By Jemi EKUNKUNBOR
Two years ago, daughter of Delta State Governor, Orode Jade Uduaghan, took upon herself the burden of creating awareness against the dreaded breast cancer. From a humble beginning in the Delta State capital, her foundation, the Pink Pearl Foundation, has taken the campaign against breast cancer outside the shores of Delta State, to Lagos metropolis and to groups who call upon her foundation. As the world marks breast cancer awareness month this October, we caught up with Orode, once more, who sheds light on the activities of her foundation and efforts to save the lives of women. However, the psychology graduate says that there is a twist as some women say that they would rather die than have their breasts removed!
One year after, what is it like with Pink Pearl Foundation?
The work of the foundation has improved a lot. We’ve been able to get more hands on deck and more organizations supporting our cause. So, it’s been a whole lot better than last year.
It’s another breast cancer awareness month, what is your foundation doing this year?
This year, we are doing a lot. A while back, we were at Delta State University. We partnered with Amobi Okoye Foundation and the African Cancer Care Initiative to do a one-week health check programme in Koko, also in Delta State.
This year happens to be my youth corps service year, so we partnered with NYSC to run a programme at the NYSC Camp in Delta State. We were also at Oniru Market. For this breast cancer awareness month, we have a line up of activities. We started on October 1; we went to Winner’s Chapel in Asaba and afterwards to Edo State University, Ekpoma.
Later, we had a rally in Isolo and Mushin (both in Lagos State) on 9th October. Two Sundays ago, we went to First Baptist Church and on Monday we went to Ndokwa East Local Government in Delta State. Last weekend, we went to Magodo (in Lagos State) and Covenant University and on the 30th, we will have the main launch of the foundation and a self breast examination DVD that we partnered with a USA medical firm, Health Images Consulting, to bring to Nigeria. That is our line up of activities so far.
You seem to have made young people your target. Why is that so?
Yes, I’m looking at young people because what we are noticing now is that a lot of them are not taking it seriously and there’s been a little bit of shift in the generation that get affected by breast cancer.
I just read a story, this morning, of a 23-year old girl who has breast cancer. We are seeing more young people getting affected. We just lost a patient this year. I think I talked about her last year; a youth corps member who has been undergoing treatment but she died finally in March. And, more young people are beginning to come out to say my mother has cancer or my aunty has cancer or my sister has cancer.
So, since the older women are not coming out as they should, the younger ones have been the medium to interact with them to say: “Mummy, go for check up or aunty go for check up.”
The young girl that you lost, what was her story? Did she come too late?
She actually came early enough and we told her to come and get treated. At the time she came, treatment would have meant having her breast removed which the foundation was willing to pay for. She told us she has her project to complete because she was an undergraduate. So, she left in January last year and came back around September – but cancer as we know it is not a slow killer. It spreads so quickly. By the time she came back; which was around time for NYSC, the situation had reached like stage two or three. We took her and she started under-going chemotherapy which we paid for but the doctor said her body couldn’t take the chemo and she died in March this year.
The painful thing was that the doctor said if she had taken off the breast the first time she came, she would have survived it because they would have taken out all the cancer cells and arrested the cancer. But she said she had her project to write. She was an adult; we couldn’t force her, so she died.
There is so much emphasis on campaigns. What about treatment?
We noticed that we need more campaigns because people need to be informed. This girl that we lost for example, that is a lot of money gone because cancer is expensive to treat. We spent close to N1million on her in four months. I won’t call it wasted effort because she was happy, at some point, during the treatment. But it’s a lot of money gone. We would have been happier if she lived.
So, we are focusing on awareness because we want people to understand what cancer is about. If they don’t know on time, they don’t come to us on time and when it gets to stage two or three, there is nothing anyone can do.
We want them to come to us at an early stage so that we can treat the patient and have a success story. Unfortunately, the cases we see come to us when it is too late to help and this is because they didn’t know cancer is dangerous. There was a woman who came to us last year; she has died now. By the time she came to us, if there is anything like stage seven in cancer development, hers had reached that stage and there was nothing we could do to help her. She said she didn’t know what it was so she went to an herbalist who gave her some herbs she was applying on the breast. By the time she came to us, she didn’t have breast anymore; it was all sore and puss oozing out of it. The doctor said she had four kinds of cancers on her body apart from breast cancer!
So, it’s the lack of knowledge that makes them come late. That is why we keep preaching: “check yourself, check yourself”, because it’s the only way that you can help save your life.
There are no drugs and the chemo is 50-50. Some people’s body cannot take the chemo or radiotherapy so, it’s early detection that really does help save them.
Having done this for a while now, have you had people come out to testify that your campaign saved them?
We’ve actually have. You know, with the campaign we do screening for them as well. That way, we find those who have lumps. Like I said earlier, we were at Ekpoma on the 13th and during the screening, we found 16 girls who had lumps in their breasts. We had to advise them to go straight to the hospital. We made sure we monitored them so we don’t have another case of somebody running away that she wants to finish her project. We had quite a lot of people from Lagos sending us e-mails asking for direction after the screening.
With the 16 girls you found had lumps, is Pink Pearl Foundation not helping with their surgery?
Unfortunately, no. The only people we do sponsor surgery for are those we know who truly cannot afford it. We send them to our doctor who works with us. He gives them a much reduced rate for the surgery.
What kind of follow up do you do for such people?
We follow them up but so far, only two people are willing to go and that is another problem we are having. They are not usually willing to go for surgery and you can’t force them because they are adults.
Are there traditional beliefs hindering them?
I really don’t know. They came out for the check, found they had lumps and then, they are unwilling to go for surgery. Some are afraid they will lose their breasts because according to them, it is their asset as women. Some don’t want to be stereotyped.
The question I ask is: is it better to die and leave your children and husband behind than to have your breast removed?
So, the breast is a big issue?
Yes, it is. It is a very big issue with women. I’m talking with an aunt of mine who works with an American organisation that supplies silicon bras for women who have lost their breasts. So, what we want to do now is to explain to these women that you can always use a silicon bra because they said if it’s not their boobs it is nothing.
So, women can actually have this kind of issue – choosing between boobs or life?
My grandmother told me a story about her friend who had breast cancer and said she cannot cut her breast; that she would rather die. And it’s like that with many women – old or young. It’s been very difficult.
What message do you have for this year’s celebration?
The campaign to create awareness is still paramount for us. People must know their body well and be alert to any change in their bodies. Also, they must not be ashamed.
In Canada, I know of cases where girls who feared that they might have breast cancer because their mothers had, went to the hospital to have their breasts taken out even when they had not come down with cancer!
That is the level of awareness and they did that because life to them is more important than a pair of breasts. Maybe, that is what we need to do for our women. Hopefully, when we make this bra available, they might change their minds. Women will tell you that they cannot afford to lose their breasts because that was what their husbands liked in the first place, that made them marry them. It’s funny but true.