It was testimonies galore among breast cancer survivors when Care Organisation Public Enlightenment, COPE, recently marked its 25th anniversary with a call for more investment in cancer care in Nigeria. For the survivors, there was joy they survived despite untold hardship occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. They maintained that although many of them are alive, other Nigerians died as a result of the pandemic and the challenges of accessing care in a country where there are no comprehensive cancer care centres.
“I am excited because we don’t have cause to mourn this year. I’m so excited about that. Some of us celebrating survival and we are here happy. “We also want to thank our families because we know there are some friends who left us but our families stood by us. We pray 2021 will be more of gratitude,” one of the survivors narrated. She called for an urgent establishment of a Comprehensive Cancer Centre that would take care of cancer patients in the future should the country experiences another pandemic like COVID-19. The survivors who lamented that many of their activities including their treatment processes were affected said they were alive only by the Grace of God.
In the views of the Chief Executive Officer, Care Organisation Public Enlightenment, COPE, Mrs Ebunola Anozie, a lot of the patients who sought the support of the organization during the period of Lockdown could not possibly be assisted as with COVID-19, COPE had very limited capacity to do anything for them. “This is why women should not wait until they see maggots in their breasts before they come out to access care. October was breast cancer awareness month and there was the need for Nigerian women to screen their breast regularly. We urge women to take advantage of this month and have their breast screened. They should not wait until there are maggots in their breasts.”
“We are grateful that Nigerians are becoming more aware. When we say October, it not just for pink but it is a reminder for every month. A woman needs to check her breast every month. People are coming early, although we have those that still come late we have more women that come early. “Having your first child after the age of 30 is a risk. The main fact is for women to regularly check their breast every month.” Anozie, who noted that most of the deaths from cancer were due to late presentation said self-breast examination and early detection saves more lives. Anozie called for more funds for cancer care across the country as cancer patients go through a lot of pains in accessing treatment and also getting their drugs, which are now very expensive.
At the event to commemorate National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and celebrate the organisation’s 25 years anniversary, she lamented that breast cancer survivors have continued to suffer one form of stigmatisation or the other. To improve breast cancer outcomes and survival, early detection is critical. She added that limited-resource settings and weak health systems lead to late diagnosis, which most times leads to advance stage and eventual death while urging the prioritisation of early diagnosis programmes based on awareness of early signs and symptoms and prompt referral to diagnosis and treatment. She said their goal was to increase the proportion of breast cancers identified at an early stage, allowing for more effective treatment to be used and reducing the risks of death from breast cancer.
“Cancer is not an easy thing to deal with. I lost my dad 25 years ago and my mom 50 years ago. For me, it has been a journey, but I give God the glory for what he has been doing. Right now our main focus is to raise N3 million to be able to provide a prosthesis for cancer survivors. We must appeal to Nigerians to support these survivors. “We do not have a comprehensive cancer centre and we are yet to have one.
I have been out there and I know what one looks like. We have the wealth and Nigeria is blessed. They should help cancer patients because they are dying. Nigerians are resilient people. Half of what we take here other countries do not tolerate,” she added. Speaking, Founder; Ginger Life Soul who sponsored the programme, Mrs Aminat Gbajamimila said she went into breast cancer awareness and advocacy after she lost her mother.
“I lost my mother to breast cancer. After that, the more I did my research, the more I find out that cancer does not discriminate but there is something we can do to help prevent it. Like this year’s theme for the campaign is ‘Green for Pink’. Even though pink is the colour for cancer, green is the colour for vegetable and the more we consume vegetables the more it helps our system.”