Cancer survivors narrate experiences on how they were able to overcome disease

Cancer survivors, last week, relived experiences of how they overcame the terminal disease, concluding unanimously that early detection is key.

Speaking at a love feast organised by Care Organisation Public Enlightenment (COPE) in Lagos, the survivors insisted victims should not die in silence but speak out.

A survivor, Olufunmilayo Shonubi shared her experience: “Doctors said I had six months to live in 2006 when I turned 40. It started when I observed lump in my left breast. Mine was stage two. It hasn’t been easy. I begged and borrowed money to live. I did chemotherapy and other tests.”

Shonubi added: “To treat cancer, you may be talking of over N20 million. The type of cancer also determines the cost. At Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), only radiotherapy costs N1 million.”

“I had completed my treatment before I knew COPE but COPE had been wonderful supporting victims in the area of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, breast scan and enlightenment.”

According to her, “we also do monthly meetings.” She advised that cancer victims should not do it alone. She said: “It is like committing suicide. They should go to support groups like COPE.”

Shonubi said lessons leant was that if there is no money, one cannot survive cancer. She advised Nigerian leaders to subsidise treatment of cancer.

Sharing her experience, another survivor recalled that in August 2015, a week after her period, she noticed a lump on her right breast and visited her doctor. The doctor, she said, examined her and suggested a biopsy.

According to her, “the biopsy result came back two weeks after that I had begun to experience pain. I became agitated, which made me decide to seek a second opinion at the Air Force Hospital where my brother works.”

She said the doctor asked her to run another test at Clinix Diagnostics. Later, the doctor, after going through the result, recommended that a minor surgery be done to remove the lump in my breast. He called it a lumpectomy.

According to her, “I had no choice but opt for a lumpectomy. I knew I was in good hands. I went in for removal of the lump. The surgery was carried out on September 22. Alas! My world came crashing down when the results came back that the lump was cancerous. I was distraught.”

A week later, the doctor told her to have a mastectomy. She said, “I asked the doctor if the surgery was for my two breasts. The doctor was surprised by my question and he replied, ‘Madam, people are scared to remove one and you are asking for the removal of two’.”

She explained that the mastectomy was done on October 20. According to her, “I was later referred to LUTH for further treatment due to the fact that I needed a specialist, an oncologist, to attend to me. I realised that the treatment of cancer is daunting, energy consuming, and financially draining. It was an ordeal to start the second phase of my chemotherapy, which was also a four-cycle treatment. Each cycle cost N100,000. I made up my mind that I couldn’t continue with the treatment due to a lack of finances.”

In 2016, she said she was introduced to COPE through her consultant. She said COPE rebuilt “my self-confidence in meeting other women who also shared similar stories of triumph. The organisation also provided me with all the necessary prosthetic items, which helped to make me feel like a woman again. Most importantly, health experts on how to beat breast cancer were also invited by the organisation to uplift our spirits and provide tips and information on staying healthy.”

She noted that she was able to let go of her fears, lean on God, and regain her self-confidence. “For me to go thus far with radiotherapy, incomplete chemo, no monthly drugs like Arimidex, I give all glory to God, as I know His mercy surrounds me,” she said.

Another survivor said in May 2014, she noticed a lump on her left breast. Initially, she said she thought nothing of it because when she was younger, she removed benign lumps from her breast on two occasions. She sent the sample of the lumpectomy procedure for urgent analysis. According to her, “when I got the results, I hurried to the hospital to see my uncle who is a renowned surgeon. He went through the report and asked that I report to LUTH or Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) immediately. This was how my breast cancer journey started.”

She stressed that a diagnosis of Stage Three breast cancer was handed over to her, leaving her devastated and in total shock. “I made up my mind to win this war and started being positive by praying. Not only did I remain steadfast in prayers, I also did a turn around with my diet. I started fortifying my body with vegetables and fruits. Unfortunately, my mind became a battlefield. I thought about so many things at the same time. I thought about my children, family, friends, church, and work.”

She said she felt uncomfortable losing her breast but her sadness diminished significantly when she joined the COPE support group. At the beginning, she couldn’t believe that all the women she met had gone through the same ordeal. “I felt reassured and happy listening to the stories of other survivors, as we exchanged our different experiences.”

She added that she regained self-esteem and felt more confident with her breast prosthesis and was always looking forward to her monthly sessions on how to cope effectively, survive, and thrive.

In her goodwill message, President/Chief Executive Officer, COPE, Ebunoluwa Anozie, said COPE is a comprehensive breast cancer resource provider for women, breast cancer survivors and caregivers in Nigeria. For more than 26 years, she said COPE had been dedicated, unwavering and proactive in ensuring no Nigerian woman has a reason to deny herself access to basic healthcare, in particular breast Ultrasound Scan Screening and Mammogram.

According to her, “we have been committed in our mission to reducing the mortality rate of breast cancer in Nigeria through Screening, Counseling, Referral, Education, Enlightenment and Nurturing (SCREEN). We place emphasis on monthly breast self-examination (BSE), occasional Breast Ultrasound Scan (BUS) and at age 40, have a mammogram done once in three years or according to doctors’ advice and subsequently continue with BSE and BUS.”

She said data from breast ultrasound scan screening initiatives, which spans over two decades, reveals that roughly one in 12 women is expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer, and many cases occur in pre-menopausal women.

She noted that a high percentage of women in Nigeria are diagnosed with advanced breast cancer due to a variety of reasons including late presentation, poor access to basic healthcare, lack of finance, depression, illiteracy, cultural and religious beliefs, and fear of losing their breasts.

She also said support is expedient, which involves the coming together of people with similar challenges or experiences— in this case breast cancer – at a designated location and agreed date and time, to be empowered and overcome their fears and worries.

She said support groups share experiences and coping mechanisms, which help encourage members. “Our group is restricted to a certain number of members made up of newly diagnosed patients, patients currently undergoing treatment and women who have completed their cancer treatments —mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy,” Anozie said.

“Our goal is to create different activities to keep survivors healthy and active and we are happy that it is rewarding,” she added.

She acknowledged sponsors, Variant Advisory, Mrs. Cecilia Olusola Mjekodunmi, and Mrs. Aniola Aniola Durosimi-Etti for making the event a success.