What are your memories of being a twenty-one-year-old? Some were in university, starting a job, in a relationship, moving away from home, enjoying the freedom of young adulthood, or figuring out the purpose of life. When I was twenty-one, I was fighting cancer. And now, a few years into survivorship, I am obliged to have many friends like you-whose futures will be forever changed by cancer-looking for honest words. (Honest Words, 2015, pg. 10)
Liza Ngenye’s battle with cancer, tough as it was, did not deter her from speaking about her journey and encouraging cancer patients to soldier on in this tough season. Creating awareness and guidance towards families and friends affected by this disease in one way or another, the young lady in her early 20s has written a book as a source of hope in a world where Cancer spells death.
In her book, Honest Words – A young person’s story and guide to cancer survivorship, Liza talks about her journey through cancer while giving advice on how to deal with the emotions that come with this battle for both patients and to the families and friends affected.
Liza teaches Business Communication under the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) at Strathmore University. She studied in the USA for the past six years where she undertook her undergraduate studies at Union Collage, Lincoln Nebraska New York, and her masters from George Washington University, Washington DC. Liza’s background is in communication, where she has worked and taught for the last few years.
Liza was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma - a cancer that starts in the white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are part of the body’s immune system. Her diagnosis came right when she had begun her masters, stemming from a bad flu which Liza assumed to be a prolonged asthma attack (an ailment she had when she was younger), that led to her seeking treatment but with the attacks not going away. She had also lost a lot of weight that made her decide to undergo further checkups. Waking up with a high fever while struggling to breathe in her apartment in the US, Liza called 911 who rushed her to hospital where further tests were conducted. The doctors found a mass that was blocking her vocal cord, which after taking a sample and testing, discovered to be cancerous. She was immediately put into chemotherapy treatment, she did not need surgery or radiation treatment, and after three sessions of treatment she felt strong enough to continue with her studies.
Liza notified her family and her mother was able to join her in the US, to support her during this period.
“It was a terrible, nightmare of an experience. Not only knowing I had cancer, but the fact that I went through all side effects that come with the chemotherapy treatment. I experienced, hair loss, nausea, vomiting, and all kinds of pain etc.” Liza however, was grateful to God she went through this experience in the US because she received a lot of support in hospital and out of hospital. This is because she realized, the cancer sickness is dealt with differently in the US; she was introduced to support groups for young adults and with expectations that she can get through it, she had to toughen up and fight it. “No one felt sorry for me or had pity…”
As much as she got her support, Liza did not deal with one area of her life, her emotional baggage. “When I was going through this situation I never used to think I have cancer I will die, I would just look at this as a sickness that needed treatment for me to get well. After the treatment, six months later, tests were conducted and I was declared cancer free – remission. Then all these emotions came boggling down on me.”
“Everyone was with me through this journey, I was 21 I had nothing to hide, so I shared out my story on social media. I would tell my friends when I go to hospital, when I was undergoing treatment, I would even post pictures of this journey.” This openness made people approach her with many questions on the disease, with the hope that she would advise everyone on their cancer issues. “Due to these series of questions, I felt I needed to write a book.”
Liza’s book which was published last year, 2015, is in two parts; her story on how she got to realize she had cancer and how she fought through it; and the second part gives practical guidance on how to deal with cancer patients – an aspect she felt really lacked especially in Africa where cancer is concerned.
Liza’s decision to come back home was based on the fact that she had not fully engaged her connections with family and friends, who she realized were still dealing with her as a cancer patient. She realized that her physical presence would help them all accept that she is well and as a result, they could be better psychologically.
Liza’s emotional journey was also intense and she felt she had to restart her life; her priorities and life decisions now changed to incorporate the fact that she felt she needed to be a voice towards fighting the cancer stigma, and that somebody needed to tell this tale. “Many people are not well equipped with information concerning this disease, and I felt I needed to share my story. This desire stemmed my choice to start teaching, to enable me to advice young adults on how to set the right priorities in life. I felt disappointed that we have a generation that is not well-equipped with knowledge of issues/challenges that come in life. Yes we have the syllabus to go through, but I use my opportunity in class to advice the students on life skills, survival etc. we have to have the attitude of winning. When you have cancer you can’t decide whether to live or die, you have to live and you have to fight to win this.”
“Young people have an advantage many generations don’t. They have so much power and influence, which was not there in the past. Therefore, they should never keep quiet about this disease because this is a sickness that affects all aspects in someone’s life – emotional, physical, psychological, mentally etc. a large percentage of cancer survivors go through depression after their treatment because they did not deal with their emotional aspects.” As patients/survivors/and a whole fraternity, Liza believes they all have a responsibility to change the mindsets of people against this stigma and disease. Speaking about this disease also encourages support from the public because together this disease can be fought.
An e-book version is available on Barnes and Nobles and amazon.com on Honest Words, published by Westbow press, a Division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan. Copies of the books will also be available in the Strathmore University bookshops and subsequent bookshops under that management.