After stage four cancer, I find joy in being a boss

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After stage four cancer, I find joy in being a boss


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Emily Amuke at Longacres Bagshot Farm in London, UK, where she sells her homemade granola. PHOTO | SWIMMING POOL

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  • He had worked for Mohammed Mo Ibrahim, a billionaire businessman and philanthropist, had stints in a private luxury club in London, and worked for a high-net-worth person.
  • A diagnosis of stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in a foreign country, living alone, away from family is tormenting.
  • A cancer diagnosis comes with mixed emotions, some strange, perhaps. When Emily was told that she was going to start chemotherapy, she burst out laughing.

Emily Amuke smiles in her living room in London, UK. Her hair is blonde, almost whitish and short, a new look after she fell out due to chemotherapy.

“I’m growing it back, basically for my mom,” he says.

“She had long beautiful hair. When he was sick, every time my mother saw my bald head, she would burst into tears.”

She’s witty because her cancer journey doesn’t seem all that sad, but like any stage 4 cancer diagnosis, it’s a story peppered with fears, triumphs, and a rethinking of life and career choices.

The cancer symptoms began after he left his job. She had worked for Mohammed Mo Ibrahim, a billionaire businessman and philanthropist, had stints in a private luxury club in London, and worked for a high-net-worth person.

“2017 was a very difficult year for me. I remember writing a distressed post on social media earlier in the year. Something like ‘I have to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life, God help me’.

He had decided to quit a job that he really loved. I did not feel that it is where I imagined. In January, we were doing a big event that I was happy to see the end of the organization until March,” she says.

One morning, while walking home, he came down with the flu.

“I started doing aerial yoga. {A type of yoga that is done while balanced on a fabric hammock or sling suspended from the ceiling}. I thought a yoga class would stretch me well, but I felt worse.

At home, I took my favorite remedy, a concoction of ginger and cloves, but I still felt worse. My throat was swollen and I was throwing up,” she says.

Seeing a doctor, he had blood work and an x-ray done and had to go get the results a week later.

“My white blood cells were high. So the doctor touched my neck and said, ‘mhh, why don’t you go to bed?’ Alarm bells immediately start ringing. He touched my groin and said, ‘I think we need to send you in for a biopsy.’

While waiting for the results, he would often wake up with a swollen face, a changed voice, and a sore upper body.

“The people who met me for the first time did not know that I was swollen. They must have thought she had a great face,” she laughs.

One night he woke up and his bed was wet. “It was as if someone had poured a bucket of water on me. I was like, yeah! My fever has gone.

I went for this temp job and worked during the day. On the way home, I get sick and at the train station, one of the station masters asked me if I was okay. I said, ‘I’m not, but once I get home, I’ll be fine.’

The way to his house was the most traumatic. A sympathizer called paramedics.

“I was agitated, my temperature and heart rate were high. The paramedics told me to pack a travel bag, in case I was admitted to the hospital, given the time of day. I didn’t know I was going to be in the hospital for four weeks and in and out for months,” he says.

“I got to the hospital and the most embarrassing thing happened. My bladder opened. She started urinating from time to time. She kept saying, ‘I’m so sorry.’ I had not accepted what was happening to my body,” she says.

“When I found out I was going to be admitted, I turned to my friend and said, ‘This is my phone PIN in case something happens to me,’” says Emily.

A diagnosis of stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in a foreign country, living alone, away from family is tormenting.

It hit her hard one day when a midwife walked into her hospital room and said, “Emily, I’m here to pray.” “She immediately told me that I thought I was dying and that they had decided to send me a nun to perform the last sacraments for me,” she says.

But it turned out to be a Catholic who was now praying for the sick, not just for her.

A cancer diagnosis comes with mixed emotions, some strange, perhaps. When Emily was told that she was going to start chemotherapy, she burst out laughing.

“The doctor told me that she had never seen anyone happier after being told she was having chemotherapy. But for me, finally here was help,” she says.

When you’re told you have cancer, the news rarely sinks in until you see the diagnosis in people’s eyes. “I remember getting up to go to the bathroom one time and looking back at a friend who had come to visit, I saw her crying. I didn’t feel sad for myself. What hurts is seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes,” she says.

Cancer drugs have a wide variety of side effects, from hair loss, nausea, and loss of appetite to hallucinations. At one point, Emily says that she woke up speaking Italian.

Do you Speak Italian? I ask

“No,” he laughs. “She was having hallucinations. She had been reading a book about a person having an affair in Italy. I woke up thinking I was in Italy.”

Emily had a type of T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which multiplies easily and is sometimes missed in its early stages.

“I am a miracle. Because this form of T-cell lymphoma goes through stages quickly, it responds to chemotherapy just as quickly. He’s just as dumb with the treatment,” says Emily.

What kept her in the hospital was the sheer number of visitors. An old Pakistani cleaner, with whom she talked daily, asked her: “Who are you? You have so many people coming to see you.”

“My room was full of flowers. I was lucky. I could tell you epic stories about my journey. I had a friend who used to call a restaurant to bring me food in the evenings. Immediately he arrived, everyone knew where he was going. Room 3. For Emily, the picky eater. I remember one night, one of my former bosses who had worked for Nicholas Sarkozy {the former president of France} sitting on my bed, massaging my swollen feet…” says Emily.

His love for the kitchen.

Emily’s interest in food stems from her love of cooking and the joy of discovering new flavors, which she even joined MasterChef, a UK-based cooking reality show open to amateur and home chefs.

Cancer survivor Emily Amuke preparing organic granola for sale in her kitchen in London, UK. PHOTO | SWIMMING POOL

“I’m just a girl from Kitale who loved to cook from a young age. I love food so much that my friends kept telling me to join MasterChef. One day, I was between jobs and I was doing administrative work for Soraya Khashoggi,” she says. {Soraya Khashoggi is a former socialite, ex-wife of a Saudi billionaire, and arms dealer whose divorce was once ranked the most expensive in the world with a settlement equivalent to around Sh232 billion today}.

Soraya, already in her old age, wanted to join a TV show called ‘Nonsense’. Emily told her that her friends had always wanted her to do MasterChef. Soraya said, “well, let’s challenge each other, you apply for MasterChef, I apply for Pointless.”

Emily applied and entered and made it to the quarterfinals. I ask her if she would do it again.

“I would because now fear has taken a backseat. Almost as if the worst was over. So what’s new? I look at the life of Desmond Tutu, who I was lucky enough to have dinner with one day. He lived life,” says Emily, who just finished an internship at Harper’s Bazaar after winning the 2021 Hearst Talent Scholarship.

Five years after the diagnosis, chemotherapy and several surgeries, Emily, the chef who likes to write, prepares granola and sells it to a farm in London.

“When I got sick, I started making granola to make sure I was eating right and only organic food. Now I make granola in my kitchen and supply 50 packages a month to a farm store in the country,” she says.

The logo on the packaging is a caricature of his face.

“I come from a family of strong women, my grandmother had cooked in a school so that my mother could study and as a result, I am. My therapist told me that I must have my grandmother’s features, therefore she must be in that face in some way. There’s a lift story on my packaging,” she says, adding that the granola is good for someone who’s going through chemotherapy and has gum sensitivity.

During the covid-19 pandemic, because her low immunity as a cancer survivor did not allow her to socialize freely, she started a takeaway service on Fridays, where people order meals and pick them up at home.

“I had to find a way to keep busy, make a living and find purpose after cancer. The idea of ​​going back to the office to push papers around makes the whole experience I’ve been through feel pointless. Cooking nourishes me emotionally,” she says, adding, “My dream is for my granola to find space in Kenyan supermarkets.”

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