Debilitating, terrifying, overwhelming. A word synonymous with fear, fatigue, sorrow, death. All dread the six letter word – it is the ultimate equalizer.
Let's start with some facts.
Cancer is the third highest cause of death in Kenya.
There an estimated 39,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed and 27,000 cancer related deaths per year.
As at 2013 there were less than 25 oncology specialists serving a population of 42 million.
In 2005 Doris Mayoli was one of thousands of Kenyans - men and women, diagnosed with breast cancer. Like many people who received such news she was shocked, confused and overwhelmed. More than anything she was surprised at how little she know about cancer, what's worse she couldn't fathom where to start learning. Slowly she gathered the information to help her wade through months of radiation and treatment.
Doris was one of the lucky ones – her cancer went into remission and she emerged, in her words a cancer victor. A woman of deep faith, when reflecting on what helped her get through her season of treatment, her mind continually came back to the gospel songs that held her up in dark times. She decided to give thanks in the best way she knew how and called up a few friends and asked them if they would like to take part in a thanksgiving concert. Twenty people signed up and unknowingly the birth of that small choir was the birth of a movement.
Looking back Doris recalls how right singing felt in that moment. What surprised her was when the concert took place at her local church and she shared her story, people came forth to share how their lives had been affected by cancer in myriad ways.
It was the beginning of something new.
Donations poured in after the concert and Doris resolved to find others who were in the dark, suffering with cancer, seeking information and support. Apparently that was not the hard part, she connected with tens of Kenyans seeking support and soon the Twakutukuza Trust was born; a not for profit outfit that provides psychosocial support, information, linkages to doctors and information to people suffering from all types of cancer.
Each year Doris and Twakutukuza go back to where it started - a concert is held as a fundraiser and as a reminder that people are not alone even in their darkest times. The concert is a powerful praise session and the choir has grown over the years to 220 voices. Made up of people who have survived cancer, people who have lost friends and relatives to cancer, people who just want to take the time to say thank you to God for getting them through whatever cancer threw at them, its a choir borne of longing, sorrow and restoration.
Today the Twa Trust as it is better known, has reached out to thousands of Kenyans battling cancer helping them with everything from counselling services to buying the expensive high nutrient foods needed by patients undergoing treatment to providing bus fare to get to a health facility. Sometimes the barriers to recovery are as simple as that. It may not solve the major problems we face as a country, but it has already enabled thousands to move from cancer victims to cancer victors within the system we have.
Doris took her pain, turned it to praise, and in doing so has made an indelible mark on the lives of thousands.
Images courtesy of the Twakutukuza Trust.