I met Muthoni Mate two years ago at a local coffee house. While we met briefly, I was struck by her energy and passion for bacteria and microbes. As an Epidemiologist, that passion is crucial to have. She explained that while everyone would be running out of an area struck by a disease epidemic, her class of medical researchers would be rushing to find patient zero and to figure out the root cause.
I am imaginative, and the only thought I have of bacteria is it being in a peri dish. My imagination supersedes my logic. What if it manifested, jumped up, bit you and took over your body? Why would anyone want to inspect bacteria closely without wanting to give it an anti-bio? Ok, perhaps I watch too many animations with my sons, but seriously! What if?
I shared this with Muthoni as we sat at a restaurant, she laughed and laughed! We are indeed on opposite sides of the life spectrum. It was the first time we were spending a significant amount of time together since we first met. In between, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and at some point, it had gotten to stage two. I kept up with her news via a friend, I was always concerned about her from afar because I remembered that she had a young daughter. I had already lost a friend to Cancer in the same year and the thought of losing a lady that I had met only once already filled me with great grief.
Her story is one of triumph as she managed to successfully treat her cancer and is in full remission where regular medical checks and a change in lifestyle has helped keep cancer dormant. In September 2017, she started The Cancer Café, a monthly meet up designed to share crucial information with cancer patients, their caregivers and also to create a bridge with medical professionals and other service providers. She has since held several forums after that, with the latest one being held this month at Jumuia Café at All Saints Cathedral. Plans are underway to make Cancer Café more involving with more structured programs and activities, but that’s a story for another day.
After our long afternoon chat about business and life I asked what self-care meant to her now, post-cancer; and how different it is from what she thought of it before. She was quick to explain that before her cancer diagnosis, she was a social butterfly, always looking for the most happening “plot” on the weekend. Her concept of self-care involved spa days, hiking and biking trips out of town, hanging out with friends at parties, eating out and all around
keeping busy. In hindsight, she explained, it was all about keeping up with the Joneses, having severe F.O.M.O and not wanting to be ever alone. Muthoni shared that now, her idea of a good time is either getting home to relax and chill there all weekend or occasionally meet up with a few select friends without feeling like she was out of the social loop. It’s now more about building relationships than social scenes.
Muthoni also explained that self-care before, was as defined by society. She illuminated on how we’re prone to chase the pretty looking hair, well-manicured nails and smooth facial skin in the name of outward beauty. However, from the outside looking in, it looks very superficial now. “There is nothing wrong with doing those things, it’s about being conscious about what you are doing and why,” she clarifies. While initially, it was about chasing brands that seemed to work for other people, she now seeks out products for practical use. Once she picks up a product, her eyes immediately dart to the ingredients section to spot any harmful chemicals. “If a product like Coconut oil can work for my hair, skin and for cooking my food, then it’s a good product and well worth my time.”
I asked her to list some overall self-care things that from her experience should be followed whether you have or don’t have a cancer diagnosis.
- Be conscious by living your life with an understanding of why you are doing what you are doing. Seek things that benefit your wellbeing.
- Nourish yourself as opposed to just eating. You are what you eat and with her post-cancer diagnosis lifestyle, Muthoni says her body gives her immediate feedback on what she eats or applies to herself.
- Be at peace with yourself. Muthoni says that she never goes to bed laden with things that make her uneasy. Her goal is to sleep with a peaceful mind.
- Seek positive energy and keep away from anything that seeks to steal your joy. If it takes away without replenishing, it’s negative.
- Rest for at least 8 hours minimum because the body needs to restore itself. And yes, it is possible in this fast-paced life of yours. One needs to filter out the unnecessary activity and make time. Muthoni explained that there is a difference between just sleeping and actually resting your body & mind.
- See the daily miracles such as a child’s laugh, a beautiful sunset and many other small things that we ignore because we are occupied with life’s rat race.
- Happiness does not equate to money, so find things that are just fun to do for doing sake. She can attest that those are the best ways to enjoy life. Get off the social media platforms and meet up with your friend for coffee and laughter. Human interaction can never be equated to the faceless, emotionless social interaction where one relies on emojis to express their feelings
- Learn how to say no. Muthoni makes it clear that her time with her daughter is non-negotiable. I believe this because as we have this discussion her daughter is seated right next to her writing out a story and respectfully chipping in for a spelling request.
- Exercise but first understand how and why you work out. Don’t just join the gym because that’s what your friends are doing. Learn yourself and seek pursuits that are within your interests. For Muthoni she loves to hike, bike and swim. Low impact workouts that are kind to the bones yet are full body workouts.
- Quality time with not only those you love but with yourself. Muthoni advises that everyone should get off the high that a social buzz gives you and seek out time to hang out with yourself. Switch off the phones, silence the WhatsApp chats, grab a book and just hang out with yourself.
Her hope is that we can go back to the old ways of living – eat healthily, laugh a lot and take life a day at a time with no regrets about the past and no worries about the future since all we have control over is the here and now! Execute what you can now and plan for the future. Life is as complicated or as easy as we chose to make it.
Featured image: Muthoni Mate all made up for a Wigs and Turban affair by Connie Mbuvi. All images are courtesy of Muthoni Mate.