By Chioma Obinna
Mrs. Modupe Janet Oyedele lost her only child on Christmas Day to leukaemia (cancer of the blood cells) at the age of eight and a half years. Oyedele held Sunday Vanguard spellbound as she narrated how her challenge has become a source of strength to encourage others.
It was a Saturday of ‘Red’ when family members, friends, co-workers, well-wishers, and parents of children living with leukaemia gathered at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Ikeja to voluntarily donate blood to save the lives of children with leukaemia in memory of Timilehin Oyedele who lost the fight to cancer.
To some listeners, their stories may sound incredible but for these helpless mothers, it was a day they found their voices and relived their battles.
Their accounts may have seemed similar, but that of Modupe, an employee of the National Union of Textile Garment Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, was the most gripping. One after the other, the mothers took turns to narrate their cancer stories.
“It was a big trial. He was our only child. We had him two years after our marriage,” Modupe told Sunday Vanguard.
According to her, all was well with the almost nine-year-old until December 2010 when he complained of pain on his left leg. He was taken to a private hospital where he was treated for malaria twice. Meanwhile, the pain refused to go away. The mother then took him to LASUTH where he was diagnosed of leukaemia, a malignancy (cancer) of blood cells. She continued: “I lived in LASUTH for four months. I was going to office from the hospital throughout the period. You can imagine the condition we were in then? You know in hospital you are not allowed to sleep on the bed. You can only lay your head on the child’s bed and, if you are found putting your head on the child, you are sent out. I slept on the chair throughout the four months. It was not funny. We later moved him to Ife to continue the treatment.”
Search for treatment and the challenges of blood
Naturally, Modupe’s world was nearly shattered on hearing that her only child was suffering from a deadly disease. “We were too close to imagine that one of us could die,” she said.
And she had not heard about leukaemia before. So the mother went to the internet to learn about the ailment. “I quickly browsed the internet to understand what it is and other issues concerning anaemia.”
Apart from the financial implications, the search for cure was not easy as it involves constant replacement of blood. This is because scientists say that leukaemia cells continue to grow and divide, eventually crowding out the normal blood cells, resulting in difficulty for the body to fight infections, control bleeding and transport oxygen.
At this point, Modupe and the family felt the impact of the acute shortage of voluntary blood donation in Nigeria as, every day, Timilehin required a blood product known as platelets apart from normal blood transfusion.
Sustaining blood transfusion and other blood products required by the child was not funny. This is because, in Nigeria, blood donation remains a topic not many are comfortable with and this has made 100 per cent voluntary blood donation in the country a tall dream.
The child was placed on chemotherapy treatment while doctors advised he should take not less than four platelets a day to prevent him from bleeding.
Getting blood the first time for him was not easy. Modupe was forced to donate blood for Timilehin after she was told a pint of blood cost N15, 000.
“He took his first blood precisely on January 4, 2010 in LASUTH when I went to the blood bank and met a huge man in suit and I told him I needed blood for my child. He asked me the blood group and I said B positive. I asked how much, he said N15, 000.00. I begged him to take N10, 000 but he refused. I had to donate blood for him”, the mother stated.
“The amount you spend treating leukaemia children cannot be quantified because, when you are treating a child with leukaemia, infections will come in which is not part of the treatment regime. Then you have to get blood and platelets because he needs to take a lot of them.”
Modupe told the story of how she fainted one day after she had donated blood for the child. “I can still remember one day when I donated for him. On my way going, I fainted because I have to rush to drop the blood at the laboratory for screening. I was revived by a Good Samaritan’”, the mother said.
“My husband and I prayed and I donated blood for Timilehin more than 10 times while taking care of him in hospital.
“At a point, the doctor will get medical students to donate for him. I cannot tell you this is the number of pints of blood or platelets he took. Sometimes in a day, he took up to four platelets at N10, 000 each. And the following day they will tell you ‘your child is short of blood again.’ The child came out of leukaemia two years after.”
However, while Modupe and her family were rejoicing and following doctor’s advice on the kind of food and further treatments and check-ups, two years after, the cancer relapsed.
“For five years I was battling with leukaemia. My child came out of leukaemia and was well for two years but, in August, 2014, everything changed again. He began to complain of pain. By the time we went back to LASUTH, we were told there was a relapse.”
Devastated, the mother, who could not control her emotions, began to ask questions: “What caused the relapse? We don’t have the money but with my family and office support, we were able to do what we should for him as parents, so why the relapse?”
Still wondering what went wrong, Timilehin died. Her questions remained unanswered even today as doctors still do not have answer to the question on why cancer sometimes relapses.
“Before we knew it, my child died in my hands on a Christmas Day. Christmas is a day the whole world celebrates. I gave birth to him on the 25th and lost him on the 25th”, she lamented.
“Imagine when he was dying on that Christmas Day in 2014, he left a message. He told me he wanted to rest. He called ‘mummy, God will take care of you; continue the good work’.
I refused to accept it. I told him I was not going to accept his thank you until he was married with children. But he woke up again from his sleep while we were praying and said: ‘Mum! Mum!’ That was how he left me. I was shattered. I begged him not to give me another shame so that people will not begin to ask if I had God”
Expressing what many parents go through while taking care of a child with leukaemia or any other cancer, she explained that following the death of the child, she decided to set up “Timilehin Leukaemia Foundation” in his memory.
According to her, the son’s death has given her the strength to help others like her.
“I know what mothers go through in hospitals taking care of these children. Even some mothers do not have money to buy syringes not to talk of paying for chemotherapy. And doctors cannot tell you the exact amount it will take to treat a child with leukaemia. Today’s blood donation is for children living with leukaemia in LASUTH. We intend to do this thrice annually”, she said.
She told Sunday Vanguard that Timilehin Foundation was founded on seven points agenda as follows: Create awareness about leukaemia, give support to families, establish research centres, laboratories and blood banks which patients can access, grant scholarship to medical students abroad who will like to specialise in the field, influence government health policies, organise voluntary blood donation and undertake, and provide medical treatment for about 10 patients annually.
Further, Modupe, who lamented scarcity of blood in the blood banks, urged Nigerians to embrace voluntary blood donation as it has been proven safe if an individual is taking enough water and vegetables.
To parents who are yet to understand that even children suffer cancer, she said: “When they told me that my child had leukaemia, I did not know what it was then. I had to go to the internet to read about it. But now that I know, I want to go to the nooks and crannies of the country to create awareness because some people will bring the children to hospital and when doctors say it is cancer, they will run away. When I went to UK with my son, the doctor that attended to us was a Nigerian. Each hospital should have laboratories where children can be tested at the early stage”.