•Had 7 surgeries, lost whole semester in school
•Set up Foundation for cancer care & prevention
By Gabriel Olawale
At birth 50 years ago, there was no indication that Lanre Jacob would face severe health challenge that confronted him later in life.
An indigene of Ondo town in Ondo State, Lanre grew up losing a critical part of his childhood to cancer which he combated all through adolesence into adulthood.
Like his peers, Lanre was enrolled in school, but at the age of 10, a little growth was discovered on his head. Initially, it was mistaken for a boil by his guardians.
In a chat, Lanre narrated how late diagnosis of the malady subjected him to the traumatic experience that cost him his youth and made him lose so much in cash and kind.
“I was aged 10 and in Primary 4 when it all started. My guardians suspected that I might have been hit on the head while in school, but I was feeling pain from the growth. Nobody expected it would eventually cause me so much trauma.
“As I was growing up, the lump was also growing and it got to a stage where it was outgrowing my hair and I couldn’t cover it any longer. It made me to be quite ashamed to be among my peers in school. When I was in Primary 6, in 1985, the lump had grown so big and had to be removed through surgery.”
Jacob recounted that the relief he got from the first surgery was just for a while as the growth resurfaced, this time around, he was through with his secondary school education in Lagos.
“In 1991, I was working to support myself when I was involved in a minor accident and hit my head on a piece of iron. The next thing I noticed was that the growth had become visible and I had to undergo another surgery at Duro Soleye Hospital, Lagos. It was there that the growth was described as “keloid.”
He disclosed that when he was admitted to University of Lagos in 1994 to study Linguistics, the growth resurfaced again and his enthusiasm to resume school was exploited by a doctor at one of the government hospitals in his community.
A lot of things happened in our medical system, I went to the General Hospital in Ondo to get the tumour removed from my head so that I can resume at UNILAG, one of the young doctors in the hospital told me he could do it outside the hospital system. He had quarters within the hospital where he took me and carried out the surgery on his own without giving me any form of protection. I lost a lot of blood and almost lost my life. It was a miracle that I survived.”
Jacob said that despite the trauma, agony and the financial implications of the whole process, the growth kept returning and he missed a whole semester because he was on admission in the hospital as a result of the tumour.
“One peculair thing about it is that it grows very fast. Within two weeks, it can be as big as an orange. In 1996, I was already a student of UNILAG and after my first year, I returned to Ondo State on holiday. It was when I got home that it began to grow again, and I lost one semester. I couldn’t go back to school for seven months, during which another surgery was performed at one private hospital in Ondo.
“In 1999, after my graduation, another tumour was removed at the same hospital, but the most unfortunate thing was that the doctors removed the tumour without proper diagnosis.
“Nobody took the sample to the lab for investigation, they were just removing it and sealing the wound. So as the fifth surgery was healing, the sixth tumour was growing and at a point, there were two tumours on my head, one at the back and the other by the side.
“At that point, it was realised that this was not a case for private hospital or General Hospital so we proceeded to Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile Ife where a diagnosis of Dermato-fibro-sarcoma (skin cancer) was made in 2001. After the surgery, the tumour was taken to the lab and was confirmed to be cancerous.”
Lanre remarked that at that point, he realised that there are millions of undiagnosed cancer cases in urban and rural parts of Nigeria, leading to many preventable cancer-related deaths.
“When I thought everything was over, in 2008, the seventh tumour appeared seven years after, and I had to undergo plastic surgery on my head of which the whole left side was scraped to the bone. I was later referred for radiotherapy.
“It is very difficult for me to estimate how much I have spent or quantify how much trauma and stigmatisation I went through, but all along, I was determined and I believe with determination, anyone can survive cancer.
However, after 30 years of a distressing cancer story, as a cancer survivor, Jacob established the Lanre-Jacob Sarcoma Cancer Foundation in 2014, to help create awareness about cancer, support people with cancer and rehabilitate cancer survivors.
The aim of the Foundation is preventive cancer-care (prevention and early detection), through sustained cancer education across the country.
In Nigeria and across the world, Jacob’s inspiring testimony is giving hope and helping many to live with cancer. Aside caring for people with cancer and cancer survivors, Lanre-Jacob Sarcoma Cancer Foundation is collaborating with government and relevant institutions on cancer advocacy and its other charity works for humanity.
The Foundation has carried out cancer education in Primary Healthcare Centers in Alimosho and Ikeja area of Lagos State.