By Jemi Ekunkunbor
TWENTY year old first daughter of Delta state, Orode Jade Uduaghan, has severally been described by her friends and family as a 30 year old in the body of a 20 year old. The reason is not far fetched. Unlike many her peers, her thoughts are far removed from the vain and mundane things that young people crave for.
Touched by the plight of women afflicted with breast cancer and cervical cancer, what started as a small thing for this psychology graduate of University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada has become a cross, one that she is determined to bear to see that information is brought to the ordinary woman about the dangers of the two deadly disease that has become silent killers of women.
Last Wednesday in Lagos, she took her awareness campaign to Alade market teaching women how to do self breast examination, what to do if you detected a lump and places to go for help.
In this interview, she speaks on her Foundation, the Pink Pearl, how it all started and the efforts of the foundation at creating awareness as well supporting treatment for indigent women afflicted with the deadly disease.
What informed your forming an NGO instead of having fun like all young people love to do?
Well, it started a while ago, I thought of doing something for my community and the people around me. Instead of whiling away time doing absolutely nothing, I felt that, why donâ€™t I just form an organisation that could help women with breast cancer and cervical cancer? plus the fact that I lost an aunt a while ago to cervical cancer because she did not detect it early. I thought of HIV and AIDS but you would agree with me that there is campaign going on everywhere but breast cancer is not really being talked about. So, I figured we should just go into this and create enough awareness for people in our community and Nigeria at large.
Breast cancer and cervical cancer are not really ailments common with young persons, what was the drive for you?
It is the lack of the awareness and the zeal to create that awareness and the observation of how it is killing people silently, that is the major drive. We notice that a lot of people are just dying and they donâ€™t knowÂ the cause, they donâ€™t know how to get treated, some donâ€™t even know what breast cancer is surprisingly. So that is the major passion and it is in our best position to provide them with information that they need because itâ€™s a disease that is not really out there and itâ€™s more deadly than HIV because you donâ€™t know how it comes and you canâ€™t really avoid it as such. So it is better you have knowledge about it and detect it early.
But there are others who would stand by and do nothing?
Well, I hate pain of any sort even ifÂ itâ€™s not me. I hate to see people around me in pain or being sad because Iâ€™m a happy person and even if Iâ€™m in pain, you wonâ€™t know because I would still be smiling. So that is what I carry out to my work. I like putting smiles on someoneâ€™s face. That is the vision God has given me to do and that is what I am doing to make people happy, to make sure no one loses a mum. I wonder what it would feel like if I lost my own mum to cancer. God forbid!
Having done this for a while now, how has it been in terms of the things you hear and see?
Itâ€™s been very tough because along the line, you meet a lot of people who you would love to help but you just canâ€™t do anything about it especially for breast cancer that was not detected early or because it was already too late.Â Weâ€™ve lost a lot of people this way. Iâ€™ve also learnt a lot about these two killer diseases, things I didnâ€™t know when I first started. We are beginning to see that a lot of people are having these diseases more. The discovery is very scary and disturbing.
Apart from awareness campaigns, do you also support treatment for patients?
Yes, we actually help treat cases that we can handle and the ones we canâ€™t, we send them to the specialist that could help. We also do free check ups throughout the year. It runs non stop throughout the year. But the basic thing we want to do and which we have been doing is awareness because knowledge is power and knowledge is key. So if we are able to create a strong foundation on awareness and let people be aware, we would have less cases that we have to treat.
How do you cope with the emotions involved especially when you meet people with advanced cases of cancer?
You simply get on your knees and pray. It is really hard. Iâ€™ll give a practical example. A couple of months back when we had a second main campaign in Asaba, I had this woman walk up to me, showed me her breast, it was already gone. Youâ€™d know clearly that there is nothing that you can do medically to save her life but you just have to give her a little hope even if you know that it is already too late.
At the end of the day, we lost her. She had an operation, did everything but it was too late she died. Itâ€™s kind of hard going through all that and that is why we try to create this awareness to get people to be able to detect it early so that it doesnâ€™t get to that stage. If it is not that bad, then we would be able to handle it medically and emotionally. Itâ€™s really hard but we try. Sometimes, we cry with them but you also get to a stage where you have to be strong because there are some things you really canâ€™t do anything about. You have to guard yourself and not show too much emotion. I like to let them have that hope and not despair. But it is really very depressing.
What is the awareness level now?
It is high but Nigerians are not conscious enough. You would hardly find a Nigerian woman who would tell you that she wakes up every morning to do a self breast examination-not even within my household! So, the awareness level is not there yet. People are not as aware yet as they ought to be.
What is the response like in places where you have been?
Iâ€™ve hard a lot of good, positive feedback. Thousands of women in Delta state now know about this disease because weâ€™ve been to market places, weâ€™ve had campaigns, weâ€™ve had doctors come in and talk to these people but the only problem we would have is them being religious about it. You know it is one thing for us to bring women together and teach them one or two things but after one or two weeks when they go home, everybody goes back to where they were before. Thatâ€™s the only problem that we have. But if talking about the level of awareness, weâ€™ve had a very good feedback. Iâ€™m very confident and I know that a lot of women from Delta State where we are based, are very aware because weâ€™ve taken an aggressive step towards awareness.
How do you fund your project?
We organise concerts. Weâ€™ve had two concerts so far and it was very productive. We also get support from individuals who think we are doing an awesome job. People donate a lot of things. Somebody donates all the stationery we do. Someone can bring a thousand posters and things like that.
To what extent are you willing to take this?
By Godâ€™s grace, I plan to do this for a very long time. I just graduated so I have a little bit more time on my hand. I plan to do this for a very long time on the basis that I get enough support from women in Nigeria. If I can walk around and ask women and they can tell me what cancer is, then we can go for as long as we can.
When you started, it was like a joke but now you are faced with the harsh reality. How connected are you spiritually?
Well, the awareness level is not desirable yet and with the way cancer is killing people, it makes you want to do more. In fact, in the past few weeks, itâ€™s been news of one cancer case or the other and you keep asking yourself, what can I do? I have a couple of cancer patients and it breaks my heart to see that youâ€™ve gotten this far, where have you been, donâ€™t you know it will kill you? That is why we have to take a drastic step towards awareness campaign.
You canâ€™t do this forever, what will happen to Pink Pearl when you have to work?
Pink Pearl wonâ€™t die. It will function out of the living that I earn if possible and still out of the help Iâ€™m getting from other people. I have a couple of projects Iâ€™m working on. Being able to use my own resources will get me even more committed to the project.