In may 2016, Judith Sheenah komuhangi noticed a lump on her Breast which despite setting off muted alarm tells for urgent medical attention want attended to.
Being a breastfeeding mother, Judith thought that the lump was a milk cyst, a swelling or sac filled with milk that usually occurs after spending several hours without breastfeeding.
“I would leave home in the morning for work and return in the afternoon. I thus thought the swelling was because I was taking long to breastfeed. But when I would breastfeed and the milk got done the lump would persist, ” she explains. After five days, and feeding to advise from friends. Judith sought medical advice at a healthcare facility in kyaliwajala, a suburb of kampala. She was diagnosed with an infection that could have been caused by ‘either her or the daughter’. She was treated for the imaginary infection together with her daughter. Nut the swelling did not go long after the dose.
A week later, Judith lost an aunt who was suspected to have succumbed to liver cancer. This gave her a reality check and so she decided to seek more medical opinions, This time, a friend referred her to St. Francis Hospital, Nsambya.
“At Nsambya after undergoing a needle biopsy. I was informed that the results would be ready in two hours. We were in line together with so many other people, who looked very worried me, on the other hand was very confident that I wasn’t in any sort of trouble.”
“When it was our turn to do for the results, the doctor told my husband and I that the results were ‘confusing’. That they were between being cancerous and not. They thus needed to remove the lump and test it for cancer so as to be very sure.”
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Judith was told that the operation to remove the limp needed to be done immediately so that if it is cancer it hasn’t spread to other parts of the body. After checking into hospital for the operation, Judith and her husband were told the husband were told the results would be ready in two weeks.
“that operation was the most painful thing I had ever experienced. We also felt that two weeks was such a long time for us to wait and so we pushed and were able to receive the results within a week. What we were worried about was the outcome. I had breast cancer!” Judith explains.
Scared, Judith and her husband decided to get a second opinion from Nairobi and also check on the accessible treatment. It was while preparing to travel to Nairobi the very next day that Judith remembered that her NSSF savings could actually help her cut in kick starting the treatment process.
“I was informed that I needed to take a letter from the employer who last remitted my NSSF savings. It was an NGO that I worked with a couple of years back. On checking through my contact, most of the people I knew had left, save for one person, the administrator. I explained to her the urgency with which the letter was needed and three hours later, I had it.” She said.
“I went to NSSF on the morning of my flight because they needed to confirm and so sent me to see a doctor at the Surgary. I saw a doctor who examined me and told me he would send the letter directly to NSSF. Within a week, I got a text message informing that NSSF had deposited money into my account. This is the money that helped kick start my treatment, ” she says. Judith says much as the UGX12million she received from NSSF may have looked little, it meant the whole world to her when it came in.
She explains, “if it hadn’t come through, even the little that was there wouldn’t have helped. I would have been forced to go into a fundraising drive and may be the disease would have grown and by the time I would have been late. When the fundraising came in, I was able to save a little that kick started Magnus MediTourism Limited.”
Judith’s cancer was at stage three. At this stage, the cancer has extended beyond the immediate region beyond the immediate region of a tumour and has invaded the nearby lymph nodes and muscles but has not spread to distance organs.
“I underwent the conventional cancer treatment and chemotherapy. I went through six doses of chemo, after the sixth dose of chemo, I had to get another 17 dose of another form of medication. I commenced those in August 2017. After chemo, I took about a month and needed to do radiotherapy” she narrates
At the time, radiotherapy machine in Uganda wasn’t functional and because she hadn’t done her chemotherapy at Mulago hospital, Judith couldn’t get the free radiotherapy that other Ugandans were getting. At the same time, she wanted to do a test to determine whether the treatment was working or not, She thus needed to do a PET (Position Emission Tomography) scan which was only available in India and South Africa.
How much has the treatment cost so far? “The total cost may have come to about UGX 200 million. The surgery in Nairobi, then the 17 doses I received every three weeks each cost about UGX 4.5 million. Every time I would see a doctor, I would have to pay as well as the medication they would prescribe.”
“UGX7million was for Herceptin without the chemotherapy or first surgery as well as the air tickets. Even up to now, there’s some medicines that I take daily for the next five years. The biggest cost was the radiotherapy that I had to do in India, the herceptin that I had to get every three weeks for the 17 doses, the first chemo and the surgery,” she explains how did the medical tourism idea come up?
While in Nairobi for the tests, Judith and her husband decided that she would undertake her radiotherapy treatment in India because it was significantly cheaper than South Africa which was the other option. “we didn’t know where to began from. A friend then suggested that we talk to someone and gave us a number. The person came through quickly, asked for the scans of my medical documents and within a day, he had given us six quotation from different hospitals in India,” she states .
While in India, the person whom she later got to known as Mihir Vora(now her business partner). Vora always visited her in hospital and made sure that their stay in the country was very smooth.
“He told us he worked for a company that does medical tourism and also said that they had an office in Nairobi, Kenya. So I asked if they would be interested in opening up one in Uganda, an idea he was open to. I also asked him if it would be possible to work together on the project as partners.
“I think he thought I was being very excited and asked that I take time to think through it all. After two days, I reminded him. I also talked to my husband about it and he encouraged me to take it up. In july 2017, we launched Magnus MediTourism here in Uganda and started off operations.”
According to Judith their main focus is to create awareness mainly on non-communicable Diseases especially cancer. Using herself as an example, she encourages women to test early because cancer can be treated if detected early enough.
“we want to change this thinking that once you are diagnosed with cancer, you will automatically die. Cancer is not a death sentence. Many people out there have been healed off cancer. We are creating awareness so that people know what signs to looks out for and where ansd how to get proper treatment.”
The firm also helps those who want travel to India for treatment by connecting them to hospitals. They also have partnerships with hospitals here in Uganda.
“we can guide you depending on the situational hand: hotel quotations, flights, among others. We make the work easier for the patient and caretaker because we know how difficult it can be if one has to do all these on their own. We get you an invite which we shall use to process the Visa, book tickets, yellow fever vaccines. Once you get to India, theres someone who takes over; picks you from the airport, takes you to your hotel or hospital, books appointments for you with the hospitals.”
Returns from the company
“returns in form of money, I would say no because we are a social enterprise. We are not looking at profit but the minimum cost to enable us run the company.
I I have so far 6 clients who have gone through me and I am happy that they appreciated my service,” she says happily.
The mother of four is currently that country representative for Magnus MediTourism. She has also been declared cancer free after two PET scans in India
“The first PET scan that I did at the beginning of December 2016 when I was going to do radiotherapy, I was declared cancer free but they told me to complete my treatment then go back for another test after nine months. I went back in September 2017 and I was declared cancer free”.