On Monday morning, January 14th, it was time to go and visit our partnering hospital, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. We didn’t know exactly what to expect or what we would find in this hospital. Of course we knew that conditions would not be what they are at home; perhaps we were trying not to have preconceived notions about it. As it turns out, a good summary of our opinions is that it could be worse. Some parts are absolutely amazing, considering that it wasn’t that long ago that this was just a small local hospital until the Medical School opened in 1988, and it became only the second referral hospital in Kenya. They graduated their first class of doctors in 1997. They have come a long, long way, and lives are being saved…but any American who visits here will certainly be counting blessings. Our pristine hospitals, which are full of conveniences for the patients and which yield the best care possible for everyone, are to be cherished. Amazingly though, as we toured and met so many people, we were all thinking very positively about this place. Somehow the brain just knows that it is ridiculous to compare to what we may have at home, and we all took on the pride of accomplishment that the doctors and administrators displayed as they showed us around.
Something that struck us about every medical professional we met…each and every one of them wanted to learn what they could from us. Each of them wanted to do his or her best to keep learning and improving, finding out about our methods in America, wondering if any of them could be implemented here to further help their patients.
On Tuesday, January 15th we had a most amazing experience. The KTB Team was invited to sit in on a meeting of breast cancer survivors who meet once every two months at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. This is the very first support group ever formed for breast cancer survivors here. Most women have not even heard of breast cancer and do not know what it is. There is a stigma attached to having it, and some are very ashamed. It struck us that breast cancer is kept in a closet here, and progress is being hindered; it is a reminder of how the US looked at breast cancer in the 1950s and 60s. There has been very little education about the disease, and there are many commonly held myths, such as that breast cancer is caused by witchcraft or curses or that women got it from nursing their children. A wonderfully caring male nurse at the hospital has dedicated himself to forming this peer group and working to make sure it survives. It was so powerful and uplifting to hear these women and men – there were two male survivors present, as well as the husbands of a few of the women – talk about their fears and experiences and commune with others who have known the same fear and confusion. There was absolute wonder on their faces, combined with hope, as they listened to our Dr. Storniolo and Dr. Han educate them about their disease and take away some of the fear. We will never forget the voices of the people at this meeting, proving that all breast cancer survivors share the same experiences, regardless of where they are diagnosed. Dealing with processing the information and coping with fear with respect to treatment is the same. We are all sisters.