How cancer taught an activist to fight even harder

Magical Mwachiro

“I’ve struggled to look back at the photos, videos or posts that emerged during that period of hospitalisation. I don’t know why. Maybe I just want to move on and keep on living and enjoying my health, or maybe it’s hard for me to go back to that place where I was a cancer patient. Perhaps, because it was the first time in my life that I was that vulnerable…”

It has been just over a year since 44-year-old Kevin Mwachiro travelled to India for a bone marrow transplant after the Big C had become a co-driver on this Kenyan’s journey. A co-driver which has since succumbed to a seat at the back, as Mwachiro is in too great a space for cancer to be co-directing the course of his adventures.

Mwachiro grew up in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and is part of a loving family of four brothers, him being the second born. Although his parents separated in 1984 when he was 11, he says he was “a typical child, to be honest”.

Moreover, he speaks no life into the stereotype of middle children. “I think a middle child is a good kid. We were generally easy kids. We did stuff teenagers are expected to do.”

Nevertheless, he says, their family was the first to separate from within in their extended family as well as in their social circle. “That formed our lives quite a bit – we became emotionally independent.”

Into the habit of turning belaboured stereotypical perceptions on their head, he reveals that his stepmom, who lives with his dad in Nairobi, “is also a fantastic person”.

Last year, his dad and stepmom who undertook this rite of passage and journey of catharsis with him. “My stepmom’s family just took us in. Life gave me a new set of grandparents. I keep on saying I have three families – my mom’s, my dad’s and my stepmom’s.”

Kevin says he first realised he was gay when he was about 12 or 13 years old. At the time, his mom had worked in the aviation industry and they travelled with her to the UK. They missed their flight back home and were booked into a hotel where the young Kevin shared a room with an adult friend.

He says he distinctly remembers that the friend wore white underpants and: “I was wondering what was beyond that underwear.” It was not until another four years that he then had his first same-sex sexual encounter.

Close to five decades on the planet and he has never experienced discrimination on account of the gender of the partner he prefers. “I’ve been lucky – I’ve never experienced homophobia.”

Back to the cancer, Kevin says that about two years ago what started off as “tight pain in the lower back” turned out to be blood cancer. “We (initially) missed (diagnosing) it, because I was in exceptionally good form, running 60km a week.”

Only when he was later called a survivor, a fighter and a star patient, he realised how severe the cancer was: “My friend, Paul, asked me the other day whether there were any dark moments while in India. I said no. They were more fearful than dark. I was at a point where I had to trust, rest and hope.

“There are many tough, humbling and memorable moments that will stay with me. I can only say thank you, India, for you opened my eyes to many new things and to parts of me that were latent. In being reflective, I find myself smiling at the kindness I received from various quarters. There was that moment I received a hijra blessing while stuck in the capital’s traffic, making a silent prayer at a Buddhist temple in Manju-ka-Tilla, and sitting on the floor on the metro and enjoying the commute alongside other Delhiites. Namaste!”

His cancer challenge has enabled him to take the life bull by the horns and run with it. “I want to hug life and hug life furiously.”

A smiling and hopeful Kevin after the transplant

Shortly after the Changing Faces Changing Spaces conference in Kenya during June 2017, Kevin writes in a blog: “I’ve just finished another round of maintenance treatment (number ten to be precise) and have a week off before I resume another round. This is my new normal. I still have a year of monthly calcium shots to do and consider my monthly blood tests kawaida. I’m still learning about this disease and accepting the fact that my body is not what it was before May 2015. That is disheartening, but it hasn’t stopped me from moving on. I may not always have a spring in my step, but I’m still walking and appreciating the things that make me me and it’s that that I am passionate about.

“Two weeks ago, I was at an LGBTI and sex workers’ conference, and I marvelled at the passion and freedom that was being shared by other African activists. I got a little emotional, because I was ‘home’ and back in the throes of a movement that is close to my heart. I am moving on. A year ago, I was in a different place fighting a different battle. I’m back, with new eyes and a new appreciation for life. I do feel vulnerable now and then, but more than anything – I’m in a good space.”

Another lesson his cancer facilitated was to tangibly demonstrate to him how amazing people are. “I have never, ever experienced such kindness and generosity from all sorts of people.”

The crux of his philosophical premise is: “I don’t carry shit I don’t need to carry.”



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