"Merck More than a Patient" initiative in partnership with "Women For Cancer" to empower women cancer survivors in Africa

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  • Merck kicks off “Merck More than a Patient” as part of Merck Cancer Access Program in Africa.
  • “Merck More than a Patient” aims to uplift women cancer survivors to reclaim their lives and become active contributors to the economy.
  • “Merck More than a Patient” aims to raise awareness about cancer and tackling myths and stigma associated with the disease with special focus on women. 

“Merck More than a Patient” is a new initiative of “Merck Cancer Access Program” in Africa. Merck in partnership with “Women for Cancer” started this initiative with the aim to empower women cancer survivors in Africa through supporting them to establish their own small business so that they can lead an independent and productive life.  
 
Merck will also help in raising awareness about cancer prevention and early detection and tackling the myths and stigma associated with the disease with special focus on women.
 
“I am very happy that “Merck More than a Patient” has this positive impact on these women’s lives. Therefore, this initiative will be launched in other African countries in 2017. Through our collaboration with cancer patients associations and cancer institutions across Africa, we aim to help uplift women cancer survivors  to reclaim their lives and become active contributors to the economy - and by doing so, they can now give back to the society through their new businesses. They will become more than cancer patients. In addition to our efforts, we will raise awareness about early detection and prevention especially addressing cancer in women," says Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare. 

Watch the story of transformation of Mary, Jennifer and Celesia who are cancer survivors as they share their story of transformation after meeting “Merck More than a Patient”

 Watch the story of the transformation of Rose and Esther, two women cancer survivors, after meeting “Merck More than a Patient” 
 
Watch the story of Margaret and Loise - their new life after meeting “Merck More than a Patient” 
 
Benda Kithaka and Co-Founder and Chairperson of “Women for Cancer” emphasized: “We are grateful to Merck for the continued support towards “Women 4 Cancer” survivors and our recent collaboration through the “Merck More than a Patient” initiative. The cancer patients are also appreciative that Merck is assisting them to make strides in gaining financial independence beyond their cancer survivorship. Merck will also help in raising awareness about cancer and tackling the myths and stigma associated with the disease. I am hoping we can together empower our communities to access accurate cancer information, which should result in behaviour change coupled with adoption of health seeking behaviour for quality cancer prevention and care."
 
Watch Benda Kithaka, Co-Founder and Chairperson of “Women for Cancer” as she talks about cancer myths and misconceptions, the need to demystify it to reduce the stigma associated with it and the importance of empowering women cancer survivors
 
Benda Kithaka (3rd left standing), Co-Founder and Board Chair of Women 4 Cancer with Patient Navigators
Rasha Kelej with “Merck More than a Patient” women cancer survivors

Read about the women cancer survivors:

“Merck More than a Patient” empowers Rose Chiedo, a cervical cancer survivor - read her story …
 

Rose Atieno Chiedo, a 46 year old mother of one who lives in Nairobi, Kenya, is a cervical cancer survivor. Rose used to make and sell  samosas before her cancer diagnosis and after her recovery she started to make jewellery on a small scale to cover some of her needs. "Merck More than a Patient" has helped Rose to expand her jewellery business enabling her to generate a better and steady income to meet her needs and re-build her life.

Below is Rose’s story before and after meeting “Merck More than a Patient.”

Rose used to complain of lower backaches and suffered from spotting. She went to Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi for further investigation where she found out that she had cervical cancer Stage 2B.
 
“When I was diagnosed with cancer in July 2013 the first thing that came to my mind was death,” Rose says as she narrates her painful journey. “Basically that is what anyone would think. People have a negative attitude towards cancer. The perception is that it cannot be treated,” Rose added.
 
Rose corrected the misconception about cancer saying: “Some people think cancer is as a result of a curse or witchcraft. The truth is, Cancer is NOT caused by witchcraft. Although some cancers run in the family and others result from exposure to certain chemicals and infections, many cancers may be due to preventable behavior and dietary risk factors. Many think that once diagnosed with cancer, one can only expect death. The truth is Cancer is NOT a death sentence. One can have good quality of life after cancer diagnosis, they need to seek treatment early, follow medical advice and join a cancer support group. Paying attention to signs and symptoms increases the chance and benefits of early detection and treatment; including better recovery and more affordable treatment costs,” Rose added.  
 
“I shared the news with my brother and he was shocked. He became very worried about my health and where the money to cater for my treatment would come from as we are orphans. There was no one who could help me other than him. It was a big blow to him because he knew the whole burden would be on him of which he actually took up,” Rose explains.
 
Sad journey of treatment:

“From the beginning to the end of my treatment it was just sad because I didn’t have money and I was depending on someone else for support. Before my illness, I used  to sell samosas ( a fried flour shell filled with spiced minced meat or vegetables) at that time for Ksh 5 per piece. So for 100 samosas  I would get Ksh 500 (USD 5) in a day. But I  was not able to manage the business as I would get weak and they are very heavy to carry and deliver to customers. So I stopped the business," Rose says sadly. 
 
Rose was able to get treatment (radiotherapy and chemotherapy) in March 2014 after waiting for eight months. In August of the same year there was a recurrence and Rose had to go for further treatment. Women4Cancer, a charitable organisation in Kenya supported her to cover her treatment in 2015.
 
Speaking of her treatment Rose says: “The queues are so long at the hospital. It seems like one is fighting a losing battle. But I realized it was not a losing battle when I finished my treatment. And that is when I started fighting to survive.”
 
After recovery, Rose has been making jewellery but on a very small scale to sell and support herself and other needy women. Rose had a dream of expanding the business and to train other women to generate income so that they become productive members in society.  
 
Rose’s jewellery business expanded:

“Merck More than a Patient” is a new initiative of Merck Cancer Access Program with the aim to empower women cancer survivors to re-build their shattered lives after the devastating cancer experience. It will help them to reclaim their lives and become active contributors to the economy," says Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare. 
 
" Merck More than a Patient" has helped Rose to expand her jewellery business. Moreover, it has enrolled her in the Kenya Chamber of Commerce - Women in Business body, which will help her network with other entrepreneurial women, thus giving her platform to generate even more business. 
 
“What Merck has done is really going to help me to improve my business from small-scale to large-scale. I make my jewelry at home and sell it to my neighbors and friends. This business is something I can do at my convenience. I can carry the beads wherever I am going and I can sit anywhere and do my bead work,” Rose says with confidence and joy.
 
“I would really want to thank “Merck More than a Patient” and really appreciate them because this will help me to improve my life and will also enable me to use better quality materials because I can now be able to afford to buy them,” Rose adds.
 
I am not a patient anymore. I am a survivor and I am a victor! Rose concludes.
 
“Merck More than a Patient” empowers Esther Muthike, a cervical cancer survivor – read her story ...

Esther Wakabari Muthike is a 75 year old widow from Kirinyaga in eastern Kenya and is a cancer survivor. Her husband passed away 25 years ago. Before she fell ill, Esther was a farmer who also reared cows for milk. She had to sell her  cow to cater for her cancer treatment expenses. “Merck More than a Patient” has helped Esther to get a cow from which she is able to get milk to sell to cover her needs. This has enabled Esther to get a steady income and become independent and re-build her life.  
 
Below is Esther’s story before and after meeting “Merck More than a Patient.”
Esther found out that she had cervical cancer in May 2015 at a medical camp organised by Women4Cancer. She was referred to Kenyatta National Hospital for further investigations and treatment in July 2015. She started radiotherapy and chemotherapy in September 2015 and finished treatment in November 2015.
 
“When I was told I had cancer, I knew I would die even if I was being treated. The doctors told us that cancer is incurable,” Esther says.
 
Stigmatised by family and community for having cancer:

Esther explains how she was stigmatised by her family and community: “When people heard that I had cancer, they told me to sell all my property because the disease is incurable. People in the community avoided me because they thought I would infect them with cancer. It is only one of my daughters - Susan who stood by me. She is the only one who used to wash my clothes. I had a foul smell and so people avoided me. I could not even go to visit my neighbours either. I could only visit Susan my daughter.”
 
“I used to be a small-scale farmer and I also had a cow that provided me and family with milk to sell some for an income. But I had to sell my cow when I fell ill with cancer. My daughter also sold her goats to help with the expenses,” Esther explains.
 
Esther also stopped farming for a while due to the health issues and treatment procedures. However, after treatment, she went back to farming and hoped for help to buy a cow that would enable her to generate a steady income from the sale of milk to cater for her needs.
 
Esther empowered and independent again:

“Merck More than a Patient” initiative aims to empower women cancer survivors in Africa. This initiative has supported Esther to buy a cow to replace the one she sold to cover her treatment and to enable her to meet her needs and become independent again,” says Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.

“Merck has really changed my life by giving me a cow.  I now feel better. I now get milk to drink and sell. I have money in my hands from the sale of the milk. Previously I was not getting any money. I have named this cow Wambui because of its beauty. Before I used to borrow milk from my neighbours. But now I am enjoying milk from Wambui. Since I got Wambui, I pray for Merck every day that they bless others the way they have blessed me. I am a victor, I am not sick anymore,” Esther says with a smile.
 
“Merck More than a Patient” empowers Margaret Njenga, a cervical cancer survivor – read her story...

Margaret Wanjiku Njenga is a cervical cancer survivor from Kiambu, Kenya. Margaret who is 47 years old is married with six children. She was diagnosed with cancer in August 2013 at a medical camp run by Women4Cancer. She was an active business woman who used to make and sell soap and disinfectants to schools. She also had a cow whose milk she used to sell. She could not continue with the business after she fell ill and she also had to sell her cow. “Merck More than a Patient” has helped Margaret to get a cow which is about to give birth and she will have two. Margaret will be able to get a steady income from the sale of milk and be able to educate her children. 

Below is Margaret’s story before and after meeting “Merck More than a Patient.”
Margaret explains: “My mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2010. My sisters and I were advised to go for regular cancer screenings as we could also get it as it could be in our genes. I was screened four times and the doctors kept saying they could see something. In each of these times I was given medication. I went for a fifth check-up and the results showed an anomaly. I was advised to go to hospital and I was diagnosed with cancer.”
 
Diagnosed with cancer and stops doing business and farming:
At the hospital, Margaret was told she would need to have her uterus removed. “I went home and told my husband that I had cancer. Remembering how much pain my late mother had gone through and the amount of money she had spent on treatment and she still died, I told him it would be better to have my uterus removed so that I can raise my children,” she explains. “It didn’t mean that I would not die but I would have a few more years to live,” she adds.
 
“I would lock myself in the house after my children go school. I would think a lot and cry. I always saw myself dying. Who would take care of my children? I asked myself. My heart was very troubled,” Margaret narrates sadly.
 
“Before I became sick I used to make and sell home-made soap. I would go to schools to look for orders to supply them with the soap. I also started supplying the schools with toilet disinfectant. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had to stop this job as it required walking long distances,” says Margaret.
 
“A friend who also had her uterus removed loaned me Ksh 10,000 (USD 100) to book for treatment at the hospital. I also had a cow whose milk I used to sell. I had to sell my cow so that I could raise money for my treatment as I did not have the  Ksh 30,000 (USD 300) required for the treatment all at once. I was also too stressed such that I could not work,” Margaret adds.
 
Margaret empowered and uplifted:
When Margaret came from hospital she was unable to continue with the business she used to do before and they were struggling financially as a family. Their children were sent away from school for lack of fees as the money was not enough as she still had to buy medicine.
 
“Merck More than a Patient” is a new initiative of Merck Cancer Access Program with the aim to empower women cancer survivors to re-build their shattered lives after the devastating cancer experience.  It will help them to reclaim their lives and become active contributors to the economy," says Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare. 
 
Merck through “Merck More than a Patient” has helped Margaret to buy a cow that will enable her financially through selling milk. “I am very happy because “Merck More than a Patient” has come to my aid and bought me a cow that will help me to continue raising my children. They have uplifted me and I am very happy and may God bless them,” Margaret says with joy. 

“My cow has a few days before it gives birth. I might be lucky and get a heifer and I will have two cows. From this I will get more milk, have enough to drink and to sell and more money to educate my children. I can now move on with my life and with a grateful heart. We have named the cow Joy because of the joy it has brought back to this home. Merck has really uplifted me and now my life is moving on as I had hoped. I feel strong and able to continue with my life,” Margaret says with satisfaction.

 “Merck More than a Patient” empowers Loise Kimani, a cervical cancer survivor – read her story...

Loise Wambui Kimani from Dagoretti, Nairobi was diagnosed with cervical cancer in August 2015. Loise who is 45 years and is married with five children has been struggling to take care of her family ever since as she had to stop working as a house help for a living. "Merck More than a Patient" has helped Loise to establish a shop from which she is able to get a steady income to cater for her needs and those of her family.

Below is Loise’s story before and after meeting “Merck More than a Patient.”
“I used to work as a house-help and used to be paid Ksh 6,000 (USD 60) per month which helped me cater for my children’s needs. When I was diagnosed with cancer I continued working but had to stop as I could not cope with the work load,” Loise explains.
 
“I heard that anyone with cancer dies. I imagined I would die. I was in shock. I told my friends I had cancer but most of them told me when you have cancer you don’t live for long that someone just dies. I thought my life had come to an end,” Loise says.
 
Rejected by community and life becomes hard:
“People around me rejected me and thought I would infect them with cancer,” Loise says with sadness.
 
“I eventually had my uterus removed and started radiotherapy in January 2016. When I came back home from the hospital, life became very hard. My husband became the sole breadwinner unlike before when we used to help each other. Our combined income used to help sustain the family,” she adds.
 
Loise empowered and is now a victor:
Merck through “Merck More than a Patient” has helped Loise establish a shop which is giving her a steady income and enabling her to take care of her family’s needs. 

“Merck has been very helpful because they have opened a shop for me and I am already enjoying the benefits. This shop is helping me to bring up my children and now I am able to help my husband,” Loise says with a smile.
 
“I would like Merck to continue helping other cancer survivors because the disease is financially draining and when Merck comes in to help the burden becomes lighter. I thank them because they have done great things and God bless them very much. I am doing well, I am healed and I am a victor,” she says.
 
“Merck More than a Patient" initiative aims to empower women cancer survivors by helping them to establish a small business in order to generate a steady income to cater for their needs and enable them to re-build their lives,” says Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer Merck Healthcare.

“Merck More than a Patient” empowers Mary Omuga, a breast cancer survivor – read her story… 

Mary Omuga is a 47 year old breast cancer survivor and a single mother of three from Mlolongo in Machakos County, Kenya. She realised she had breast cancer when a lump was detected in her breast in 2007. She was formally employed as a clerk, a job she lost when she became ill. She went into tailoring where she stitches and mends clothes to feed and pay school fees for her three children and also pay house rent. “Merck More than a Patient” has helped Mary expand her tailoring business to help her generate more income to cater for her family’s needs. 

Below is Mary’s story before and after meeting “Merck More than a Patient.”
Mary’s family has a history of cancer. Her father passed away from prostate cancer, something she did not get to know until after he died. It was after this that she decided to do a bit of research on cancer as she felt depressed and wanted to know what she could have done differently to help her father.

Mary explains: “While doing my research I came across a free cancer screening medical camp in Nairobi in 2007 and I decided to get screened. I was surprised when the doctors at the camp found a lump in my breast. They advised me to go for a further check-up in a hospital where it was confirmed that I had breast cancer.”

“I remember being so confused to the point where I was walking around the hospital parking lot in a daze – I could not believe that I had cancer. I considered it the end of my life. I did not confide in my family because they were grieving the recent deaths of both my parents,” Mary adds.
 
Mary’s health deteriorates and husband abandons her:
Mary’s health began to deteriorate rapidly.  After three weeks, she noticed that she was not eating well and had lost weight. She went back to the doctor who advised her to have surgery. She eventually told her family that she had cancer and that she was going for surgery. Her family was supportive through it all, apart from her husband who abandoned her, because he too thought she would die.

“The doctors had told me that the lump was all that needed to be removed and I was lucky I did not need a mastectomy. The lump was removed successfully. However, a week after surgery I experienced a lot of swelling and pain. Three weeks later the swelling spread all the way to my chest. I had developed an infection that was generating a lot of pus. I had to go to hospital every day for 30 days to remove the pus. With this, even more complications arose and the doctors said they could not help me,” Mary narrates.

Mary was advised to seek further treatment in Pakistan or South Africa. The option of going to Pakistan costs Ksh 4.5 million (USD 45,000). She and her family sold all they had and also held a fundraising event to raise the money. She was able to have chemotherapy from February - July 2008 and radiotherapy in September 2008.
 
Mary loses her job due to cancer:
Initially Mary was working as a clerk where she earned Ksh 70,000 (USD 700) per month. Her employers did not grant her sick leave, nor did they offer her any help to pay for her treatment. Her employer also decided that she was unfit to work and she lost her job. She then started selling vegetables but had to stop because it was too time and energy consuming.

To cater for her family’s upkeep, Mary is now a tailor where she mends and stitches clothes for sale and also supplements her income by selling charcoal. With this small business she earns around Ksh 50,000 (USD 500) a month which caters for food, school fees for her three children and house rent. At times she does not have money for her medication. She hopes to employ someone who can assist her in running her clothes shop so that she can continue to volunteer and help counsel cancer patients.
 
Mary’s tailoring business expanded:

"Merck More than a Patient" is a new initiative of Merck Cancer Access Program with the aim to empower women cancer survivors to re-build their shattered lives after the devastating cancer experience. It will help them to reclaim their lives and become active contributors to the economy,” says Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.

“Merck More than a Patient” has helped Mary expand her current tailoring business so that she can generate more income. She is now empowered so that she can re-build and lead an independent life. 
 
“Merck More than a Patient” empowers Jenipher Adhiambo, a breast cancer survivor – read her story… 
 
Jenipher Adhiambo is a breast cancer survivor. A mother of one and a guardian of two other children, Jenipher is 34 years old and married and lives in Nairobi. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2015. Before she fell ill, Jenipher was an insurance sales person where in a good month she could earn up to USD 500. Her job entailed moving up and down the city looking for clients and reminding existing ones to renew their insurance. She had to stop working as the job required a lot of energy which she did not have. To make some money to cater for her needs and those of her family, Jenipher started selling African clutch bags. “Merck More than a Patient” has helped Jenipher expand her business enabling her to take her wares to shopping malls where she can make between USD 500-1,000 per month.

Below is Jenipher’s story before and after meeting “Merck More than a Patient.”
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2015 and had surgery the same month. In November 2015, I underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy in April 2016,” Jenipher says. “All this was with the support of my family members,” she adds.

“When I was first diagnosed with cancer I experienced fear and I thought my life was over – all I thought about was death,” Jenipher recalls. During this difficult time, her doctor helped her through the process of dealing with the emotional battles cancer brings.

As she was undergoing treatment, Jenipher was already pregnant, however her doctor advised that it would be harmful to both her and the baby due to the chemotherapy treatment she was on and she was advised to terminate the pregnancy. Her doctor also advised and referred her to a cancer support group where she has found encouragement.

Jenipher unable to continue with her insurance sales job:
“I was a car insurance salesperson before the cancer diagnosis, but I had to stop working to pursue treatment. After the diagnosis, I would still follow up with some of my clients, especially to remind them about the insurance renewals. It reached a point where I needed help to do the follow-ups and I would therefore refer my clients to my colleagues. With time, my colleagues absorbed some of my clients and I was not able to venture out to look for more clients as the job requires a lot of energy.  I used to make around USD 300 during months with low sales and USD 500 during a good month,” Jenipher explains.

To cover her expenses, Jenipher started a small business of selling African fabric clutch bags and other products. She does not make the items herself but purchases the end products from suppliers in the city and sells them for a profit. She would like to make her business even more profitable and has therefore sought the help of other cancer survivors who also make African fashion products to mentor her and teach her how to make the items herself.

Jenipher’s business expanded:
“Merck More than a Patient” has assisted Jenipher rebuild her life by expanding her business of selling her African fabric products. Now she will be able to market her products at events organized in various parts of the country and also set up a market stall to sell the products at shopping malls in the city of Nairobi. From this expansion, she will be able to make between USD 500-1,000 a month.

"Merck More than a Patient" is a new initiative of Merck Cancer Access Program with the aim to empower women cancer survivors to re-build their shattered lives after the devastating cancer experience. It will help them to reclaim their lives and become active contributors to the economy,” says Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.

“I am extremely encouraged now that Merck More than a Patient has stepped in to help me. Each and every bit of support to help me is very important to me,” Jenipher emphasizes.

Jenipher has also been enrolled at the Kenya Chamber of Commerce - Women in Business body which will help her network with other entrepreneurial women, thus giving her a platform to generate even more business.