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In May 2014, I noticed a lump in my left breast. Initially, I thought nothing of it because when I was much younger, I had removed benign lumps from my breast on two different occasions.

Nonetheless, I quickly sent the sample of the lumpectomy procedure that was conducted in the laboratory for urgent analysis. When I got the results, I hurried to the hospital to see my uncle who is a renowned surgeon. He went through the report and asked that I report to LUTH {Lagos University Teaching Hospital} or LASUTH {Lagos State University Teaching Hospital} immediately. This was how my breast cancer journey started.

A diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer was handed over to me. I was devastated and in total shock. Being a strong woman by nature, I made up my mind not to dwell on feeling sorry for myself but rather to commence treatment promptly. The different treatments recommended were Mastectomy, after which Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy would be administered.

I braced up for mastectomy but was doubtful about going for chemotherapy. This was primarily because I had heard about and seen the brutal effects of Chemotherapy. It wrecked my elder sister’s body and I did not want to go through the agonizing experience as well. I really did not have issues with radiotherapy.

The decision to go for chemotherapy took a lot of deliberation between myself, my children, extended family members, and friends. Some felt that herbal medication was the way to go. To be honest, I felt so vulnerable at this point in time and prayed to God to direct me as I was determined to hope for the best.

I eventually opted for chemotherapy which was not easy on my body, mind, and soul. The aftereffects of every chemotherapy cycle took a great toll on my body. It seemed like my body was broken into pieces and on fire from within. The nauseating feeling, extreme weakness, loss of appetite, and exhaustion were unbearable. It was more devastating when I started to lose my hair {alopecia} which I eventually had to shave and started using scarves. My tongue, palms, and the soles of my feet turned black.

I made up my mind to win this war and started being positive by praying. Not only did I remain steadfast in prayers, but I also did a turn around with my diet. I started fortifying my body with vegetables and fruits.
Unfortunately, my mind became a battlefield. I thought about so many things at the same time. I thought about my children, family, friends, church, and work.

Much as I tried hard to stay alive, I felt so feeble. Fear gripped me, I felt so weak and thought I wasn’t going to make it. I prayed to God to spare my life as I still wanted to be around all my loved ones. Unfortunately, I was degenerating physically but I did not give up.

Eventually, I was able to heave a sigh of relief when I completed my chemotherapy treatment and embarked on my recovery journey.

After I recuperated, I started my Radiotherapy treatment, which is the use of ionizing radiation to kill malignant cancer cells around my breast area. Thankfully, it wasn’t a painful experience but uncomfortable. I heaved a similar sigh of relief when I completed my sessions.

In order to fully recover, I was placed on a strict fruit and vegetable diet to repair my body cells.
Slowly but surely, I started to regain my strength. I have now learned to love fruits and vegetables as my medicine.

My lifestyle has since changed for the better as I no longer take inorganic foods and stay away from sugar.

My breast cancer experience has taught me to take each day at a time without having to stress myself. To be honest, my body feels a lot better.

I felt uncomfortable losing my breast but I thank God that I am alive. I must confess that my sadness diminished significantly when I joined C.O.PE. support group. At first, I couldn’t believe that all the women I met had gone through the same ordeal. I felt reassured and happy listening to the stories of other survivors as we exchanged our different experiences. Now, I have regained my self-esteem and feel more confident with my breast prosthesis and I always look forward to our monthly sessions on how to cope effectively, survive, and thrive.

Here I am standing strong to the glory of God after 6 years. Forever to go!

In August 2015, a week after my period l noticed a lump in my right breast. The next day, I visited my doctor at Omotayo Hospital. The doctor examined my breast and suggested that a biopsy would be advisable. The biopsy result came back after two weeks that l had subsequently begun to experience pain. I became agitated which made me decide to seek a second opinion at the Air Force Hospital where my brother works.

He asked me to run another test at Clinix Diagnostics. Later, the doctor, after going through the result, recommended that a minor surgery be done in order to remove the lump in my breast. He called it a lumpectomy.

I had no choice but to opt for a lumpectomy. But I knew I was in good hands. So, l went in for the removal of the lump. The surgery was carried out on the 22nd of September.

Alas! My world came crashing down when the results came back that the lump was cancerous. I was distraught. I thank God for an uncle of mine who called me the same day that l received my result. He was very supportive and kept reassuring me that all will be well and that cancer is not a death sentence. I felt comfortable as he soothed me with words of encouragement.

A week later, I got the rude shock of my life when the doctor informed me that the best decision was to have a mastectomy done. A mastectomy is the surgical removal of the breast. I asked the doctor if the surgery was for my two breasts. The doctor was surprised by my question and he replied, “Madam, people are scared to remove one and you are asking for the removal of two?”

I really did not know where my boldness and strength came from and replied that ‘cancer will not kill me, rather, l will kill cancer.’ We actually laughed over it.

The mastectomy was done on the 20th of October. I was later referred to Lagos University Teaching Hospital {LUTH} for further treatment due to the fact that I needed a specialist, an Oncologist, to attend to me. My world came crashing down even further when I was given my histology result stating it was ‘Her2, triple positive Stage 3.’ I had figured out that this was going to be unpleasant due to the fact that I had been seeking out answers on the internet.

Later, my consultant broke down my treatment. He explained to me that l was going to have three different chemotherapy treatments and the treatment was going to cost a total of 7 to 8 million Naira. I felt the ground was going to open and swallow me up and I screamed.

I started with the least expensive form of treatment which was about N78,0000 for 4 cycles which ended up taking off all my hair {alopecia}. It was indeed a trying period for me and my entire family at large.

I realized that the treatment of cancer is daunting, energy, and financially draining. It was an ordeal to start the second phase of my Chemotherapy which was also a four-cycle treatment. Each cycle costs N100,000. I made up my mind that I couldn’t continue with the treatment due to a lack of finances.

Family and friends concluded that there was no hope. Then l ran to God, and by inspiration, l began to change my diet and incorporated organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs which worked wonders for me and I believed help boost my immunity.

In 2016, l was introduced to COPE through my consultant. It really rebuilt my self-confidence in meeting other women who also shared similar stories of triumph. The organization also provided me with all the necessary prosthetic items which helped to make me feel like a woman again. Most importantly, health experts on how to beat breast cancer were also invited by the organization to uplift our spirits and provide tips and information to staying healthy.

Above all, l was able to learn to let go off my fears, lean on God, and regain my self-confidence. For me to go thus far with radiotherapy, incomplete chemo, no monthly drugs like Arimidex, I give all glory to God as I know His mercy surrounds me.

It all started in December 2012, when I discovered that l had a lump in my right breast. I was worried and alerted my husband.

Immediately, I went to a private hospital not too far from where I live. Unfortunately, I was referred to Badagry General Hospital which was further away from my residence and inconveniencing. I was eventually examined by a doctor who subsequently referred me to Lagos State University Teaching Hospital {LASUTH}.

I became agitated and frustrated with this bumpy ride so I discussed my fears with a friend of mine who directed me to another private hospital. At this stage, I was almost going to give up but I made up my mind not to be intimidated by this roller coaster ride.

I finally met with a doctor who examined me and was suspicious of the lump. In order to allay my fears, he went into a lengthy discussion with me by narrating his sister’s experience with breast cancer. His sister’s story was quite encouraging. At the end of our discussion and examination, he referred me to Dr. Oludara, a surgeon in LASUTH {Lagos State University Teaching Hospital} for further diagnosis. I was glad that I would be seen by an expert who would help me unravel this mystery.

My telephone conversation with Dr. Oludara put me at ease as he took his time to further educate me on the importance of early detection of breast cancer and the benefits of early treatment. Lumpectomy was done and the biopsy result was malignant stage 2 breast cancer.

That was how my breast cancer journey started! The feeling of sadness was an understatement because I had secretly been praying that the suspicion of the first doctor that examined me would be negative.

Eventually, a mastectomy was performed on my right breast in January 2013. I was later referred to Lagos University Teaching Hospital {LUTH} for six courses of chemotherapy from February to June. I “went to Heaven” and back during this period. February to March 2014, I had my Radiotherapy which I adjusted to better than chemotherapy.

After I had my last session of radiotherapy, a friend brought me to COPE in March 2014. Being among women who have walked on a similar road made me feel a lot better and stronger than I would be fine. Whenever we meet, we exchange notes and I feel confident again. I also make sure to follow up by going for a series of scans and X-rays when required as I am on a monthly bone injection. Whenever I am unable to access these treatments in Lagos State, I seek them out in other States.

l give God the glory that l am a 7-year survivor and still counting.

I will describe myself as a meticulous, conscious, and finicky 55-year-old woman when it comes to healthcare and food.

I have always been an advocate of this especially after having become more aware that once you’re close to the age of 35/40yrs, it is very important that we become mindful of what we eat so as not to fall victim to any terminal disease. This belief has motivated me to judiciously follow up with my routine medical checkup, including the checking of my BP and my breasts for any possible lump or otherwise.

In fact, on numerous occasions, I have visited the doctor’s office whenever I have any slight suspicion or notice any unusual change in my breasts, which were always found to be normal.

However, in August 2012, I noticed a hardness on the right side of my right breast but because the emphasis had always been on looking out for lumps, I disregarded it and I thought it to be hormonal imbalance which would disappear with time. But this didn’t and I became uncomfortable. I visited a surgeon who first told me that he would remove it but would still have to be analyzed in the laboratory. He made it clear that if the test came back positive, he would go on to perform a total mastectomy. I told him I would prefer to get it tested before going under the knife at all! I was uncomfortable and I called my elder sister who happened to be a nurse to inform her of my situation.

My sister asked me to come to her hospital to see a senior doctor there. On getting there, I was asked to go for some tests which included a fine needle aspiration test. After some days, I went to collect the result. I didn’t open the result at the lab. It was on my way back home that I opened the result on the road and found out that it was stage 3 malignant breast cancer. While walking, I made a call to my friend to inform her and as we spoke I broke down in tears. The reality of the word of God in Job 3:26 dawned on me. “For the thing, I greatly feared has come upon me,
And what I dreaded has happened to me”. Later, along with my elder sister, I took the result to the doctor. After the surgeon read the result he asked me to look into his eyes. He asked, “where is your husband?” I told him he was not around because I was going through a turbulent marriage which later ended in divorce. He said, “tell him I am going to remove that breast.” He said I needed to take the decision and get back to him the next day which was a Tuesday. He went on further to say he would be going for his leave on Friday so I needed to check in to the hospital on Wednesday.

Choosing to move forward was a serious decision to make. The first question I asked was “am I going to survive?” He answered “yes.” At this point, my sister was crying uncontrollably. Later that day, we called all my siblings to give them the situation report because they had been supportive of me from the onset and were wonderful. It was a rude shock to them bearing in mind that we never had a history of cancer our my family.

I only had a few hours to plan myself before checking in to the hospital for the surgery and simultaneously arrange where my children would stay. A sister in the church helped accommodate my children. She was wonderful! On September 12, 2012, I checked into the hospital and the surgery was successfully done on September 13, 2012, to the glory of God Almighty. I spent 3 weeks in the hospital and I was later referred to LASUTH {Lagos University Teaching Hospital} for Chemotherapy treatment and Radiotherapy thereafter.

It was during my recuperation that my sister mentioned the organization COPE to me and I gave them a call. The CEO, Aunty Ebun, advised me to allow myself to be fit before I visited the organization. With my referral, I was booked for Chemotherapy in LASUTH where I was asked to run some other tests and was told I would get 6 courses of chemotherapy, 3 weeks apart.

During this period, I experienced a loss of appetite, tastelessness, alopecia, darkening of nails, weight loss, serious nausea, etc. It was like a deadly journey. All my treatments consumed a large sum of my financial resources. However, because all my extended family were involved and financially supportive it was easier for me. I am also thankful to my very faithful, loving and dutiful friend who came to stay with me and stood by me right from the day that I called to inform her of my test result up until my last chemotherapy treatment. She also cared for my children.

After the chemotherapy, I was asked to go for radiotherapy. Radiotherapy was another journey on its own. I had to run a series of tests before I was certified to start. That took me another 3 or 4 weeks. The idea was that throughout that period water must not touch the affected breast and the breast must always be kept dry by powdering it. I solicited financial support from COPE who was able to assist me. I was so grateful. However, I know that it was the sheer grace of the Almighty God that has allowed me to live beyond the unimaginable!

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.

C.O. P E loves you. EARLY DETECTION AND TREATMENT SAVES LIFE!

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

CHANGE THEIR WORLD. CHANGE YOURS. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING.