For four years, Sharon Wangeci, 13, split her time between nursing her sick mother and attending classes.
Wangeci was in Standard Four when her single mother, Ms Jennifer Wothaya, informed her that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It started with a lump on my breast before it got worse. I kept it from her until 2015,” Ms Wothaya told the Saturday Nation.
The 40-year-old added that she was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 when she was 32.
“Because of the stigma associated with cancer, I did not go public until 2015,” she said.
By then, she was working as a nurse in Nakuru.
“The revelation had a devastating effect on my family, especially Wangeci. I could not continue working since the cancer had affected my spinal cord. I had to be hospitalised,” she said.
She and her daughter, then a pupil at Lions Primary School, were very close. Ms Wothaya said Wangeci has been there for her.
“She was absent from school for days. Wangeci held on and not once did she talk of dropping out. She squeezed some time for lessons and for me. The girl was at my hospital bed most of the time,” Ms Wothaya said.
“She has been my prop right from a very young age.”
The two are over the moon, celebrating Wangeci’s impressive results in her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination.
Wangeci sat her exams at Tenri Academy Primary School, Embu County. She beat all odds to post an impressive 401 marks out of a possible 500.
She was one of the seven Tenri Academy pupils who scored 400 marks and above.
The school, whose top pupil scored 418 marks, had 42 KCPE examination candidates.
In 2016, Ms Wothaya underwent a spinal surgery in India where she remained for about eight months.
Ms Wothaya’s only child says her mother’s tribulations have not killed her dream of becoming a pilot.
When her mother flew back home, Wangeci had to balance between school and taking care of her as Ms Wothaya underwent chemotherapy at Nairobi Hospital.
By this time, Wangeci had been transferred to Tenri Academy, which, according to relatives, was closer to their Kirinyaga home.
“My mother is my best friend and I could not abandon her for anything.
We pray and sleep together. From the age of three, she read bed-time stories to me so we developed a strong bond,”
Wangeci says she sees the hand of God in the results, adding that given the time she spent taking care of her mother, the achievement is not ordinary.
“My mum had several chemotherapy sessions. But even when she was admitted to hospital, I remained by her side. I fed her and read books.
I was determined to pass my final exams,” Wangeci said.
Ms Wothaya says her sickness and treatment traumatised her daughter.
“In 2016, l was told l had only three years to live. It was the worst moment of my life. I did not give up and told myself: ‘if that is the case, l will strive to die a different person.’ My daughter gave me hope. She talked to me and read Bible verses to encourage me,” she said.
After she was discharged from hospital, Wangeci remained her primary caregiver.
Ms Wothaya’s health began improving.
Asked if she expected to perform as she did in the national tests, Wangeci said: “I expected good results. Despite the many challenges, I still prayed to God and read a lot. I thank God for the results.”
She also thanks her teachers and classmates for their support.
“I was not in school for many days but class mates helped me catch up with the syllabus,” she said.
She advises children in similar situations never to give up “because God takes the lead”.
“There was a time I felt my world was crumbling but I prayed and God gave me strength,” she said.
Wangeci hopes to join Mary Hill High school in Thika.
Her mother, now a cancer survivor, helps others in the situation she has been through.
She has also been an ordained pastor since 2017.
Though she retired as a nurse on health grounds three years ago, Ms Wothaya is the associate programme officer at USAid’s Afya Uzazi scheme.
By Eric Matara