In Summary
  • A doctor’s call came through. Ms Naikumi was to undergo a total mastectomy which meant total removal of her right-side breast. Amidst fears that the cancer could have spread throughout the body, doctors referred her to Uganda Cancer Institute where she was instantly enrolled on a free six course chemotherapy dosage. This was just the beginning of the cancer sting.
  • Ms Naikumi could barely take the thought of homeless children with death hovering over her body. In December 2016, she bought a plot of land worth Shs25m from Canaan Sites Limited and started construction.

Kampala- The news of a breast cancer diagnosis hit Mbarara University lecturer Mary Naikumi hard in 2014. It felt like her exit was closer.

“I was so afraid of death and I thought cancer was death and when they said it, I said, What if I die there,” she recalls.

Ms Naikumi was only 38 years and her last born Emma had just turned two and a half years. She felt it right to stop breastfeeding him. Two days later, she felt a lump in her right-side breast.
Locally, people say it is because the breast milk has not been put to use. She, too, thought so. By the end of the week, the breast had enlarged, sending her to Nsambya Hospital in Kampala.

“They said this thing was not innocent and when they did, they mentioned cancer so I got so messed up,” she says.

“When I did the first tests, they were alarmingly positive and the doctor said, you have aggressive breast cancer,” Ms Naikumi says.

As the doctor instructed her to undergo an immediate operation to extract the lump, all she thought about was what would follow given that she had domestic problems.

Luckily at the time, she had some savings on her personal account and managed to pay for her first surgery in Mulago National Referral Hospital. Two weeks later, another lump developed in the same position with tests showing the cancer as still aggressive.

A doctor’s call came through. Ms Naikumi was to undergo a total mastectomy which meant total removal of her right-side breast. Amidst fears that the cancer could have spread throughout the body, doctors referred her to Uganda Cancer Institute where she was instantly enrolled on a free six course chemotherapy dosage. This was just the beginning of the cancer sting.

“They were very traumatising. The body was tortured and the hope for living was getting very faint,” she says.

But she needed supportive treatment and by the time she finished the chemotherapy, she says, “I was down to poverty and it seemed that I was a bit well.”

In 2016, the cancer reoccurred and burst her right-side breast. At the sight of a fresh wound, the doctors informed Ms Naikumi that it would be a very challenging situation to manage.

“I sat in my house wondering what next?” Ms Naikumi recalls. This was a rented house. She had children to look after and for some reason, her husband Fred who walked out when she was six months pregnant with Emma, eventually filed for divorce. The expectation was that he would look after the wife he had been married to for 14 years. But he neither cared nor shared his insurance with her.
“It was emotionally breaking. But I had to make a tough decision to live. I looked at these three children and said I have to live for them,” Ms Naikumi says between sobs. Having lost a friend to cancer at the time, giving up was not an option because if she did, she would go to her grave.

Acquiring invalidity benefits
In that moment, she thought it was time to apply for her National Social Security Fund (NSSF) benefits having worked as a curriculum and instruction lecturer at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) since 2005.

When Shs58m from her invalidity benefits landed on her account in November 2016, she set priorities.

“I thought of my three biological children and others I look after, yet we have no house. At that time, I thought I was going to die. So would my body get back to my mother’s house?” she recounts.
As she underwent chemotherapy worth Shs6m, surgery worth Shs6.5m, she focused on personal development too.

Ms Naikumi could barely take the thought of homeless children with death hovering over her body. In December 2016, she bought a plot of land worth Shs25m from Canaan Sites Limited and started construction.

In mid-2017, she needed to undergo radiotherapy. But there was a problem.
“When I wanted to go for radiotherapy, my accounts were running low. I told someone that my employer was still saving my NSSF money and they said I could apply for it. I got Shs6m which I added onto my savings and went to Nairobi,” she narrates.

Today, she has regained her strength although she now has to wear a compression sleeve around her arm for life to prevent swelling. Her eyes light up when asked about NSSF.

“There was that advert saying that my vehicle is my life and I wondered how one could say that. At this point, I can say that NSSF money is my life because if I had not got it, I would not have afforded decent living. I would not have a place called home today,” she says.

She explains that there is reason to live today even if her landlady pushed her to move into the unfinished house. She has so far spent more than Shs30m on the house.

“Now we can come home. If I die today, no one can chase them away,” she happily says. She needs to fix the ceiling and windows to make it habitable. But she is low on funds.

She suffers from a cancer that reoccurs and this requires her to undergo a particular diet that comes at a big cost.
Ms Naikumi says if she had the opportunity, she would advise women to save money with NSSF.
“Whatever little, at a critical time, it makes sense,” she says.

Plans
But also, if she could win Shs30m from NSSF Friends with Benefits project, her dream is to set up a modern farm consisting of cattle, poultry units and vegetable gardens next to her house would come to life.

To vote for Mary Naikumi in the NSSF Friends with Benefits competition, dial *254# or go to www.nssfug.org.

ekamukama@ug.nationmedia.com