Survivor Spotlight

Benda Kithaka
Co-Founder/Chair, Women4Cancer Early Detection & Treatment
Nairobi, Kenya

Benda is not a survivor, but she is the sister of a cervical cancer survivor and co-founded the featured organization.

In February 2010, my young sister—27 years old and a mother of one child—called with the devastating news that she had been diagnosed with cancer. This diagnosis was made by a general practitioner in a village hospital. She and her husband were utterly broken and in a panic mode, trying to make plans for the future of their young family without her, since unfortunately, any cancer diagnosis was viewed by many as a death sentence. With the support of my husband, we asked her to come to Nairobi for a second opinion from my gynecologist.

My gynecologist ordered a number of tests, among them a Pap Smear. The test results indicated “suspicious cancerous cells.” He performed a minor procedure, gave my sister some pain-relieving medicines, and requested that she come back in June 2010 for a second Pap Smear. The second results came back as negative for pre-cancerous cells.

The doctor assured us that the results were so encouraging because the “suspicious nasty cells” had been found and treated early. My sister did not have to go through surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy to treat the cancerous cells—for which we thank God. From this experience, I learned that if we are going to beat cancer, early detection is imperative! Encouraged by my sister’s experience, I felt a desperate need to educate the public about cancer and specifically to help educate women to take steps to ensure early detection because early diagnosis and subsequent treatment are key to survival.

So, in 2012, together with Elizabeth Mbuthia, Catherine Wachira, and Dr. Njoki Njiraini, I formed Women4Cancer Early Detection & Treatment, a Kenyan NGO to address the stigma associated with cervical cancer and to focus on cervical cancer prevention and control across the continuum of care. We are committed to the vision of a Kenya free from cervical cancer. Our team of dedicated volunteers have programmes in policy advocacy, community education, screening, patient navigation, and social reintegration of women cancer survivors. And, our partners include the Ministry of Health, County First Ladies Association (CFLA), Kenyan Network of Cancer Organisations (KENCO), and the American Cancer Society.

Together, we work to address the stigma associated with cervical cancer in our communities. We are actively engaged in creating awareness, conducting screenings, and facilitating navigation for access to treatment for women in rural locations. Women4Cancer achievements include:

  • Integrated medical camps that have facilitated 40 outreaches to-date, reaching over 7,500 women in rural Kenya with free screening for cervical and breast cancer
  • A Robust navigation programme run by volunteer survivor navigators who make sure that after screening camps, any woman found with results that are suspicious for cervical or breast cancer is not lost to follow up, but instead accesses quality and timely treatment
  • A pilot programme to empower cervical and breast cancer survivors with seed capital to start income-generating activities to ensure that they have the income to continue with the survivor navigation programme

So here I am, through Women4Cancer Early Detection & Treatment, spreading the message that There Is Hope Today for Tomorrow! Through Prevention, Early Detection and Treatment!