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Cancer survivor shares experience

...says early detection key to surviving disease

By Chioma Obinna
Today, the burden of cancer in Nigeria is appreciable. Statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show an estimated 100,000 new cancer cases occur in Nigeria each year although observers believe the figure could become as high as 500,000 new cases annually by 2010.

It is feared that by 2020, cancer incidence for Nigerian males and females may rise to 90.7/100,000 and 100.9/100,000 respectively. It is also anticipated that by 2020, death rates from cancer in Nigerian males and females may reach 72.7/100,000 and 76/100,000 respectively.

Reports also have it that the global cancer rates could further increase by 50 per cent to 15 million new cases in the year 2020. This is the gloomy prediction by the 2008 World Cancer Report – a 351-page, comprehensive global examination of the disease to date issued by the IARC – part of the World Health Organization (WHO).

But the good news today is that many people are now surviving cancer.  More intriguing is the fact that the success stories are not only happening only in other countries of the world but in Nigeria too.  Good Health Weekly spoke to one of the cancer survivors in Nigeria, Dr Kofoworola Orija , a 12 year Breast cancer survivor during the 10th year anniversary of  the Bloom Cancer Care and Support Centre, which she happens to be the Founder/Executive Director.

Hear her story;

It all began  in 1999 when Kofoworola accidently came across a small lump in her right armpit, painless but moved about and was rather firm to the touch. Just like any other busy professional, she thought it was nothing and carried on with her life. Few days after, Kofoworola noticed that the lump was still intact. She still did not bother but hoped that it could be the beginning of a boil.

On a second thought, she decided to meet a doctor friend of  hers to take a second look on the lump and she was advised to have it removed which she did immediately. Little did she knew that the little lump may turn out to be an unseen enemy.

As a Nigerian, without thinking twice about the state of her health even as a medical doctor, she was more occupied with a countrywide staff training programme in Kano.

Beyond her widest imagination, her phone rang that fateful morning, behold, it was her doctor friend, “Kofo, I must see you today” the doctor echoed. But I’m going to Kano and will be away for three days” Koforoworola replied. Upon noticing that the doctor was adamant at her request, she decided to see him immediately before leaving for Kano.

Getting to the doctor, he announced that the histology report on the lump removed showed some cancerous changes and suggested that treatment be initiated immediately.

At this point, Kofoworola was removed from reality. She queried, “What treatment? Why? I will see you when I come back from Kano”. Unperturbed, she zoomed off to Kano and completed the three days programme without a thought about the problem.

But in the spirit of friendship, her doctor friend did not stopped at but arranged an Oncologist to properly examine her. That was when it dawned on her that she was up against some thing that needed her complete attention. Within two weeks, she had taken time off the all – important training programme and was in London to keep her appointment with the Oncologist. After a barrage of tests and investigations to define the nature and type of breast cancer, the surgeon was ready to operate the second time.

However, Kofoworola was lucky, the tests showed that the cancer was still contained within the breast area. It was time to unmask the unseen enemy. Immediately; a lumpectomy and axillary clearance was carried out (that is removal of the lump with a wide border around it and clearing the glands in the armpit).

The ever busy professional was forced to observe bed rest and gradually return to activity. 10 days after the surgery, the surgeon confirmed that there was progress in her treatment. Unfortunately, Kofoworola never escaped from the side effects of cancer treatments.

Narrating her experience to Good Health Weekly she said, “I still remember the extreme fatigue, nausea, burns on the skin but I took it all in my stride, my altitude was, if this is what it will take then I will give it my all. God is my helper”

Maintaining that early diagnosis and treatment is the key to cancer survival, she intimated that immediately she resumed Chemotherapy, her adorable long hair fell off in clumps, nails changed colour to glossy black, skin turned dry with splattered black patches. But she persisted because she want to tell her story.

Asked how the disease affected her family she said, “My family and friends were wonderful. They had a roster for who would accompany me to hospital for the chemo and radiotherapy sessions. They made special foods to tempt my lost appetite, teased me to keep my spirits up.

My son was Might Igor’ as he carried me when I became too weak to go up and down the stairs, my daughter Miss Bossy coordinated everyone, my husband was worried sick about losing his wife, my friends were only too anxious to help.  They search far and wide for information websites on anything and everything bout cancers and breast cancer in particular, alternative therapies, health foods and menus. They kept their fears and tears away from me though always smiling but disappearing suddenly without explanation in the middle of conversations

Kofoworola observed that the quality and volume of information and pre-emptive screening and treatment she experienced abroad were beyond anything Nigerian hospitals had on offer. According to her, “My experience was definitely not what it would have been if I had remained in Nigeria.

Stating that such experience motivated her into inaugurating the Bloom Cancer care & Support Centre In July 2001 she said, “It came to me then and I wondered what those living with cancer in Nigeria must be going through and so the seed was sown to create something positive for others out of my first hand, personal and professional experience of cancer.”


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