A breast cancer diagnosis can cause a woman’s life to come to a temporary standstill. Every other thing fades into the background while she considers her best options, takes a deep breath, and proceeds.
Then she keeps on living her life, the best way she knows how. Sometimes overcome with fear, other times, she is wallowing in depression and self pity, questioning her existence. At such times, support and words of encouragement remain the key to snatching these women away from the throes of hopelessness.
In Nigeria, many women are fighting this deadly disease silently. For some, breast cancer still sounds like a white man’s ailment, while others don’t know how devastating the disease is. Many still find it hard to talk about it openly for fear of being stigmatised. Others are struggling with the huge cost of payment for their treatment, while yet others are battling depression and self-pity.
Even though there are no concrete statistics on the number of women affected by breast cancer in Nigeria, some in the country have taken it upon themselves to bring succour to these women as well as hold their hands in solidarity and help them fight cancer to a standstill.
One of such people is Mrs. Ebun Anozie. Ebun lost both parents to cancer. Her mother died of cancer when she was seven and her fa- ther followed years later. She is president, Care. Organization. Public Enlightenment (C.O.PE), a non-profit organisation founded in 1995 to help in reducing the mortality rate of breast cancer through advocacy, treatment, research and education.
Recently, she received a friend of the house, Della Ogunleye, CEO, DDS African Cancer Support Group in United Kingdom, who con- tributed pocket bras to the survivors who are members of C.O.PE monthly support group.
Della noted that the aim of providing the bras for the women is to ease the embarrass- ment they face each time they go in search of such special bras made for women who have undergone mastectomy. At the meeting, over thirty women who have beaten the scourge or are undergoing treatment appeared as normal and calm as everyone else. The energy they exuded and their positive outlook on life re- flected on their faces, voices and their cheerful disposition.
For Della Ogunleye, a 53-year-old breast cancer survivor, for five years, breast cancer sounded so alien that she refused the initial diagnosis of her doctor. Breast cancer, to her then, was a white woman’s disease. But reality hit her hard when it became clear that she had breast cancer.
“In my head, I was coming for a wedding in Nigeria. I had already bought the ticket because I reside in the United Kingdom. I wasn’t thinking about the grim diagnosis I was given earlier. I was only focused on my money and how I wasn’t going to get it back if I started my treatment. I didn’t know the fatality rate of cancer then. I was just so naïve about the whole breast cancer stuff,” she said.
“Cancer made me aware. It changed my life, but I didn’t allow it define me or my dreams. It made me feel good and conscious of my lifestyle. It opened a new chapter in my life. Even when things go wrong now, I take life easy. I come to Nigeria often just to support other women walking down this road. The joy and cheerful attitude of these women moved me to tears.”
She added that contributing her own quota to humanity by helping these women makes her happy. She explained further: “Many women who have had a breast removed, wear prosthesis, and then cover it up with specialized pocket bra. It has a pocket and they put the prosthesis inside it just to make the breasts normal to everyone. Cancer is not a death sentence. Early detection is key to living life to the full after cancer. If women attend a forum like this, they get the strength to move ahead and fight the disease.”
Della said she remains grateful that she is alive and has had the chance to take her life in a new direction. She also makes sure she stays busy, “If I don’t, my mind wanders,” she informed.
Florence Stevens, who was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago, is cancer- free today. She was diagnosed after her 40th birthday and it was like her life had come to an end. She was lucky that her family and friends stood by her.
Florence felt a lump in her breast and went to see an oncologist. She decided on her own to remove the lump immediately, which was dangerous for her. She had radical mastectomy, and also had ten courses of chemotherapy, which cost over a million naira.
The treatment was immediate because delay meant a slow death sentence, as the cancer would keep spreading.
She said: “At a point, I was depressed, but I fought it back with God’s word on long life and good health. Five years later, another lump was discovered in the other breast. I was so afraid. Initially, I wanted to have a double mastectomy but I was discouraged. But the second lump was not cancerous, so there was no need to remove the second breast anymore. I was happy.”
For Florence, life now has a new meaning. She decided to stay healthy. Now she takes a lot of food supplements and antioxidants that prevents food radicals from forming cancer cells. She is no longer on drugs and she is living well.
Florence shared her message of hope with other women. She enjoined them to talk to other people and not die in silence.
“At COPE women enjoy not only the meetings and free screening but also pay for breast cancer treatment from donations from kind hearted individual and sponsors who take care of these expensive treatment.”