At the point where hope would otherwise become hopelessness, it becomes faith. Said one Robert Brault.
It’s an ominous day. Well, not exactly ominous. There’s no perfect description for when a human life hangs in the balance. It’s an adjectiveless day. The month is August, the year is 2013. Dr. Getrude Musuruve Inimah is at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, minutes away from being flown to India for Cancer treatment. She looks at the scared faces of her four beautiful daughters; Brenda, Damaris, Laura and Charlotte, and against her deepest mortal fears, reassure them that Mama will be alright. That Mama will be treated and will come back home. That Mama will get back to them and their blissful familial laughter will resume. Resume from where the cruel hands of Cancer had rudely pressed the pause button.
Deep inside, the greatest fear gnaws at her, the fear of the unknown. Not knowing what happens next. The unimaginable bleak fate of her children if they are to remain motherless. Seeing them here, fear plastered on their faces shatters her maternal instincts. Her hopes are hanging by the thread, but a strand of faith lingers on…
It would be nine more long months before they, or she could know what happens next.
Early 2013. I was in the second year of my University studies when Dr. Getrude Inimah took an unexpected departure from our Journalism Lecture halls. She had been an energetic and effective Lecturer, so when her vigor began to wane, we were concerned. You see, Dr. Inimah was the kind of lecturer who would walk in for a three-hour class and would go ahead and clock it to the last second. On her feet no less. Woe unto you if you couldn’t keep up with her speed, for she had an avalanche of notes and excess strength to explain them to the last dot. Communication and Conflict Management. Public Speaking and Presentation. These were the two units Dr. Inimah was teaching us at the time. I remember because I was the class representative, and because I was kind of a diligent student. Kind of. That’s as humble as I will get (insert an emoji).
When Dr. Inimah started experiencing pain on her right hip joint, she shrugged it off and attributed it to too much work and always being on the move. Which she always was. It’s when the pain intensified that she was compelled to seek further medical examination. The outcome was hard-hitting. She felt her whole world threaten to drift apart, literally. She had just been diagnosed with stage one Bone Cancer. Also known as Pleomorphic sarcoma, it is a malignant tumour of the bone that destroys healthy bone tissue. A rare type of Cancer, it accounts for less than one percent of all cancers. The medical pronouncement came with a further bombshell. That she couldn’t be treated in the country and had to seek medical attention in India, at a tune of 5 million Kenya Shillings.
Sometimes life simply refuses to work by your script and decide to improvise. She was 45 and doing well, then this. In her own words, “The disease struck when I was at the peak of my life. My children were doing well in school, I was enjoying my career and even pursuing my PhD, and life was generally great,”
Against all odds, Dr. Inimah successfully managed to raise the money required for her treatment. She acknowledges that if not for family, friends, colleagues, her students and her employer at the time (JKUAT), I would be telling her story using a totally different script now. A story in the line of ‘There was once…’
Nine months later from when she checked into the hospital in India, Dr. Inimah got reborn. In every literal sense. She underwent a limb-saving surgery, which entailed removing part of her pelvis and replacing the femur (thigh bone) with a customized hemi-pelvic prosthesis. The surgery had been successful and the cancerous tissue removed, and this was no mean feat. It was a miracle. But there was a catch. She would need crutches to walk for the rest of her life. She would be disabled.
Almost more than a year since she departed the Lecture halls, Dr. Inimah bounced back. She was now in crutches, but the positive energy she had always exuded only seemed to have tripled. Her enthusiasm had not been compromised. She lectured, resumed her PhD studies, supervised students’ projects and was soon behind her wheels again, driving herself to and from work. It was like she had never left. If you’re ever in need of inspiration, do yourself a favor and give her a call please, okay? Did I also mention that she founded a charitable organization to spearhead fight against Cancer? Yeah she did. Living Beyond Cancer and Disability (LIBCAD) was founded in 2014 with a vision of mainstreaming and creating awareness on cancer and disability.
So some weeks ago as I’m going through the dailies, I stumble upon the name of Dr. Getrude Inimah gazetted as a nominated Senator by the ODM Party to represent People with Disabilities in the Senate. First I think maybe it’s someone else who has the same name, but I’m too pleasantly surprised to ignore it either. So I check my phone book and find that the diligent class representative in me still has her number. I dial it immediately, without pausing to consider that maybe the Honorable Senator might be conducting some legislative duties at the moment. She picks up immediately, and I rumble my introductions, which she stops mid-sentence… “Tobias I remember you very well…”
She confirms to me her new honorable status, and the journalist in me hungrily requests for an interview. To which she quickly quips, “No problem, you can come to Parliament tomorrow, just go through the National Assembly gate and ask the officers for directions to the office of the Honorable Senator Dr. Getrude Inimah…” Now, let’s pause there and acknowledge that that was one hell of a powerful sentence.
The next day, clad in my most parliamentary suit, I head out to meet the good Senator. Except I don’t go straight to Parliament as instructed. She’s not there. She informs me, that alongside other women leaders, they are having a press briefing at Anniversary Towers. So I opt to link up with her from there.
It’s exactly noon when we drive through the National Assembly gates. Her driver is behind the wheels. She sits at the passenger seat. Yours truly here is seated at his usual rightful position. Back left. The officers salute her, proceed to rhetorically ask me whether I’m with Mheshimiwa, then let us though. Side note; Dear Mama, I made it. I was chauffeured into Parliament. And was saluted by men in blue. Yes, the police. The ones people are usually afraid of. I’m all the way up. (Insert another emoji)
At her expansive senatorial office, we reminisce about our good old days as student and lecturer. I remind her of a unit I worked so hard to pass only for her to give me a measly grade B. She laughs it off, says I was lucky to have attained that at all. She’s right. She was a no-nonsense, and that about describes it all. But I’m more eager to find out about her journey this far. I don’t want to ask basic questions, like the challenges she has experienced and how she feels about her new position et al. I want to know where she draws her strength from, where she gets her conviction to keep on moving, and from which bank she robed the generous positivity she exudes in all seasons, against all odds.
“What has kept me going is the belief that I can make a difference and that my life has more meaning now more than ever. You see I was not born with a disability. But I made a decision to be positive about my situation and use it to inspire and mentor others…”
‘But some people would say that’s easier said than done Doc. How did you manage not to fall into self-pity and bitterness, or hopelessness?’
“Well for me, I draw my energy from the fact that I strongly believe in the working of the Lord, and that God was going to use me in a special way to glorify His name. That is what has informed my positivity, and I’ve been telling God in my prayers to use me for His glory in the land of the living in every step I make.”
Even the greatest cynics cannot master a counter argument to such a conviction. The good Senator tells me of her desire and plans to make a difference in the lives of people suffering from Cancer, and those with disability, especially women.
“Being a woman and having a disability can almost be called a double tragedy. The shoe really pinches. I plan to champion these issues in the 12th Parliament and contribute to legislating bills that will help empower people with disability and safe-guard their role in decision-making,” she adds.
So what happens when your life as you know it takes a nose-dive and change drastically? What happens when the plot twist is so massive you have no idea where to pick up from? For Dr. Inimah, it has been a time to understand God’s desire in her life. It has magnified to her her purpose in life. She describes her life now as being more purpose-driven and meaningful than ever before. And she throws in an additional insight that everyone has to deeply ruminate over; gratitude. Just how much in our lives do we take for granted? Forget your job or lack of it thereof. The mere fact that you are alive, can walk, talk, laugh, eat, sleep, wake up, see, have friends, relatives or people who care about you. Just how much do we take that for granted? How much do we instead complain and yearn for more?
A lot comes with a life-changing transformation, especially one that ends up limiting your abilities. So I ask the good Doctor the hard question; What do you miss doing the most?
“There was a time I used to go swimming with my children very frequently. I can no longer do that. I also love to cook so much especially for my children. We would do so many recipes with them, but when I came from India I could no longer do that. That was really difficult for me, but after getting stable with the crutches, I have been able to do some cooking and continue transferring my skills to them.”
The pride with which Dr. Getrude talks about her children is enviable. I’m not a parent, yet, but it’s still enviable. She credits them for being her support system through the thickest and darkest of clouds. To children who happen to have parents with disabilities she says this; Be there for your parents. This will enable them reach their maximum potential. Do not be embarrassed of them. Do not abandon them. Love them. Support them. They are the best gift you will ever have in life.
To parents of children with special needs or disability she postulates; Be there for your children. Don’t be embarrassed of them. Help them reach their full potential. They need that love, they need that education. Help them feel good and provide them with the basic needs in life.
It might interest you to know that in 1989 after her Diploma in Education, Dr. Getrude Inimah taught English for one year at St. Angela School for the Deaf in Mumias, Kakamega County. Why is this important to the story you ask? Well this experience would spark her interest in helping students with special needs, resulting in her decision to go back to College and study Special Education. She would later graduate in 1998 and consequently register for a Masters Degree in Applied Linguistics, with an inclination to Sign Language Studies. Four published sign language books exist today to her credit. And eventually in her Doctorate, her thesis title read, ‘The Media’s Portrayal of People with Disability in Kenya.’ And now here she is, with a life journey that seems to have deliberately prepared her for this very moment. Mere coincidence? A cosmic roll of the dice?
“I have looked back at my academic life and professional experience and I believe God was calling me and preparing me to make a difference in the line of helping people with disability. I am just glad I heeded that call,” she says reflectively.
As we wind down our conversation, I inquire what her experience has taught her, and the advice she would give as regards to Cancer. She unsurprisingly goes back to her fortress, the default line of argument that I have now gotten accustomed to; Trust in God. That we need to always be prayerful. That prayer gives you a firewall to handle whatever life throws at you. That it slows the impact.
“We should always seek the face of the Lord because we have no control of our bodies. Everyone is a candidate of Cancer, everyone is a candidate of a disability or any other disease. You see, people will tell you that you have to be careful so you don’t get a disability, that you have to eat well to avoid Cancer. Much as I agree with that, believe you me I’m not even a meat person. I have been careful about what I’m eating all my life, and I have always kept fit. But here I am. My point? You can never be too careful and think that with your own might you can overcome anything. Everyone is a candidate. The best we can do is believe and trust in God. He will always sort us out.”
And therein I drew my biggest lesson. That we are all candidates, of the worst of our fears. Whether you’re fit as a fiddle, anything can come knocking. So keep calm and be grateful. And as the good Senator further adds in her conclusion, God has a plan for each and every one of us and He prepares us for that, whether through painful or happy moments. That we need to humble ourselves and thank God for every situation, whether good or bad.
People go through unimaginable tragedies, life-shattering experiences that sometimes leave behind little desire to keep going. Little to live for. And in most cases, it’s impossible to even be empathic enough, to feel their pain enough and even be there enough for them. Sometimes it’s impossible to make them feel better…
Matter of fact if the Hon. Senator’s incredible voyage has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes even hope can fail you. Even faith too can grow meagre no matter how strong-willed you are. And that’s okay, it’s only human. But the one thing that must never be lost is the resilience, the courage. And no, courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet little voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.”
Cheers to always trying again tomorrow.