She was chatty and seemed ok, one might think that Joan is admitted at the hospital for a mild illness.
But at 49 years of age, Joan is battling cancer, an illness that had caused the death of 304 females in 2018.
Joan tried to remain positive, despite her illness. This is not her first time to visit a hospital because of her ailment.
Joan Kekeni comes from Marau on Guadalcanal and Tarapaina in Malaita. Before her illness she used to teach at Marara Community High School in Guadalcanal. She was a teacher for 29 years.
In 2019 during a two weeks break she took the chance to visit relatives in Australia. At the same time, she also wanted to do some medical checks as she was not feeling well and wanted to know the cause of her ailment.
In Australia, she saw that the hospitals are well equipped with medical facilities and way ahead in terms of research and technology.
She visited the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Queensland as it provides comprehensive cancer diagnosis and treatment with an emphasis on caring for people across their entire journey to wellness.
After a few tests she received the prognosis of her illness, and it was devastating news - she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
AML is the cancer of the blood and bone marrow. This type of cancer usually gets worse quickly if it is not treated. It is said to be the most common type of acute leukemia in adults.
The advice doctors gave Joan was to be careful once she gets back to her home country. “There will be no treatment once the illness returns”, the doctors warned. Less than a year on Joan is back in hospital, this time in Honiara.
Her last review in January 2020 saw her admitted to the National Referral Hospital as doctors discovered she was losing blood and needed proper medical care.
“I love being positive at this stage because only by the grace of God I can make it to the next day. Every day I have to put a smile on my face though it is tough but it’s the only way to keep me in control”, Joan says.
Having AML means Joan’s body is producing too many nonfunctioning, immature white blood cells. These are called blasts. The blasts crowd out the useful cells, leading to a range of symptoms and complications.
“I am grateful to have strong support from my family. At this stage all I can do is believe in the Almighty”, she says.
Since being admitted at the National Referral Hospital, Joan only lives through blood donations. She does not want to do any bone marrow test and prefers to continue to receive blood from family members this way.
She is ready to be discharged but will be coming back to the hospital every month for her review.
“I wish our government would equip our hospital with good facilities so that people like us can receive good treatment when life seems hopeless.”
She says to access better health services like the ones provided in Australia is quite costly.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare treatment cost for leukemia ranges from AUD$70,000 to AUD$100,000 per patient.
Her wish as a cancer patient is to see the local health authority upgrade its standard in diagnosing and treating cancer.
She says cancer is an illness that slowly creeps into a person’s system. Once not diagnosed properly, patients might not get treatment until it is too late.
According to the WHO Solomon Islands Global Cancer Observatory, 504 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2018.
200 were male while 304 were female. 331 died of cancer alone in Solomon Islands in 2018.