Jocye Ibrahim Ndungu is a 24-year-old gospel singer. He was born in Njoro and grew up in the town of Nakuru. Coming from a troubled family, and living on the streets at some point, Jocye has seen dark days in his young life. He says his faith has been the beam of light that always lit his path.
Now a cancer survivor, Jocye ministers the word of God through songs of praise and worship. His stage name is Zawadi “gift” a name that personifies his purpose on this earth. He believes that through his experiences, he can dedicate his story to others who might find themselves in a similar situation.
When did your battle with Cancer begin?
I didn’t know right away that I had cancer but the entire year of 2017 I was sickly and weak. I would have high fevers, vomit a lot and lost a tremendous amount of weight in the process. I would later discover that I had a cyst and had to be operated on immediately, this was around November 2018. After the operation, a specimen taken from my body was taken to Aga Khan for assessment. Three weeks later I was found positive for Rhabdomyosarcoma.
What is Rhabdomyosarcoma?
It is a rare type of cancer that affects the soft tissue of the body. There are numerous types of this cancer because it can affect the muscles, fat and blood vessels. It is more prevalent in children, but some adults are at risk as well. Its symptoms include fatigue, vomiting and weight loss.
How did this diagnosis make you feel?
I was distraught because we have grown up with the perception that cancer is like a death sentence. I was scared because cancer treatment is very expensive, and I don’t come from a financially stable family. I was just fortunate to have good people around me to offer support throughout the treatment.
What kind of treatment did you receive?
I started my treatment at Nakuru Level 5 hospital there, I did six sessions of chemotherapy for six months. After the six months, I took a three-week break and then went to Nairobi Hospital for radiotherapy treatment which lasted around one month. Since then I had been getting stronger every day and now, I only go for checks up.
How did the chemotherapy affect you physically and emotionally?
Chemo is tough so I lost a lot of weight in the process. The medication would cause constipation sometimes and other times I would experience diarrhoea. I remember not having any appetite for days and ended up losing a lot of my hair, which is a common side effect of chemo.
Emotionally, chemo can break you down into pieces if you are not strong enough. You need all the support you can get. Friends and family play a very important role in giving moral support and being present whenever they are needed. People rarely talk about the effects of chemo, but the process is so brutal that people easily fall into depression. I am lucky to have had a strong support system that stuck with me throughout the entire process.
Right now, are you in remission or are your cancer free?
I am cancer free. It is very possible to get cured of cancer. I have seen it happen to lots of other people as well. The biggest difference is at what point you get tested. The earlier it is detected, the better your chances are to make a full recovery. Most patients who get tested when cancer has already progressed often struggle with the treatment because chemotherapy is brutal to the body.
Besides early detection, what else helped you overcome cancer?
Accepting yourself is key once you embark on this journey, to realize that this is how things are at the moment and resolve to fight for your life. Accepting yourself is made easier by having a strong support system. Having reliable people around you who are optimistic and hopeful about your journey can have such a great impact on your recovery. My medical cover also played a big role in the treatment. Cancer is expensive to treat and having medical insurance helped ease the financial load. I know patients who pay around a million for one session.
How much did you pay for your chemotherapy session?
Each cycle costs around Ksh25,000. I was very fortunate to meet some very nice people along the way who helped me financially. One of these people was Dr. Wanda who paid for my first chemotherapy session because I didn’t have the money. I was once a street kid, so I relied on friends and people of goodwill to chip in from time to time and support my treatment.
It is also important to mention that NHIF covered some bills as well so I would like to sensitize people to get medical covers and keep them updated. The entire process of my treatment cost around one million shillings.
How did you become a street kid?
When I was a child, my mother brewed changaa and other illicit brews. She was an absent parent and she never took us to school. My older brothers had already gone to Nakuru town and had already started living in the streets. My late brother Francis took me with him to the streets and I lived there for five years.
When did life change for you?
Around the year 2005, I was taken in by the AIC church in section 58 under a children’s home known as Streets of Hope International. The home was run by Mr. and Mrs. Mwangi. They were the ones that put a roof over my head, fed me and took me to school. They raised and catered for my education up until form two when my sponsorship ended. I was lucky to get a sponsor from abroad called Matthew and he made sure I finished high school.
What would you say to all these wonderful people who have supported you?
My heart swells with gratitude. As you can see, Zawadi is much more than one man. I am a product of the support of many people. Everything that I have gone through has led me to new and amazing people. I am a firm believer in the statement; ” God cannot give you a burden too heavy to carry”. God is responsible for all the good things that have come my way.
What did you do after finishing high school?
I couldn’t go to campus because of financial constraints so I focused on music as a career because that is all I have ever wanted to do; to sing for God. I also compose music (contemporary gospel) create art and produce music. That is how I survive.
When you meet other cancer patients what do you tell them?
I tell them the truth, that cancer is real, it kills, but if you chose to fight it from deep within yourself, you can get healed and survive it. Accept yourself and think about the friends and family that depend on you. Use all their support and love as motivation to propel yourself to greater heights. Cancer is treatable, I am living proof. Most importantly, you are not alone.
Through your experience, how would you rate our preparedness as a country to deal with cancer?
I genuinely feel the government has tried its best to make treatment more accessible to patients. We have a long way to go but we are on the right path. My prayer is that one-day cancer treatment will be offered to all patients free of charge as they do for tuberculosis patients. The hardest thing about the treatments is the cost, I hope the government can continue investing more in this field and subsidize the prices further.
What does the future hold for Zawadi?
The future is so bright and full of success. I see myself as a perfected art of God, a continuous testimony that gets better with every phase of life. I hope to open a support group for cancer patients where they can receive financial and emotional support as they navigate their journey. Having gone through the same road I feel I can offer a better perspective on the issue. I will also continue doing music and releasing projects to give people hope and remind them that they are God’s gift to the world.
Brian Muchiri is a passionate writer who draws his inspiration from the experiences in his own life and of those around him. He is candid and he seeks to inspire society to be more pro active and vocal about the social issues that affect us. Brian is also actively involved in pushing for awareness and inclusion of people with disabilities through his foundation; Strong Spine.