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CANCER: Having to choose between treatment and Christmas

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | For Robert Kyazze who is currently receiving treatment at the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI), returning home to celebrate Christmas with his family wasn’t an option.

He just had a dose of chemotherapy for his Kaposi Sarcoma on Tuesday. Even as his next dose is due for January 22, he couldn’t return to his home in Kalangala.

“As you can see I am still weak. I couldn’t travel all the way because I have to consider that transport and my health too. This medicine makes me dizzy. I can celebrate as many Christmas days later when I get better,” he told URN on Christmas Day as he lined up for lunch at the male ward in Mulago Hospital. A meal of beef stew and matooke was served as Christmas lunch today.

According to patients this is a special meal that was served with no strings attached. Twaha Bagonza, a throat cancer patient who hails from Kabale village in Bunyangabu district says while they receive food every day, it’s usually given to those that are on the ward and priority is given to those that look very sick as food is usually in very small portions that many of them miss out. “Today is Christmas bonus,” he said.

“Usually for those serving to give you something, you have to show them your meal card. The food also smells and looks nice today,” he added.

Bagonza has been receiving radiotherapy for cancer of the throat since August and he will be due for the next episode on January 12th. As he waits, he has been thrown out of the ward and spends nights at the veranda such that space in the ward can be spared for those that need urgent care.

However, he is not alone on the veranda, there is also Ritah Ageno from Soroti who awaits her first dose of radiotherapy for cervical cancer on January 6th. She says she couldn’t go back home last week when doctors informed her of the treatment schedule because transport costs were already high. She has since been spending nights on the veranda, buying her food and didn’t anticipate any even today but she was surprised with a meal.

However, in an interview on phone, Christine Namulindwa a Communications Officer at the Institute said they had no special programme for patients today but added that patients were free to have their guests come in to celebrate the day together. She said, for them what was most important was to ensure that no one misses their doses and therefore health workers are available at both the outpatients department and the wards.

By midday when URN visited, only a few patients were seen lined up at the pharmacy to pick medication. Those on the ward that were interviewed also acknowledged having received their doses.

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