Elizabeth Njeri had just turned 50 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago.
One of her breasts was removed to stop the growth.
Her social life as it was, took a different turn as the society took a back seat and started taunting her for her new appearance.
Friends and relatives whom she thought she could turn to started shunning and making a mockery of her. Then the visits stopped.
“And right there I knew I was on my own.”
“My breast started sagging and people would look at it and laugh at me. The stigma was real. I remained indoors to hide from the crowd,” she said.
But Njeri is now beyond the disease. Strong. With thick hair, healthy body and no pain — she is a victor.
October being the cancer awareness month, she and 12 other breast cancer survivors formed an organisation, Slopes Cancer Awareness Network (Scan).
The organisation is currently educating both men and women about the killer disease within and outside the country.
“I used my tailoring skill as an opportunity to restore the dignity in women who did not feel beautiful and tell them they are not alone,” she said during an interview with the Nation.
“We have been moving across the country sensitising those people already with cancer, telling them they are not alone and those without it to go for check-ups early because early detection saves lives, it saved mine,” said Njeri.
Cancer is the third leading cause of death in Kenya with many patients unable to access treatment due to poverty.
Most women who do not have a breast or breasts, feel stigmatised by the society because walking with a bald head and no breast makes them feel like they put down their crown as women, and lost their femininity and sexual appeal.
Some women resort to wearing heavy coats and cardigans to cover themselves even in hot weather just to hide that part of their body. Others use scarfs to cover their heads.
“I have seen women sink into depression because they do not feel like they are women enough without a breast or hair. I touch their lives by giving the survivors wigs and breast foams,” Njeri said.
She gets raw materials from tailoring shops that are regarded as waste to make the cotton pockets and then fill them with washable cotton and fibre.
Getting breast prosthesis locally is expensive — between Sh20,000 to Sh25,00.
“We get support from donors sometimes who bring us the breast prosthesis and we donate them to cancer survivors for free. Women, whether young or old, are very conscious about their physical appearance,” said the Scan founder.
More than 200 women have benefited from the organisation through its outreach programme.
Njeri delivers the breast foams and wigs to the Nyeri referral hospital.
Apart from the breast foams, she also makes armpit cushions and issues health tips to encourage patients to not give up.
“I keep on sharing my stories with as many people as possible to let them know they are not alone. And when they hear there are other women going through the same they too can be strong and survive,” she said.