Elizabeth (not her real name) is two years old, the only child in her family. Her parents are in their late 30s` both in informal employment. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, when she was 4 months pregnant. Doctors advised her to terminate the pregnancy and get aggressive treatment but she declined. By the time Elizabeth was being born, the breast cancer had progressed to stage 4. Her mother commenced treatment immediately after delivery, she underwent mastectomy (surgery to remove the breast) and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, Elizabeth did not breastfeed as most of the time, her mum was a way from her, seeking treatment from the national referral hospital.
Elizabeth has taken up care givers’ role at a tender age, she runs around the house looking for painkillers when her mum is in pain, hence nicknamed- “mama dawa” (mums medicine). This are the words Elizabeth has mastered. She barely sleeps at night, if her mum wakes up at night to take her medicines, Elizabeth also wakes up. Elizabeth is afraid of getting out of the house to go and play with her friends. She spends most of the time sitting next to her mother.
Children like Elizabeth are holistically (physical, psychological and spiritually) affected by their parents’ illnesses. In some instances, these children end up with delayed or regression of milestones. The Nairobi Hospice team has initiated some interventions to support Elizabeth to cope with her mum’s illness. This will ensure that she is able to grow and develop normally despite the challenges at home. Policy makers, care givers, teachers and society in general need to appreciate the challenges faced with children having a family member with a life threatening illnesses and institute measurers to support these children.