“The Limau Cancer Group Connection chats on WhatsApp mean everything to me. They’re my way of staying connected with cancer victors, patients, caregivers, doctors, nurses and basically close relatives and friends of cancer patients.” Nancy Rono, Breast cancer survivor.
Limau meaning lemons depicting turning them into sweet lemonade to signify turning bitter life experiences to bearable ones is what the group founding member Nancy Githoitho had in mind when she mooted this noble idea. The lemonade brigade as they call themselves form a very effective and supportive group therapy where there’s emotional support, information and education, sharing of experiences, counseling, ask a doc or nurse session and basically just navigating cancer care.
Nancy who lost her own mother to breast cancer in 2017 thinks that the lack of support and stigma that her mother faced drove her to low self esteem and depression. She moved to the village where she had no cancer support group to motivate her. Nancy hopes to creat awareness through the group and beyond on all forms of cancer and not just breast cancer as well as to fight the very same vice. The Knitters is Nancys organized group that specializes in making and distributing knitted prosthetics for free. Also known as the pink warriors, the group comprises of breast cancer survivors and men who lost their partners to the disease. This initiative stemmed from her observation of her mothers conventional prosthetics which Nancy recalls were always heavy, sweaty and soggy. Also they were out of reach for low income households because of their price range (5,000 – 50,000 Kshs).
On the WhatsApp platform, no topic is imposed and discussions are based on what’s in a persons mind. They include information about what’s happening in hospitals in relation to cancer patients, missing meds, mistreatment of patients, their meal preferences and even voting of the best medical practitioners. Medical advise from all quarters including nurses, psychologists and doctors is just a message away! Whether it’s to ask for advice, or telling the lemonades about a bad day or sending really flattering and sometimes unflattering (read comical) photos and memes just to help those feeling down to have an easier day.
A common rallying call is ” Let’s put on our turatu twa raba (rubber shoes)” to do a celebratory dance for an achievement done such as realization of vital drugs that had been missing for the patients, to the successful conclusion of chemotherapy or a declaration of a cancer free patient! On a different note, members have had to hold discussions on how to dissuade a newly diagnosed patient from committing suicide, to fundraising for a member in need of medical aid, to messages of condolences for one that has succumbed to cancer.
The group conversations go on and on and on. Whenever one is free they can pick up from where they left off the chats which could be hundreds of unread messages. This is unlike (missed) phone calls or a missed doctors appointment. At odd hours members are likely to stumble upon a soul cruising the WhatsApp group streets with a relatable story or idea or solution to a cancer problem. Once invited to the group, the drill is always the same, one has to introduce themselves and tell their story or journey. Even if in reality the members are miles apart, they have confessed that the Limau Cancer Connection has made them feel physically closer.
A snippet of some of the conversations
“Hi all, it feels good to join this family. It’s very enlightening and encouraging. My name is……and I am taking care of my mom who was diagnosed with oesophagus cancer last year and is going through radiation. It’s not easy but it’s God who gives us strength each and every day. Members keep going and be strong in the Lord….Let’s encourage each other morally and financially when a need arises. I love you all and am happy to be one of you. Thanks all and stay blessed always”
“When I was having chemo my boss used to chase me out of the office at 3pm so I could go and rest. On the other hand, every time I went to the supermarket to shop I got a lot of people staring at me because of my bold head! One lot of people outside the super were overheard by my hubby talking in……saying that woman has gone crazy to shave her head like that. I actually walked back to them and told them that they should never talk about a person like that since they don’t know what that person is going through! I left with a big smile and a spring in my step after that”
“I still get my periods on tamoxifen. The doctor said it’s okay but if they last for longer than the normal days or they are too heavy with clots, then I should go for checkup”
“Does Nairobi Women accept NHIF for radiotherapy? Please assist anyone?”
“Guys fruits are good but beware of too much fructose”
“Who will be attending…….funeral on Friday? We would like to contribute as Limau. Kindly send your donations to…..”
“Not easy but we have to learn to deal with death, which is as sure for each one of us, (sick or well), as the night follows the day”
“It’s sad but we heal in humor. Were you here when I told you my moms fake boob fell into soup as she was serving us dinner” to which another member replied, “Mine fell out in the boardroom and I had directors there🙈🙈🙈”
“Let’s welcome……here to engage us and bring the sexy back after cancer and reinvent our marriages. You can still get back your dating game with one boob! Hata kama NHIF doesn’t cover the other one…..”(Even if the National Health Insurance Fund doesn’t cover…)
The number of Kenyans active on social media platforms increased in 2017 according to the “State of the Internet in Kenya 2017” report released by the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE). 12 million Kenyans were on WhatsApp with 7.1 million of them being on Facebook. A study by David Spiegel of Stanford University in 1989, found that cancer patients’ participation in support groups increased the length and quality of their lives. One of the most stressful experiences in a person’s life is having cancer. However, with support groups like Limau people can cope with the emotional aspects of disease. The groups strength lies in its support.
By the time of posting this article, the group had been moved on to telegram which has more room to contain the hundreds of the Limau Cancer Chat Group members.