In her brief life, Carol Atuhirwe did what only she could do best – touch the lives of those she could reach with a warm smile and love. Even at the very end, her thoughts were with other cancer patients. “She told me that she had fought a war,” a stoic Grace Mugizi, the mother of the deceased, said, adding: “She said if she had a way, she would reduce the pain of those coming after her. Tell Ugandans not to be too disappointed (with my death) that they failed to save another one.”
Such was the scene – sorrow tinged with celebration of a life whose purpose has been achieved – at a packed All Saints Cathedral Nakasero in Kampala as family and friends met to bid farewell to Atuhirwe.
A Sunday School teacher at the Cathedral, Atuhirwe was also a warden in the chaplaincy of Uganda Christian University (UCU). She died after a long battle with throat and lung cancer. After battling the disease at Mulago hospital, Atuhirwe began the #Save Carol campaign by posting a video of her plight after the radiotherapy machine had burnt her skin and gullet. The campaign was successful; collecting Shs117m. Unfortunately, the cancer spread.
“We all hoped she would come back alive. They administered a three-months-trial drug but we realised she was growing weaker. It was a huge disappointment.”
The doctors decided against surgery because Atuhirwe was too weak to stand an eight-hour-long operation.
“On May 31, I told her we should pray to God to save her miraculously or take her. She said she would pray that He takes her,” Ms Mugizi added.
“Carol spent a long time praying that prayer. On the last day, she asked Olivia and I to lift her out of the bed. Maybe she thought she would jump out of our hands and go to heaven,” she said.
Ms Olivia Baryama, who met Atuhirwe in 2009 in her sister’s room at UCU, gave up her all in order to stay with Atuhirwe in India. “We became friends and somehow, when the time came for her to go to India, everyone in her family was busy. Carol asked if I would be able to go with her. I told her some things you do not ask – you just say when, where, and how we will go.”
With her voice breaking, Baryama, who, at first, had refused to speak at the funeral service, moved mourners to tears in her emotional tribute.
When Atuhirwe died, her siblings questioned God’s existence. “Why was He there?” a teary Ivan Muguma narrated, adding: “If she had died before the campaign, we would have attributed it to lack of funds. Later, though, we realised her purpose had been achieved. May be God thought she would achieve her purpose in Mulago.”
At Mulago, Muguma talks of a selfless Atuhirwe who would get off her sickbed, in so much pain, to assist caretakers to insert tubes into other patients. “I believe God repaid her through the campaign.”
Such was the love that Atuhirwe fostered that a young man and woman who met at the car wash during the fundraising campaign last year are now married. They requested not to be identified.
Atuhirwe was born on April 8, 1986, to Agrace and Franklin Mugizi in a family of eight children. She attended St Hellens Primary School, Kibubura Girls School and UCU, Mukono.
Her body will be laid to rest today in Kabaare village, Ishongororo, Ibanda District.
“She always hoped the treatments would give her the relief to get on with her life. At UCU, she served God through fellowships. I pray the concerned persons and institutions prioritise the health sector,”
Justine Nyachwo, Roommate, UCU
“I met her at Kibubura Girls in Senior One and we led fellowships and taught Sunday School together. I met her again in 2012 in Mulago before she left for India,”
Rachel Atukunda, Former classmate
“I met Carol in primary school, though she was ahead of me. The minute I entered her room in Mulago, she smiled; I had thought I would breakdown and cry. She was in pain but her smile warmed my heart,”
Brenda Ahereza, Former classmate.