Our battles against cancer


…Survivors tell tear-inducing stories

These were the lots of several breast cancer survivors (young and old) who gathered at the routine Care Organisation Public Enlightenment (C.O.P.E) Support Group meeting to share their experiences with other survivors still battling with the big C. Speaker after speaker, the women narrated their ordeal and how they survived the life threatening disease.

The problem with cancer

As the participants shared their different experiences, it was observed that they all agreed that the problem with cancer is the treatment and not the disease. They described the treatment especially Chemotherapy as deadly and terrible, which always made the patient just want to die. The pain of chemotherapy according to Della Ogunleye, made her want to attempt suicide. She came all the way from London to visit the group and most especially donate prosthetic bras to members of the support group. “The doctors had prepared my mind for the situation but when Chemotherapy hit me, I just wanted to end it all by taking my life. “Something needs to be done about the treatment of cancer. Chemotherapy just destroys everything in you. It makes one weak, and thoughtless and it kills both the good and bad cells.

Aside the excruciating pains associated with cancer treatment, the women fingered the high cost of purchasing medications as another problem.

One of the survivors, Biola (not real name) said that the Herceptin injection (440mg) prescribed for her, cost N560,000 per injection, which she must take once in three weeks. “The drugs are just too expensive and there are no subsidies. I am the breadwinner of my family. My husband has lost his job and I have children. I have completed my chemotherapy and radiotherapy but because I have HER2 neu receptors the doctors said I must take Herceptin 440mg injections. “One injection cost N560,000 and you can imagine that every three weeks. It is not an easy situation. Can you believe the number of people who have died as a result of their inability to procure the necessary drugs for their treatment? “Drugs for the treatment of cancer are very expensive. The prices vary with the particular drug recommended but they are all expensive. This is an area the government really needs to do something about to save more lives,” she said.

The lack of a Comprehensive Cancer Centre in the country with all facilities and specialists was fingered as a major cause of cases of misdiagnoses and more cancer related deaths. According to the founder of C.O.P.E, Mrs. Ebunola Anozie, there is an urgent need for the government to provide such facilities as cancer should not be treated like malaria, since if detected and treated early, the survival rate is high. She lamented that the machines for cancer diagnosis and treatment were dysfunctional in most government teaching hospitals, wondering why the government has refused to put in place the required facilities to cater for the citizens. 

Anozie stated that the late former Ekiti State deputy governor Mrs. Funmi Olayinka would have survived if not for misdiagnosis. She emphasized the importance of early detection which affords one a second opinion. Anozie, who has in close to two decades spent her time giving succor to women suffering from breast cancer, said: “Cancer brought me to my knees seeing loved ones go through it.” She said she was touched to start up the project after her experience, adding that she feels fulfilled being able to use her knowledge and influence to help breast cancer patients and survivors in need. She encouraged the participants to always take care of themselves, be happy, and stress-free, healthy diet, exercise and avoid sending acidic hormones into their system as a result of anger and depression. She also encouraged them to be comfortable and love themselves despite having one or no breast, noting that with the prosthetic bras and breast forms, no one will know that they have gone through a mastectomy.

She emphasized the need for good-self esteem, confidence and openness in order to enjoy a healthy and active sexual life with their partners. If you are walking on the road, stop thinking that people are looking at you. You are the only one that is conscious of the fact that you have one breast or none at all. She pleaded with family members and loved ones to be supportive. “Most people see cancer as a curse or a punishment for a sin they have committed. It is not so. Cancer can be cured if detected and treated early. We have survivors of 22 and 15 years respectively. We should realize that the hereditary factor is less than 5 percent. It can happen to anybody.”

She accused the government of not doing enough for cancer patients. “How many black women go for clinical trials? Do we have clinical trials done here? Do we have medication produced here? We have herbalists putting something together, are we supporting them? I am positive that the answer to cancer is here. “When you are using medication that has been tried on a white person on a black woman how is it going to work that is why a lot of medications may not work. We need to get our ass together. It saddens me when I hear that someone has stolen from the government and nothing is being done about it. Meanwhile, people are dying. Until it happens to someone close them, they will start running up and down,” she said. 

United Kingdom-based Ogunleye thought cancer was for Caucasians. She could not hold back her tears as she addressed the women. She said that she was amazed to see “so many black female breast cancer survivors. It is unbelievable and it also strengthens me because now I know that I am not alone. “I was alone in England battling with breast cancer. When I joined a support group, I was the only African amidst them. Much later, my little sister was the only one who stood by me, even my mother couldn’t bear it. “I was really ignorant about the whole cancer issue that I almost gave up, but the thought of my two daughters and how terrible they will feel strengthened me.

“Mine started with a painful breast. I went to see a general practitioner and complained but they said breast cancer is not painful in most cases and recommended that I see a specialist. “It happened at a time I was planning a holiday. That same weekend, I had a wedding and a party to attend in Nigeria. The only thoughts running through my mind were my holiday and party. “When I saw the specialist and carried out a series of tests, it was discovered that I had breast cancer. I thought it was something they will just treat and I will be fine. I did not give it much thought since I had already planned my trip, I came to Nigeria, spent two weeks and returned. “It was on my return that the breast was removed and I started undergoing treatment. People need to stop being afraid of cancer because there is life after cancer. It is not a death sentence. “I was scared that no one will love me with one breast. I thought it was over for me but my life actually started after cancer because I found love after cancer, a man who loves me and stayed with me all through the trying period. At times, I just sit back and say oh! Thank you cancer.” 

Cancer struck me on the street

She looked radiant, happy and at peace with herself. Her voice reverberated as she told the group members that her life started having meaning after her battle with cancer. The woman, who appeared to be in her late 60s, gave her name as Franca Taiwo and explained that she was homeless at the time cancer struck. She was going through emotional stress, having been abandoned by the man she has spent over 40 years with. Mrs. Taiwo who said she wished for death and it came severally but did not take her, explained that her situation was so bad that people thought she had gone mad and referred her to Yaba Psychiatric Hospital. She further said that her husband who was a medical doctor had thought she would die in the midst of her storm, while he kept all they labored to acquire for himself, unfortunately, died before her. “I was in my late 50s and I did not have a kobo. My husband with whom I had spent so many years and built investments together abandoned me about seven years ago. I was on the streets and left with nothing. I moved to the outskirt of the city, where you have abandoned properties. “I was so depressed, emotionally and financially unstable to the point that I was referred to Yaba It was while on the streets that cancer struck”.

“I never knew I will survive until I came and was introduced to the support group. I wished for death and on four occasions it came but could not take me. I have children and grandchildren but none could understand the loneliness or the pain I felt inside me like members of the support group. They are the family I never had. It was with their love and support that I was able to overcome cancer. I am a survivor of five years and now, my life is better. I was told that my husband died recently in Ibadan, I am not celebrating his death, I am only telling this story so that you will have faith in God and also learn to forgive those who wrong you.” “I never reconciled with him but I forgave him all the evil things he did against me. I got married to him when he had only two shirts. I used my head to carry bricks while we were building our estate. We invested together and when he felt he had become a rich man, he abandoned me that I was troublesome. “I am sure he would have been happy if I had died before him. But look at what the situation is today. Even all the money he had could not save him but me that I was penniless, God has preserved and given me back my life.”

Cancer after 40th birthday

Kate Ugwu, she discovered she had breast cancer after her 40th birthday. The affected breast was later removed. She said since after her treatment nine years ago; every day means a lot to her. “I decided to stay healthy. I take a lot of supplements. Some they call antioxidants. I make myself happy and talk to people around me if there is anything bothering me. I am not giving depression a chance.” “I fought breast cancer with determination and I thank God I did not die of depression because a lot of patients die because of depression and not even cancer. Though I felt weak the first week I picked up courage as my family and people who have benefitted from me was there to assist me. “I decided on my own. I got some medical people that are close to me. I told them to remove the lump right away. I immediately removed the lump I took it to the lab and when the result came out I was sad. The doctors did a radical mastectomy and the whole breast was removed.

“I spent well over a N1 million to do 10 courses of chemotherapy. It was terrible; I sourced for funds and borrowed money because it is not something you say, oh, I will do it when I have money. “Every three weeks I have to get it. I wasn’t given any blood transfusion, the doctors said I have beaten their medical record, that nobody that has gone through chemotherapy 10 times would not require a pint of blood. I started taking blood supplements and I was fine. During that time a lot of people died of depression. Students aged 18 years were dying of depression. My Bible was my comforter all through. “After five years I went for another screening and we saw another lump on the other breast and I was scared to the marrow. Immediately, I did it like the first one, it was a very big lump, It was removed and fortunately after four weeks they said it was not cancerous.

“I was happy and since then, everyday means a lot for me. I decided to stay healthy. I take a lot of supplements. I am no longer on drugs. I was told that I was going to take a particular drug for five years, but I said I would not need it because most people taking it are complaining that the drug is worsening their situation. Again, because that drug is too expensive I decided that the money should be used for supplements. “Under this support group, people are getting assistance. People that cannot pay, the organisation is helping them to take treatment. If cancer patients are being taken care of like this HIV patients, many of them will survive. We are only asking government to subsidise cancer treatment. Many people die because of lack of money to treat themselves.”

A peculiar case

Rashidat’s was a peculiar case. While most of the survivors went through normal surgeries, normal Chemotherapy and radiotherapy as prescribed; she has had to repeat the process three times. The 47 year-old mother of two said she was diagnosed of breast cancer when she was 44. She explained that the last three years have left her financially, psychologically and physically “incapacitated.” 

She said: “I used to be a fashion designer but now I can barely lift my arm up. I was just checking my breast one day and I felt a lump in one of them. So, when I told my husband about it, he advised that I should go and see a doctor. “I went to our private hospital first and after the doctor examined me, she gave me a referral to general hospital where I went for screening.

“After the screening, the oncologists discovered that there were about four lumps in one of my breasts. I was disturbed and depressed but had to pull myself together because I got married late and my kids are still very young. “When I thought about losing my life, I asked myself who will train my children?” The doctors also advised that steps be taken urgently to remove the lumps. My appointment dates were made very short and on one of the days when I went to see the doctor, he just told me that I should prepare myself for surgery. “The surgery was done and the breast was removed in November 2012 and it took about two months for the place to heal. After the wound healed by January 2013, I commenced Chemotherapy but on getting to my fourth chemo, another lump was discovered on that same side but close to my armpit. “I went back to the oncologists and they said I should continue with chemo that it would take care of the lump but by the time I got to my sixth chemotherapy, the lump had grown bigger.

“So, instead of going for radiotherapy after chemo, I was subjected to another surgery and the lump was removed. I started chemo all over again and when I was about going for radiotherapy for the second time, another lump was discovered again. “I was frustrated and no one knew I could survive chemotherapy. I went back to the doctors, it was in that process that doctors embarked on a long strike. I was always in pain, looking haggard and depressed. My life was a complete mess and I was always crying and weak. It was at that point that I was introduced to the support group and after sharing my story, Mrs. Anozie advised me to always pray to my God each time I want to take my drugs. “I was not doing that before and so, I started doing it. When the strike was called off, I went back to see the oncologist and they said the lump keeps coming back because the node was not tapped. “I was subjected to another surgery again and now I am undergoing chemotherapy. I think the prescriptions for cancer should be seriously examined. Most of the drugs they even give us are like poison. You take them and your entire system is disorganized.” “This group is really a source of strength and hope to me. The strength I have now, I did not have it before and so, I always look forward to meeting with other survivors here.”

Life goes on

Amid the despair of breast cancer, these women have found hope so much that they could even joke about their situation. If you hear them shout: “One nation!”, it is their own way of referring to the one breast many of them have after losing one to cancer. One of them said: “I refer to our breasts as one nation since most of us have lost one breast to breast cancer.” 

One breast or not, they say life continues!

Original Article Link: https://thenationonlineng.net/our-battles-against-cancer/

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