December 2017, among other gift items my daughter gave to me, was a book titled ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi. A true-life story about a neurosurgeon diagnosed with lung cancer.

Initially, due to my busy schedule, I simply placed the book on my bedside table with the plan to read it later once I had some time. Six months later, I finally got around to reading it. On the first day, I remember shedding tears on several occasions throughout my read of this extraordinary book. When I eventually got to the last page on the second day, I wept uncontrollably.

Over the next couple of days as I reflected on all that I read, I could not help but compare the medical treatment the author received to what is currently obtainable in Nigeria. In addition, the author’s experience with cancer brought back sad memories we experienced as a family when my father was diagnosed with cancer of the stomach.

26 years ago, after waiting for hours with so much anxiety for my father to be wheeled out of the operating room at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital {LUTH}, the Professor who led the team stepped out of the operating room. As he walked past my siblings and I, he announced to us nonchalantly, “your father has an angry mass in his stomach.” Then he walked on without another word. We were all in a state of complete shock.

Luckily, one of the members of the surgical team was a friend. He spotted me as he stepped out of the operating room and stopped to say hello. I asked him what was wrong with my father and he kindly broke down the situation for us {initially my father had been misdiagnosed with diabetes}.

Later that day, I was able to see my father whilst he was recuperating. I held his hands tenderly, kissed him, took a deep breath and broke the news to him as gently as I could. With the best plastic smile that I could muster, I smiled and said, “Dad, the surgeon says the surgery revealed you have stomach cancer. But we will fight it together. I promise you, we will!”

As a family, we supported my father throughout his journey battling cancer as best as we could with chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments at LUTH for about four months.

Eventually, we felt my father was not receiving the best medical treatment and flew him to England to receive better care. Before the doctors began to treat my father, they re-examined him and were horrified to find out that his spleen and skin were badly damaged due to the way the radiotherapy was administered to him at LUTH. My father’s skin was like tripe {shaki in Yoruba}!

In order to ease the excruciating pain he was feeling and among other health observations, surgery was performed to remove his spleen {splenectomy}. He received chemotherapy for six months and was placed under observation for another six months. In 1993, the doctors gave him a clean bill of health and he returned home.

Sadly, the clean bill of health only lasted between six to seven months because the cancer later returned aggressively. When cancer recurs aggressively, it spreads fast, it is unpredictable, and frequently leads to death. My father later died in 1995.

His death was a shock to me. I did not know how to process it. I refused to go to church for six months because I felt God had let me down. I could not pray. Quite frankly, prayer was the last thing on my mind. As traumatic as his death was, the “upside” was it brought my family closer.

After his burial, a few months later I had my own cancer scare whilst I was in the United States regrouping from my loss. While watching television, I came across an advertisement on breast cancer awareness and I remembered that I felt some discomfort on the left side of my breast. I had ignored this discomfort at that time because I knew nothing about breast cancer. However, my father’s death spurred me to visit the doctor to have my breast examined. Thankfully, when all the tests and examinations were concluded I was given the all clear.

The culmination of my brief cancer scare, my father’s death, and my search for my life’s purpose led me to establish C. O. P E. {Care. Organization. Public Enlightenment.}, a non-governmental organization focused on breast cancer awareness and advocacy.

Three years into my work with C.O. P E, I had an intense moment of reflection and realized that I had actually gone through the five RE’s[1] needed for a person to heal after losing a loved one.

Each human being has five dimensions that make up who they are. These five dimensions are physical, mentalemotional, spiritual, and social. Death or loss of a loved one will undoubtedly affect each of these dimensions. To effectively cope and restore balance to all five dimensions, a person must go through all five stages of the RE’s. These stages of the RE’s are REactionREsistance, REality, REsignation, and REorganization.

To illustrate how the RE’s work, I will use my experience with my father’s death.

When the doctor confirmed that my father had died, my REaction was one of shock, numbness, and disbelief. These emotions led to a lot of REsistance on my part in accepting the news. It further resulted in debilitating periods of rumination and feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, denial, and emotional outbursts. There were lots of tears and I was heartbroken.

The REality that my father had passed further led me into a state of deep sadness and loneliness. I felt I had no choice but to REsign myself to the fact that I was going to be alone and despite having family members around, I isolated myself and withdrew into my shell. I could not comprehend the fact that I was not going to hear his voice anymore. As the last child, I was very close to him and he had a special pet name for me. Now that he was gone, my special pet name, in my mind, had gone into oblivion.

Eventually, months after his demise I made a concerted effort to REorganize myself with optimism and my brief scare of breast cancer led to an increased desire to know more about cancer, specifically breast cancer. This increased desire to know more ultimately led to the establishment of C. O. P E in 1995.

Reading the book ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ further made it clear to me that I was only able to properly cope with the pain and feeling of loss resulting from my father’s death, because I allowed myself to go through the five RE’s.

For anyone who is dealing with the loss of a loved one from cancer or any other disease, it is imperative that you allow yourself to completely go through all five stages of the RE’s. Doing so will allow you to better manage all the complex emotions that come with experiencing death and loss.

Looking back, I wish I knew what I know now about cancer. Perhaps it might have prolonged my father’s life. However, his death and my personal scare with breast cancer made me become more detailed and informed regarding health issues. Both experiences also made me determined to contribute to Nigeria in my own little way by using my non-governmental organization to “preach the breast cancer awareness gospel.”

It is imperative to stress that with our increased access to technology and the internet, ignorance is no longer a viable excuse. It is important to read and gather information prior to the occurrence of any adversity, especially a health adversity. We need to be, and stay, inquisitive about how to live a healthy, active life. I also need not emphasize how mandatory it is to have a good health insurance policy and undergo a yearly or bi-annual general health check.

When Breath Becomes Air’ is a must read! I recommend it because it truly opens up the reader’s mind to the reality of life and death and shuts down the unnecessary preoccupation with trivialities.


[1] Finding Your Way- Families & the Cancer Experience: a guidebook by Gail A. Noller, MA Licensed Psychologist. American Cancer Society 1998.


I was at COPE, when I came across an article in the Genevieve magazine about a breast cancer survivor, Mrs. Kehinde Gbelee. Her story of triumph encouraged me to go for chemotherapy and indeed she has been my Role Model.

In August 2013, barely a month to my 40th birthday, I discovered I had a lump on my right side of the breast and I went to the hospital. A month after I was booked for biopsy to know the status of the lump. Two weeks after the laboratory result revealed the lump was cancerous. The doctor said I would have to do mastectomy. I was quiet for a while and was thinking if this was the way I was going to die?

Looking back at my family history, my dad died of Prostate cancer five years ago, grandma died of cervical cancer three years ago, while my mum died of cancer of the gall bladder just last month {August2013}. I was aware of everything they had been through during their treatments process.

Then, my view about chemotherapy was chemo itself was life threatening because my parents never survived it. As a result of this, I was down for two weeks. I was like an empty bottle, I cried bitterly, why me? This was the question on my mind, because of all I went through during my mother’s sickness and she eventually died.

I had no clue what stage the cancer was. I just thought that cancer simply meant death sentence. I thought about my three lovely children, how my children would fair being that I am breadwinner of the family and also my other five siblings, being the first born of a family of six.

I tried to pull myself together and told my boss in the office that I would need a six-month leave to take care of my present health condition. My boss was supportive and asked me to complete the leave form with other documents collected at the hospital for record purposes, fortunately, the leave was processed and signed in accordance with my office policy the following day.

Precisely November 1, 2013, I had my mastectomy and came out of the surgery. It was carried out at Lagoon Hospital Apapa where I spent five days. My doctor offered me words of encouragement and comfort and assured me that a lot of people had survived cancer and that I too will be fine. I looked at myself with one breast and wept like a baby.

Three weeks after the surgery, the doctor booked me to start chemotherapy. I was scared because of my parent’s experience; rather I went for natural therapy. I was doing this until I went to buy breast forms and customized bras at COPE. Coincidentally, I came across GENEVIEVE magazine that changed my treatment from natural therapy to chemotherapy.

The following day, I went to the hospital and registered to start, I was booked to see another doctor {oncologist} who advised that I will take 8 courses of chemotherapy.

Below are the side effects of taking 5 out of 8 courses

  • Burning Sensation- I feel this burning sensation on my right arm where surgery was done, although it is reducing gradually.
  • Inability to sleep comfortably with my right hand side, I still feel pains in the area where the surgery was done. Most times I use my back or left side to sleep
  • I feel upset everyday while taking my bath, seeing myself as a woman with one breast. I always think I have lost myself confidence as a woman, for a woman to feel her chest and not find anything there. It is a nightmare and agonizing.
  • Hair loss, I have lost the hair on my head and private part
  • Menstruation has stopped and it makes me feel this burning sensation on my head and heat from inside which makes me sweat especially when I am not in a cool place.
  • Nausea/Vomiting – Most times I feel like vomiting and have hiccups
  • Skin Effects- although I am naturally dark in complexion but I am darker now especially my palms, fingers and feet.
  • Fatigue-I feel tired but not all the time
  • I experience loss of appetite sometimes.
  • Diarrhea.

In Conclusion, it has not been a pleasant experience so far. I have taken a course in the second phase of chemotherapy. Presently, the side effects of the second phase are not as harsh as the first phase. I still have three courses to take before the completion of chemotherapy.

In all, I give Glory to God Almighty

In 2003, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It started with the appearance of a boil under my right breast. I quickly went to the hospital and was sent for mammogram, the result showed nothing serious.

There was reappearance as a lump in 2007. I did series of test and ended up doing biopsy that finally confirmed that I had cancer. I did entertain fear because of the awareness. I went to a private hospital to remove the lump and was later referred to LUTH {Lagos University Teaching Hospital} for further treatment.

At LUTH, I was prepared for mastectomy that I did not undertake until August 2010. All other treatment such as Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy was completed in August 2011. After some months, I recovered and thought that everything was over until when in June 2012, the wound opened up again; I was placed on Xeloda in which I took six courses. Thank God I got over it.

In June 2013, I went for my normal check up and the doctor suggested that I should go for CT Scan that revealed that I had bone collapse and some deposits in the lungs. I went for a repeat of the test in December 2013 and January 2014 I was placed on radiotherapy for two weeks and bone injection for twelve (12) months and the doctor planned me for chemotherapy. Radiotherapy cost N50, 000, Bone Injection N60, 000/ month, while still awaiting the cost for chemotherapy.


While appreciating the government and some concerned organization like COPE and others on the issue of awareness, I feel that at this level that cancer is spreading like flame of fire, we need more than awareness.
The drugs must be subsidized for awareness to be effective people are dying every day. Cancer cases get out of hands before they are taken to the hospitals.
We appeal to the government to come to our aid.


  • Eat well and sleep well
  • Eat a lot of vegetables and fruits. This will help you maintain normal blood level and increase your immunity level
  • Live your normal life as if nothing bad has happened to you. In fact free your life off it.
  • Do exercises but don’t stress yourself. I have lived with it to discover that each time I stress myself, I have crisis. The crisis had in 2012 and 2013 was due to stress. Whether we like it or not, we can’t do things the way we used to.
  • As a religious being, even though we can’t fast but continue to pray.
  • Have a strong faith that you will overcome and use your drugs as at when due
  • Do not miss any appointment day unless the doctors and nurses are on strike.

The first day I was diagnosed with breast cancer seemed like the end of the world. How to start? Where to go? Who to meet? Who to tell? And many more questions crossed through my mind.

I felt dejected, I began to ask questions, why it had to be me, knowing full well my background and being the bread winner of my family. What hope do I have to finance the treatment, which is rather expensive and rigorous?

Despite it all I never ceased asking why me? I still have a vivid memory of that faithful day. I was in the office when I received a phone call that my test result was out. Why should I not be hopeful since I am young and my take was that breast cancer was not for people like me? ” It is for people who are dirty and have lived a reckless life”.

I was advised to sit and wait for the head of the unit, a female doctor quite different from the first doctor that attended to me initially. Eventually, I met her, not before her several stories and words of encouragement. At this point I started feeling restless, furious and wanted her to go straight to the point. She still could not break the awful news but asked a survivor to come and encourage me to be strong. At this moment, I deduced what the result was; I could not help it anymore and just burst into tears.

I returned home depressed, unhappy and life became miserable. I refused to see anyone. All I needed was to be alone. I did not know who to tell and what the reaction might be. I did not know anyone who had gone through this trauma. I was left in this world to fight the battle alone. The next day, I sent a text message to my Managing Director in the office. The only person I could think of in order to secure my job since I know it might be at stake at this crucial moment. She summoned me to the office. It was at this level that my many mind bothering questions were answered. I felt so jittery that I poured out my heart to her. Immediately, she called her doctor friend at LUTH {Lagos University Teaching Hospital} and got me connected to an oncologist who took over my case and went for second opinion, which was a confirmation of the previous. I started my treatment after series of tests

My unforgettable memory was realizing that my family obviously could not afford the cost of my treatment. My boss promised to use her connections to help raise the funds. Today, I stand to testify that my surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy were all financed through charity/donations with the help of my boss. I cannot but pray that Almighty God will continue to bless and reward her and those who made different contributions. The entire treatment process was tedious. It was not easy at all. I do not pray that anyone go through this ordeal. I thank God for saving my life. He blessed me with strength, stability and determination despite all the pains I went through.

To my family, friends and those I could not dodge their constant prayers, calls, visits and words of encouragement. I say thank you.

To aunty COPE (that is what I call her) who has had a soft spot for me since the day I met her. I thank her for her words of encouragement, advice and follow-up.
Above all, to Almighty God who saw the beginning and the end and decreed that I shall live, Baba, may your name be praised.

Today, I call myself a survivor and I pray that affliction will never come again, Amen. To all other fellow survivors, I say congratulations. To all those that have just been diagnosed or still going through one form of treatment or the other in the course of survival, you shall all be a testimony in Jesus name, Amen.

Before I begin to tell my story, I wish to give thanks and adoration to the Lord Almighty, the maker of Heaven and Earth for sparing my life up till the present moment. I say glory be to God. I also thank God for giving me the grace to successfully undergo all the stages involved in the treatment of my breast cancer.

The journey so far began in 2007, when a family doctor at Ademola Clinics detected that I had a lump in one of my breast. I could not believe it. The doctor counseled me that the lump will be removed through a surgical operation. After the first operation, the substance removed through a surgical operation was sent to LUTH {Lagos University Teaching Hospital} for biopsy.
LUTH confirmed it was cancer.

Later, I went through a second surgery at another hospital because the substance found was not fully removed the first time. This period was full of agony and pains. After the surgery, I was referred to LUTH for further treatment. I was placed on six courses of chemotherapy, which I completed.

After the completion in 2008, LUTH also placed me on radiotherapy for seventeen courses. I did not know that I was going to survive after receiving the treatment, but I thank God today that I am now telling the story of my journey.
I must emphasize the amount of money that I had spent in the purchase of drugs, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other miscellaneous that are un-receipted. It is true again to say that “Health is Wealth” and also “Wealth is Health”.

I received the support of my family, particularly my husband (who has been like father and my mentor) and the children. They have all been very supportive spiritually, morally and financially. I say a big thank you to this wonderful family. Your fervent prayers always have continued to yield a fruitful result.

To some of my sisters that have just being diagnosed, I wish to implore you to have faith in God that everything will be all right with you. You will also have course to glorify God’s name. I also wish to implore to you once again that make use of the drugs recommended by your doctors religiously. At the end, you will smile.