By Kizito Angella
There are a few people in this world who are born with the capacity to see fortune in all the misfortune life thrusts upon them. Are we all born with this greatness engraved on our hearts? Or maybe this is just one of the many things we have to figure out on our own as we journey through the unknown paths of our lives. If you have met Mr. Rogers you would agree with me for indeed he is one of the few born for this path; the path that sees fortune even where people see non and to teach others to see life as he does. When you meet Mr. Rogers, he will fill your curiosity with tales of his long name and how he changed it from Eremigio to Elly Rogers and how he changed Kakeeto to Balojja Baale . He is well versed with the origins of his names and how he came to be called Elly Rogers Balojja Baale, Baale after his father. He further says that he did not always have many names because when he got cancer, he was called Kakeeto Eremigio and that is the name in the records of Uganda Cancer Institute. Let these tales not confuse you because Mr. Rogers’ journey began many years ago; at six years, he was diagnosed with Burkit Lymphoma one of the many types of cancer.
He was just a young boy, starting to sprout teeth in the mouth. This should be an exciting time and experience for any child and any parent but for Rogers, life put a damper in his happiness. He developed a very large swelling on his jaw that became a little overwhelming for his face and almost very discomforting to look at especially on a five year old boy who has tasted very little from this world. The story is that his father had tried to remove his jaw tooth prematurely while using a force that might have been way too rough for such a fragile jaw. However, that was not the problem. The problem was that this milk tooth his father had tried to remove was way too hard and with the way it felt; it was as if young Rogers’ milk tooth had never been anything like milk teeth. This scared his father who later decided that this was best done from a hospital. This is when Rogers’ jaw began to swell.
His Father was a very traditional man with beliefs that were too intense and almost a bit too controlling of the man. He waited and waited. Rogers’ father found it hard to deliver his young boy to modern medicine. At the time, Masaka hospital was the nearest biggest hospital from which his son could get medical assistance. Who would blame him for delaying to take his son to hospital? People used to tell him that Rogers, his son was bewitched, he heard it in the voices surrounding him and the whispers all around from near and far. It was not the time for Modern medicine. In the Buganda tradition, the illness was even more specific with a name and cure. In the Buganda culture, they believed that such swellings, if found on any part of the body meant that the illness was to be referred to as “etalo.” According to the tradition and belief, “Etalo” is a type of witchcraft that can only be cured by use of more witchcraft. This is what his father resorted to; traditional doctors. At this time he was still five when a year elapsed as his father was trying out traditional medicine to treat the said “etalo.” It is worth noting that after a year of traditional medicine, none of it worked, instead Rogers’ situation was just getting worse, and the swelling had become extremely big. It is only after reaching this frustrating point that Rogers got a glimpse at hope when his father finally took him to Masaka hospital to see a specialist for diagnosis and medical treatment.
Rogers and his father embarked on a 45km journey from “Kyotera” their home village to “Masaka” only to discover that the specialist only goes to Masaka hospital once a week. It was a Monday! Rogers’ situation was critical and with each passing day, it became clearer to his father that he was supposed to have seen the specialist months ago. Rogers could not make the to and fro Journey therefore he remained in Masaka with a Good Samaritan who put a roof over his head. When he finally met the specialist at Masaka hospital, Rogers’s father was advised to take his son to Mulago hospital at the Uganda Cancer Institute where a whole new chapter of Rogers’ life began. This new chapter revolved around burkit lymphoma, a new adoptive family and a life time at the cancer institute.
With a numb jaw that added over 1kg to his body weight, Rogers was moved to the Uganda Cancer Institute on October 1967 at a time when Cancer Institute was only 2 years old. By the end of November, they had operated on him at Mulago. He was then later permanently moved to the Uganda Cancer Institute where he lived until he was 14 and a Norwegian family adopted him. His new family could still take him back to the cancer institute on a daily basis.
In 1969, he was given a discharge for only one month and during this time, he was taken to visit his estranged father in Rakai. During the one month visit time, his father got cold feet and decided not to send his son back to Mulago hospital. This he did because he was afraid that White people would take his son from him for good. It should be noted that at the time, Mulago only had white doctors and maybe some nurses and care takers were black people. On the day of his return to Mulago, Rogers was hidden by his father far away from home. Rogers’ father went back home and also convinced the rest of the family to hide from these white people that were coming to take away his son. Fortunately, one of the family members did not think this was a very bright idea. Rogers’ uncle left his hiding place and helped take the doctors and caretakers to where Rogers was hidden. This is how Rogers went back to the Uganda Cancer Institute.
Since 1967, Mr Rogers had been at the Uganda Cancer Institute and it is of recent that he decided to pursue other options. Rogers has lived with cancer and witnessed it up close however, in spite of all this, he still believes that for him, cancer was a blessing. Grown there, studied there and worked at the cancer institute for more than 20 years, one would think, Rogers would have said enough is enough and probably decided there is more out there than cancer. And yes, he did!!! He went and studied technology, married twice, birthed ten children (this is what he likes to tell people, but they are actually less), travelled, wrote heaps of books, immersed himself in research almost 18 hours a day, divorced and still all these roads led him back to the battle against cancer and his belief in the revolutionary technology that he believes will one day take over the world, he calls it hyper-space technology.
Mr Rogers is not any ordinary man. Unlike his father who believed in witchcraft, Rogers believes in traditional herbs which he grows in pots around his house. He knows there is a plant for every disease in this world and the fact the God created the world to be self-healing. He also believes that there is a plant that one can touch and eat then make a wish and all their wishes would come true. He also practices medication to control his nerves, takes a lot of vitamin B-Complex to supplement his diet. He also does a few daily body exercises which he believes have helped manage his nerves and also kept him looking young. Indeed Mr. Rogers is not an ordinary man.
Apart from traditions and beliefs, Mr. Rogers is a hardworking man with a mission to help cancer patients in Uganda. This he intends to do with his current organisation called The Cancer Survivors Association. His desire is to get as many cancer survivors in one room to tell their stories. He also desires to turn his life’s journey of battling cancer into a movie that many can watch and get inspiration from while others may learn as this can be a tool used in the eradication of many cancer misconceptions and false beliefs. Changing lives with cancer stories has now become his life’s purpose. This movie is already in production.
In spite of all his positive energy, Rogers too has a few side effects from his experience with burkits lymphoma some being an unbalanced jaw which until today makes it difficult to chew therefore he only chews food with one side of the jaw, Rogers’ sex life also suffered as he experienced sexual dysfunction which he suspects was a result of the medicine he was taking at the time, however today, he has got this under control. One of the most significant side effects after surgery was fainting. Mr. Rogers believes that it was due to the chloroform and the bright theatre lights that he suffered trauma. In the period after his surgery, he began to faint every evening at around the same time. This was a very worrying condition which soon faded with time.
Roger’s journey is a complete package of highs and lows. He rode through all this and emerged victorious. Never the less, it is still astonishing how he believes that it is cancer that turned him in to the man that he is today and in this man, he is proud. How then can you still consider this man as simply ordinary?
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