One holiday when in high school I came home to find moms sister, Aunty Wambui had moved in with us. She looked thinner, darker and frail. Her forced smile could not hide that things were not okay. Her stomach was bigger and had a mass that felt as hard as a stone. My Aunty had a beautiful heart and a very striking smile with a gap in her front teeth. She was a cool and hip Aunty. To her buying me mascara and lip stick were not a waste of money and I loved her for that. She never bothered much about my grades but would always want to know if I was happy and if my heart was at peace. She had a good sense of humor and always made me feel loved and relaxed when with her. This new frail side of her was very difficult to fathom.
Mom told me she had cervical -uterine cancer and she needed someone to take care of her so she had her come stay with us. We lived in a two bedroomed house; one bedroom for our parents and the other for the rest of us. To save on space we had a bunk bed, Aunty slept on the lower bed while my niece and I shared the upper bed. Aunty would be brave and try to hide the pain from my mom during the day but at night it was another story. Her sobbing dead in the night would wake me up. I had no courage to talk to her and so my niece and I would cuddle and comfort her the best way we knew by joining her in the sobbing! This would go on until we sleep then the cycle would start again wake up sob then sleep. I do not remember how many times this went on in the night. In the morning our eyes would be red and it would be clear we have not slept well but no one would talk about it. We would all suffer silently and be glad when daylight came and we were all breathing!
Cancer was not some discussion you would have openly. It was a death sentence! Who talks about death on the dinner table? She was expected to die anytime thus the relief each morning brought. This went on every night I was home that holiday and for once I was so happy to return to school. I was in boarding school and there, away from all the sobbing I would have a full night of sleep. She died about two weeks after I had gone back to school. As it was then, my parents decided I should not be told. Each time I asked of her I would get a vague answer. So I only learnt of her death when school closed and did not attend her funeral. Rest in peace Aunty.
I know the pain of crying under the blankets and the anxiety of waiting for death every night (I am not sure why we associate death with night or darkness) and the relief and hope that daybreak brings. Many are the many times I thanked God for the gift of a brand new day and the gift of life. I still do. It would bring me joy if I could help two or 3 women not go through what Aunty did or two young girls from crying under the blankets. There is hope today for tomorrow. We can prevent the pain by early and frequent screening. No one needs to die of cervical cancer with all the screening and early treatment measures available. I will do all I can to encourage women and girls to go for screening so help me God.