…As survivors face stigmatisation, depression, call on govt to address issue
By Ebun Sessou & Blessing Chukwuneke
EVERY October is celebrated as worldwide as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, BCAM. It is also an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charity organisations to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.
The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer. Breast cancer awareness month is a yearly campaign that intend to educate people about the importance of early screening, test and more. This campaign starts on October 1st and ends on October 31st every year.
A variety of events around the world are organized in October, including walks and runs, and the pink illumination of landmark buildings.
The essence of the campaign is to also ensure that cancer survivors are not stigmatised in the society.
In the United States, the pink colour is promoted to illustrates breast cancer awareness campaign on and off the field to mark each day of the month.
Despite, all the campaign, most women are still ignorant of their status or probably prefer to be silent on the issue.
To them, cancer is a death sentence and should not be mentioned where human beings are. In an interaction with some of the women on the street, it was revealed that, women would prefer to keep quiet rather than speaking out on their status. Even the working class would not want to comment on the issue.
But, the few ones who spoke with WO, said, they only see breast cancer as a spiritual attack and not what can be treated by a medical doctor.
Some also claimed that, breast cancer or cancer generally is an attack by witchcraft and it should not be mentioned anyhow.
For a trader, Mrs Faith, at CSM bus-stop, “Breast cancer does not exist and it should not be mentioned. Her counterpart, Mrs Glory, a food seller, buttressed the point by saying, she does not care about information to be acquired on breast cancer and that she is not willing to know.
Iya Yetunde, in Orile market screamed, “I do not know what breast cancer is, another trader, Please, take your topic to another place”, she said.
“I have been to hospitals and have seen cases where women especially breastfeeding mothers complain of pains on their breast and they were asked to test for cancer. Whenever, I encounter any woman having such symptoms I advise her to go to the hospital as I am not a doctor to ascertain their ailment”, another said.
While, some are ignorant on the issue, some women told WO that, they have been taking precaution against contracting cancer and have been visiting hospitals for medical check-up.
Meanwhile, there has been efforts by various organisations to ensuring that awareness campaign on breast cancer is widely spread in different parts of the world and Nigeria in particular.
And part of the line-up to mark this year’s edition of the awareness, WO visited a non governmental organisation, the Care. Organisation. Public. Enlightenment, COPE, Breast Awareness Network saddled with the responsibilities of caring for breast cancer survivors.
The founder of the NGO, Mrs. Ebunola Anozie, noted that cancer survivors are faced with different stigmatization in the society which has caused them their social lives.
While giving reason for the establishment of the foundation, she said, it is an avenue for cancer survivors who have been condemned in the society due to their health issues to have a sense of belonging .
Survivors narrate their stories
Narrating their stories, some of the survivors who spoke with WO, Nkechi, not real name, a -40-year, lady said she became a breast cancer survivor seven years ago and since, her life has not been the same.
“This ordeal started 2011. I discovered blood on my nipple but I was not bothered, I was observing it then, I decided to go to the hospital. Unfortunately, when I got to the hospital, there was no blood. After a year, it was discovered that I had breast cancer. It was not uneasy moment for me. The journey started 2012 and it has been a rough one as such.
“I started the journey and I have gone through all the processes including chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy.
“After all, I have been my life trying to be happy and giving the glory to God. The truth is that you do not know who is next.
“A visit to the hospital, you will be amazed at the number of people dying everyday due to cancerous issues. I do not know how government would intervene in addressing the treatment of cancer because it is killing, cancer is depression, it stigmatises the patients.
“I lost a man who wanted to marry me because I told him my status. He ran away. But, I will not hesitate to tell any man who wishes to marry about my status because I cannot hide it for long.
“Cancer patients cannot be bold to say they have cancer. We are cancer survivors but we do not have to go with the stigma, we are appealing to the government to address the treatment.
“Treatment on cancer is expensive. The environment is not friendly when it comes to cancer issues. Nobody is ready to help you. Only the efforts of NGOs makes it possible for us to feel sense of belonging.
“On the reaction of the family, she said, ‘the family was devastated but held on and continue to encourage me. I picked up courage, my family has been supportive. If I am not at home I would be at the NGO. I am into horticulture.
“On the percentage of cancer patients, she said, the Surgical Department, has over 50 percent of patients with cancer history.
Narrating on how she joined the network, she said, “I met Aunty Ebun at Eko hospital. She talked and advised me to join the NGO and since I joined, I had never looked back”, she said .
Another survivor, Margret , 56 years, a civil servant, who told WO that she has been a survivor for four years, said, “The first time I had about the report, I felt bad. I was not happy. Despite my precaution, I still fell victim. I was used to taking coke and other sugary drinks. When my family members heard about, they all felt bad. But, after the surgery, chemotherapy, I had to change my lifestyle, diet among others. Today, I live on veggies and water. I do not talk alcohol. I also try to watch my diet.
Speaking on the treatment of cancer, she said, “One of the drugs cost N45,000. The chemotherapy treatment is also expensive and it is on every three week basis. I wish the federal government could do something about it.
“The input of government on the treatment HIV and tuberculosis is also free which makes it easier for people to be treatment and I wish the treatment of cancer is also done in that regard. Government should be actively involved in the awareness campaign of breast cancer.
People are dying due to breast cancer on a daily basis. A visit to the tertiary hospitals across the country will shock you how people are begging for money to be treated.
“On the awareness of cancer, she said, the level of ignorant on the part of the women cannot be over emphasised. People do not understand that diet plays a major role in the treatment of cancer. Most women run away due to ignorant.
For Rantiola, a retired teacher, the journey started in 2008 when she detected that she had breast cancer. “At first, I was depressed because I thought it was a death sentence. But, I thank God my case was different.
“As a teacher, I had to borrow money from cooperative for the treatment and Lagos state government also assisted me financially.
“Today, I am proud to be a cancer survivor and I will be ready to be a breast cancer advocate. Women should imbibe good lifestyle, they should not stress themselves and cancer patient should know that all hope is not lost. I will implore women to go for treatment when necessary. They should put sentiment aside and seek medical attention.
In an interview with WO, Mrs Ebun Anozie, the CEO, Care. Organization. Public. Enlightenment, COPE Breast Cancer Awareness Network, speaks on her passion as a breast cancer advocate and why survivors should not be stigmatised.
Reason for being a breast cancer advocate?
We started the organisation in 1995. I lost my mother to cancer in 1970. Not to breast cancer but colon cancer (colorectal) and I lost my father in 1995 to cancer of the stomach. And I had a scar. I was on uncomfortable on my left hand side of the chest. Luckily, I was on vacation in America and I quickly went to check it out and I was given a clean bill of health. I then said to myself that I never knew that people could have breast cancer. What made me go for checkup on time was because of my father’s case who had a traumatic journey on cancer. I did the needful by checking myself.
I was working in the banking sector when the thought came to become breast cancer advocate. And I started the awareness on a part-time basis. My hope was that it would go a long way in reducing mortality rate and on that notion, we started the awareness. My close friend, Dr. Fajemirokun started with us. And since then, we have been screening, embarking on awareness campaign, We have a machine, Breast Ultra-scan, BUSS, machine to ease the rigour of screening of women who come for check-up. The women come every third Saturday of every month to have their breast examined. Lots of organisations have keyed into our wall of fame #abigthing. What they do is to buy vouchers.
You can buy as many vouchers as you want but the least you can buy is N1m (one million naira) to 133 women. You can distribute it to your clients and friends. These people come with their vouchers every third Saturday of the month and for those who might not be chanced on a particular Saturday, they can come on other third Saturday because the the validity of the card is one year. So, women can come whenever it is convenient within the twelve months. We also do referral of patients.
We counsel women with breast cancer and these women would then join the support group system. For us, October is very important
Resoring hope in women?
I try as much as possible to make them participate in some of the activities including exercises, running, work out and every year in October, we hold a get together so as to relax and refresh, we organise spa activities for the women to gain their confidence back. We also supply them prosthesis . We are employing organization that can supply prothesis to the women. We want a situation where the society would stop stigmatization of breast cancer because you never know who is next. Women need to be careful and encourage themselves in lots of exercise, eat well and have a heart of forgiveness.
How many women have you empowered?
They are numerous. In 23 years of existence, I have encountered divers of breast cancer patients and survivors. I have been to many places in the world. I have met thousands of women.
Advise for those tested positive?
We respect those who do not want to come out. It is only by choice but we encourage women to speak out and also encourage other women. We do massage and manicure. It is an avenue to relax and have fun and thank God for another year and the opportunity that we are all alive and grateful to God. This programme is being sponsored by Access bank and the support group system is such that the women come every third Thursday of the month from 11am to 1pm.
We teach women the way of life by bringing resource persons to talk to them and we have doctors, oncologists, dietician, exercise instructors among others to talk to them. We have motivational speakers who encourage them not to give up. We have chefs who come to teach them how to preserve the nutrients in their food, tell them what to eat and want not to eat. We teach them skill acquisition. Last month, we learnt how to make soap, small chops, local prosthesis, baking among others to keep ourselves busy. Many of the women have spent money on their treatment.
Why are you interested in this project?
I am not a survivor. I am doing this because I felt the pain of cancer patients. I lost my parents to cancer and we have lots of people who also had such experience. It is not an easy journey and nobody would wish his or her enemy to have cancer. What we do is that we have partners who help us to give back to cancer patients. We have those who would want to sponsor a patient. The truth is that the medication for cancer patients is expensive. We have some medications that are as high as N850,000 and you might be asked to buy about 13 drugs.
I left the banking sector for the project. I got my exposure in America and I thought I could establish the NGO on part-time basis but after some time, I took it up on a full time. I believe God designed me to do this project and He made it possible for me.
The board of trustees has been wonderful and the chairman, Prof Osagie never turned me down. There are challenges of funds and most times, it has been cumbersome. I appreciate the effort of Mr. Kehinde Durosimi Etti, former CEO of Skye bank, now Polaris Bank. He makes sure that the organisation progresses.
We were given ultra sound machine by Skye bank. In a year, we scan more than 250 women.