Beating cancer against all odds

Saturday April 7 2018

Karen Bugingo speaks at her book launch. She is the author of My Name is Life.  PHOTO | JEFFERSON RUMANYIKA

Karen Bugingo speaks at her book launch. She is the author of My Name is Life. PHOTO | JEFFERSON RUMANYIKA 

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In 2012, 18 years after the Rwandan genocide in which her parents died, Karen Bugingo was diagnosed with Stage 4 Burkitt lymphoma, a cancer recognised as the fastest growing human tumour.

Soon after, she had to undergo chemotherapy in a foreign country without her family and friends. She was determined to survive.

Bugingo’s book, My Name is Life, is an account of her fight against cancer. It is the inside story of a war room, told by one of its survivors. The book tries to answer the question: How is everyday life reflected in the mind of a cancer patient?

The book’s title is from her name Bugingo, which means “life” in Kinyarwanda. Bugingo narrates her story in direct prose in an Ernest Hemingway fashion.

Many patients diagnosed with cancer never quite come to terms with the fact that it could happen to anyone. Bugingo did not quite know how to take the news. All she knew about cancer was what she had seen in the movies, and how no one ever survived it. It made her think about her own mortality and how little Rwanda knew or talked about cancer.

My Name is Life is written in the style of Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a description of survival through adversity.

In addition to the travails the author underwent, the book also covers her sources of strength.

She poignantly describes how she remained hopeful by thinking of her family and the prospect of seeing them again, and by dreaming about being a cancer survivor who would inspire hope to those who experiencing pain, loss and uncertainty because of the disease.

Bugingo, 25, says the experience reinforced her spirituality and she stayed optimistic in the face of tragedy.

Through her struggle, you view the human potential which, at its best, can turn suffering into an accomplishment, pain giving one the opportunity to change for the better. Bugingo is now a cancer advocate.

Born in Kigali in November 1992, Bugingo was only a year old when the genocide began. She and her elder brother were taken in by her aunt and grandmother.

Bugingo started a Christian blog after she was declared cancer free, in which she writes and vlogs about her life. She inspires young people to live with courage and to search for meaning in their lives.

She concludes by outlining that her battle against cancer was worthwhile as her story has allowed others to rewrite their own and to choose life.

My Name is Life is an enduring tale of survival. The author urges us to see life as meaningful despite our circumstances, and that there is an ultimate purpose to life.