Despair, Denial, Betrayal and Hope at Last! - The Story of Dorcas Wanjiru
Dorcas was a happy lady working in Saudi Arabia as a house-help, doing everything she could to provide for her children back in Kenya. In 2015, she came back to Kenya, obtained a loan and established a salon business to enable her to stay closer to her family as she continued to provide for them. Everything was moving on well until later in the year when she realized that despite struggling with obesity over the years, she was now losing weight at an alarming rate. This prompted her to seek healthcare, with tests revealing that she was HIV+. This came as a huge shock to her because that is the last disease she could ever imagine having, bearing in mind the lifetime treatment and societal perspectives surrounding HIV. Dorcas went into total denial and didn't disclose the condition to anybody. She could often default taking ARVs and only resume when she remembered that she was at risk of dying and leaving her two children alone. Her health condition kept on deteriorating and during one of her routine hospital visits, she was also diagnosed with an abdominal hernia.
In January 2018, Dorcas made a self commitment to properly adhere to ARVs, a decision that saw her health improve significantly. A month later, she got married, a step that she says brought her more hope and light to her life, from a previously dark state. More happiness was added into her family when she got a baby in October and at that point, Dorcas’ hope and joy were restored. However, this did not last long because in February 2018, her baby got very sick with a heart problem. While she was admitted with their baby, Dorcas separated with her husband of one year, leaving her heartbroken with a severely sick baby. Further to the misfortunes, her baby died a week later, which left her totally broken. At this point, Dorcas felt totally lost because she didn’t have a support system. Her own family rejected and isolated her with her kids, with nobody else to turn to.
To Dorcas, 2018 was the most stressful year, moving from one bad experience to the other. She became very unproductive in all areas of her life due to severe headaches and extreme stress. In August 2018, she developed severe headaches and chest pains, which were not responding to the over the counter medications, leaving her with no option than going for further medical checkup . It is at the hospital that she was diagnosed with pneumonia and got admitted for further management. She was treated and discharged but a month later, she was admitted again,this time round with back pain and persistent headache. This time round, she was diagnosed with TB of the spine.
At this point, Dorcas started blaming herself, thinking that perhaps there was something she had done wrong , warranting the punishment through what she was going through. She hated herself to a point that she wished she could just die and forget about the sufferings. During her discharge from the hospital, her mother and sister got to know her HIV status and TB infection. This led to more isolation, with her family associating her diseases with bad omen. In fact, her sister moved from home and blocked the whole family so that she could not be urged to go see her sister, fearing that she could get infected with the diseases, which she termed as deadly.
When Dorcas was at the verge of giving up and succumbing to high stress levels, her clinician at Kihara sub-district hospital enrolled her to Keheala. According to Dorcas, this marked her turning point, because this came at a point when she was deliberating suicide since she didn’t know how she could live with this huge burden on her shoulders. Dorcas says that Keheala gave her what she had lacked during this whole time: A shoulder to lean on. To begin with, she felt that the SMS reminders were a form of companionship to her, because she couldn’t believe that somebody cared for her health to a point of reminding her to take her TB medications daily. In addition, the support and persistent calls from Keheala support sponsors helped her to accept her condition and purpose to live a better life against all the odds.
During the 2018 December holidays, her sister told the family to be careful when interacting with Dorcas to avoid getting infected with the ‘deadly diseases’ that she has. Dorcas called Keheala and after a long call of counselling and assurance that TB is curable and HIV is manageable, Dorcas felt much better and resolved to live a happy life, without paying too much attention to stigma and discrimination from the family. Her son also disclosed to her that he knew about her HIV+ status and pledged to support her throughout her therapy . Her son also told her that she is lucky to have come across supportive people like Keheala and noted that she has since changed and is now more peaceful and focused to live a better healthy life.
According to Dorcas, Keheala helped her to see the light of life beyond the disease burden she had been through. Unlike previously where she thought it would be very hard taking anti-TBs alongside the ARVs for a whole year, she now reports that with support from Keheala, treatment has become very easy and it’s now like part of her normal life. When she reflects of how far Keheala has walked with her from the darkest part of her life to a now happy point, Dorcas says that the only way she is giving back is by encouraging and walking with other people in similar situations. Recently she was able to help a friend who was contemplating suicide after being diagnosed with HIV and the friend has accepted his status and is taking his drugs well. She is also doing small jobs to improve her living, especially with the renewed hope, all thanks to Keheala’s support, motivation and encouragement.