

Jema Baruani (Centre) celebrating with her

Jema Baruani (Centre) celebrating with her co-workers after completing her last chemotherapy. She battled hodgkin lymphoma (Hodgkin disease) which is a type of lymphoma, a cancer that starts in cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By Devotha John

       The quote, “Faith heals, medication follows…,” is what keeps Ms Jema Baruani going as she battles Hodgkin’s lymphoma—a blood cell cancer that develops in a person’s lymphatic system.

She tells her story of the journey of hope with the cancer at a time when thousands of Tanzanians dread the disease.

More than 5,529 patients with various forms of cancer were documented in 2016 at Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI), the country’s largest cancer facility.

At the age of 31, Ms Jema, a marketing expert at AAR Medical services, believes she is fighting an endless battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma but her fierce enemy seems to be more than the cancer itself—negative mindset.

“Patients with cancer may get all the medications they need but that can’t be helpful if one lacks a positive mindset,’’ says Jema, a resident of Mbezi Beach in Dar es Salaam who spoke to Your Health recently as she recalled her trials and tribulations.

How it all started…

“It was January last year. I felt something aching in my chest. I thought it was the ribs that were aching,’’ says Jema as she curtain raises her story.

Simple as she was describing the pains, it never crossed her mind that she would end up going a proverbial extra mile to seek medical attention at a large hospital. But, after a few weeks, reality began rearing its ugly head.

“I then suddenly started losing weight,” says Jema. “Formerly I weighted 62-60 kilograms. But it decreased to 58kg. By the month of April it had dropped to 52kg.”

“Before feeling sick, I used to exercise and take a balanced. I always worked on my weight. But this time around, I noted something strange. My weight was decreasing at alarming rate.”

Seeking medical attention

“I went to the hospital only to be told that I was suffering from peptic ulcers. Doctors prescribed some medications. That was all.”

“The rib pains persisted. My saliva could now taste bitter. I later thought I was suffering from malaria. I could also feel so tired and exhausted in the afternoon even when I had spent the whole day resting.”

“At one point I began thinking it could be due to change of weather. But later, according to doctors, the diagnosis changed to pneumonia.”

“There was no mention of cancer yet. Not even a thought of it,’’ says Ms Jema Baruani who is now a cancer survivor and founder of Jema Foundation.

And the cancer journey begins…

“On one morning, I coughed mucus mixed with blood. That’s when I thought it was high time I went to Agha Khan Hospital for more checkup.”

“Well, I still thought something had bruised my throat. The doctor who attended to me recommended that I undergo x-ray check-up.”

“The x-ray results showed that the left part of my lungs was swelling. It was the very same part which was aching so much at the beginning.”

“It was still hard to know if that was cancer. Even the doctors couldn’t detect it immediately. I think the symptoms were very confusing.”

“But I am happy that doctors went ahead to do a thorough check up of full blood picture and evaluated all my body systems.”

“That’s when a swelling lump was found closer to the heart. I was told it had started to push the diaphragm of my lungs. That’s why I had some difficulty breathing.”

Shocked by findings

“I was struck by a feeling of shock as my doctors explained this. But the results were even more shocking as the doctors continued revealing details. Then, I heard them mention of a ‘tumour.” Is that not cancer? I thought! My heart began pounding.”

“One doctor gave me hope that not every tumor translates to cancer. I wished mine wasn’t the cancerous tumour.” “To confirm this, they cut a tissue from the swelling lump and sent it for further testing. When the results came back, that’s when I leant that the doctors had only been giving me hope. I indeed had cancer.”

“My entire family was in shock.”

“I cried endlessly but what could the tears do? I really thought that was the end of my life. Thank God my husband accepted the challenge, despite being shocked by the news at the beginning. He gave me hope…”

But at times, I thought of my family—my daughter who was still young. How my husband would soldier on through this.”

“I didn’t stop crying…”

“I thought and asked, couldn’t the doctors remove the tumour?” “Well, these were mere thoughts. Professionals had their decision right.”

“Normally, the lumps could be surgically removed but mine was in a dangerous location. It was formed along the heart. Doctors decided not to temper with it for my safety.”

“The next option was for me to begin cycles of chemotherapy, of which I have had 16 cycle now. It has been a long journey, a journey that can’t be accomplished without hope and faith.”

“Through family guidance I was able to overcome the psychological trauma. That’s when I learnt that faith and hope can heal.”

Enduring the painful chemo

“It has been a painful experience but one which has taught me lessons. Chemo is so painful but the pains come to pass. It requires one to have a balanced diet. Eat natural foods, the fruits, vegetables and so on. But also, get enough sleep and the right mindset.”

“I know I have had to endure vomiting frequently, the abdominal pains, the fever and so on…but life goes on….”

“The last time I checked, chemo had taken me so far ahead. My body has been responding well to it. At times it’s challenging…but it works.”

Lessons I learnt, developments I made

“After living this life and tasting the realities of living with cancer, I found it worthwhile to inspire others. That’s how the idea of forming Jemma Foundation cropped up.”

“I thought it was a good idea, to help raising money to provide cancer patients who need basic services at Ocean Road Cancer Institute and the cancer unit for children at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH).”

“What I have also learnt is that most people lack awareness about cancer. Through my foundation, I have been imparting messages of hope on to other people with cancer. I print T-shirts emblazoned with the messages. I would encourage all those with cancer to have hope for the future.”

“I use social media to reach out to the people. On my Instagram page, my message is: “I hope and pray that you will be on my part and together we can make positive impact.”

“People didn’t know that cancer varies from stage to stage. Those in stage four are different from those in initial stages. I took chemo early so that it doesn’t rapidly progress to the terminal stages.”

“In some societies, people with cancer don’t believe in hospital drugs. That’s why some end up in the hands of traditional healers.”

“But I can assure them, if all medications were taken in the right way, no life would get lost so easily.”

“One has to be positive in mind. I feel cured. Positive thinking heals. People who tend to be sad don’t last long.”

‘I still go to work. I wake up at 5.00 am, pray and after that I prepare my daughter for school, then back doing some house chores prepare breakfast then leaving to the work, making sure I am at the office at 8.00 a.m.” she says.“However, due to my situation, I can no longer go out as I used to. But my colleagues at the office keep me company. They have been with me through this journey.”