Early detection remains the surest way to beat cancer

Sat Oct 10th, 2020 - Akwa Ibom


October is the Cancer Awareness month and two brave survivors, Chinwe Godwin-Omoaka and Eno Essien take us through their battle with cancer, discovering it and defeating it. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, they also spoke on what they are doing to create awareness, early detection and helping other diagnosed women get necessary support.

Eno Essien: Cancer Made Me A Happier Person
How did you feel the moment you received your diagnosis for the first time?
I remember that Wednesday at about six in the morning, I was getting ready to set out when my mum and pastor told me what the medical report said. I was consumed with fear, numb and blank; I didn’t know people survived cancer so that made it worse. In fact, I died but God and my faith saw me through the dark and uncertain days that followed. I bought a 4 in 1 translation Bible and that turned out one of the best decisions. I was able to read those promises in different translations and understand them.

Take us through your treatment journey?
Because my family and I wanted the best care and based on advice from the surgeon in Lagos, two weeks later, I went to the UK for medicare. My elder sister who is British by birth lives in England, so that was the first choice. We met with one of the best breast surgeons in England who incidentally is Nigerian; he gave us a run down on the way the treatment would go. I had a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The chemotherapy agent is quite toxic and probably the worse thing you can do to the body and we said no to it; they did not dismiss us nor become angry.

They assembled their team, surgeon, oncologist, nurses, everyone and invited my family and I and painstakingly educated us. Yes, it was toxic, yes it was destructive, but medicine has made a lot of improvement and moved forward from the last we knew of it. They showed us why what they were offering us was the best option, so, at last we agreed.

It was terrible, I lost all my hair and nails; my tongue was black. Eating was impossible and I suffered neuropathy. It was so bad that I was unable to sleep on the bed. I would fill the bathtub with water and sleep inside it over night and then have my family take turns to check up on me so I don’t drown. Even drinking water was hard; it was a difficult, unforgettable experience. But God’s grace saw me through. Medicine keeps advancing and now people undergo chemotherapy without experiencing all the sickness, pain and torture I went through which is fantastic.

A lot of survivors have complained about the cost of treatment being a major deterrent, how did you fund your treatment?
It was a really very expensive treatment and I was treated in the UK as a private patient, so you can imagine the cost. I don’t know which kills faster between the sickness and the bills. Extremely expensive as it was, the good Lord provided. My family and I footed the bills with a few good friends. I spoke to the hospital and negotiated a payment plan and they were extremely supportive. But when you are scheduled for any appointment or procedure, you better show up with the payment receipt. Yes, it was very expensive but not more expensive than my life.

How important is early detection in fighting this disease for survivors?
Early detection saves lives, is the whole truth.

How would you rate breast cancer awareness and treatment in Nigeria? Are you happy with the present state?
I did not receive treatment here, so it will be unfair to comment based on the unpleasant stories I hear without having experienced it personally.

Has there been support for you during and after treatment?
My family is the absolute best, they have been my anchor; extremely supportive. They held my hands and walked with me. They gave me more strength, courage and support than I could have asked for. My mum will go anywhere to get and prepare any food I craved. There was never a day I went to the hospital alone even if it was for a blood test. They were with me throughout and kept all my appointments with me; I believe they were even more drained than I was. I have the best family ever; they’ve never left me even till this day. The sickness brought us even closer.

Also, I had an amazing support group made up of survivors and people battling the illness, which the hospital organized. The support group sessions were very uplifting. We’ll talk, share experiences and play games. They encouraged us to live normal lives. Seeing other women going through what you’re going through and in very high spirits, it kept my hope alive.

Some people claim that eating certain foods or a particular lifestyle causes cancer, do you share this opinion?
I don’t know what causes cancer; even the doctors don’t know. I know people who eat sugar everyday and have never had cancer and I know others who eat very healthy and exercise and all and still had cancer.

How has life been post-recovery? Has there been a relapse?
Life has been even more beautiful; cancer made me a happier person and now I’m living and loving. There has not been a relapse and there would never be a relapse. By God’s grace, I have overcome this killer disease and my voice has not been silent and a lot of people who had lost hope have rekindled their hope hearing from me and seeing me. Also, people have appreciated and encouraged me. For instance, the Nigerian Stock Exchange invited me to ring the closing bell in commemoration of World Cancer Day in February. 30 years ago, my dad, then the Editor of the now rested National Concord newspaper, rang the closing bell and we made history as the first father and daughter to do this in Nigeria. Recently, on the 33rd anniversary of my state, Akwa Ibom, the state recognised and celebrated us for being the first father and daughter to do this.

What changes have you made to your lifestyle?
I eat healthier and I binge too because God has given me all things that pertain to life and godliness. I incorporated exercise and I am more active than I ever was. Above all, I hold on strongly to God’s word and His promises.

What would you tell newly diagnosed women? How would you give them hope?
Just breathe; you’ll be fine. Go to the hospital and back up the treatment with prayers. Rather than Google, search your Bible for healing scriptures. When you start treatment please cut your hair. Seeing my hair fall off was difficult. Stay happy because your strong spirit will see you through this infirmity. You can also reach out to me, I am happy to hold your hand and walk the journey with you as I have done with so many women.


Chinwe Godwin-Omoaka: I Started WWI To Help Other Women Beat Breast Cancer
How did you feel the moment you received your diagnosis for the first time?
Being diagnosed of breast cancer can be a huge shock and very hard to digest, particularly more when there is no history of breast cancer in your family, which was my case. I was speechless for a while; I felt overwhelmed and my head was filled with questions that searched endlessly for answers.

Take us through your treatment journey?
My treatment journey was a little easy; I had all the support from my family. After I was diagnosed, I called my husband who was in court at the time. As soon as I told him about my diagnosis, he left court and headed home; he drove into the compound in tears. You understand that initial feeling when you hear cancer? I was so touched seeing him in that mood, but then I knew that I had to be strong. He quickly made all the arrangements and I left for the UK in less than a week after my diagnosis for treatment.

A lot of survivors have complained about the cost of treatment being a major deterrent, how did you fund your treatment?
The cost can be a financial strain for a lot of people and their families, even with insurance. The cost of treatment varies depending on your treatment options but the financial drain is certainly acute. Some women have breast conserving surgery, six to seven weeks of radiation and hormonal therapy. Some have complete mastectomy, breast reconstruction, chemotherapy etc. In my case, my husband funded my treatment. He took care of all the bills, as I was not under any health insurance in the UK.

How important is early detection in fighting this disease for survivors?
Early detection is the best cure for breast cancer. It is very important, as it is associated with an increased number of treatment options, increased survival and improved quality of life. While there is no definite method of preventing breast cancer, detecting it early ordinarily provides the best chance of effective treatment and survival. Mine was detected very early (stage zero).

Apart from the physical trauma you endured, what other issues did you have to deal with? How did you pull through?
As I said, a diagnosis of breast cancer is one of the most devastating things a woman can hear. After the news, it’s normal to feel a range of emotions. My husband was very supportive. He didn’t travel with me though because school was in session, so it was imperative that he stayed with the children. However, it was as if we were together all through my treatment and recovery. We spoke regularly and prayed together morning and night.

My sibling’s support was tremendous; my mum never relented in her prayers. In fact, I felt so much love and it helped my healing process. Also, my unwavering trust in God helped me pull through. To be honest, God proved Himself in my life. The nurses at the London Clinic where I was treated tagged me their “favorite patient” because of how fast I recovered after my surgery. It was all God and the fact that I was surrounded by incredibly amazing loved ones.

How would you rate breast cancer awareness and treatment in Nigeria? Are you happy with the present state?
Awareness is the first step in this fight. Studies have shown that breast cancer mortality rate is higher in developing countries like Nigeria than the West. This stems from the fact that most of these women are diagnosed at the advanced stage when the disease has metastasised and treatment becomes more difficult. The level of the awareness in Nigeria is low.

So many women still have poor knowledge and perceptions about the disease. Our women tend to ignore lumps in their breasts, resulting to delayed treatment. Some women even resort to the use of ineffective or harmful treatment methods. We have skilled health professionals willing to deliver good health care in Nigeria but are constrained by poor infrastructure and harsh working conditions.

Tell us about your foundation, what led you to starting it and what do you hope to achieve with it?
Our foundation is Worthy Wellness Initiative (WWI). After my journey with breast cancer, I realised it’s completely treatable if detected early. I decided to create this initiative to spread this good news so that more women will become aware and be proactive about their health. We will be organising different programmes, workshops, seminars and free breast screening regularly to create awareness and help finance treatments for less privileged women.

To mark this year’s breast cancer awareness month, we are organising our first free breast cancer screening for women of low income next Saturday at BM Empire Multi Specialist Hospital in Surulere, Lagos. Many women applied, but just 30 were shortlisted for the exercise. Those who may be diagnosed of the disease after the screening will commence treatment through the help of the foundation and we need more people to partner with us so we can help more women.

How has life been post-recovery? Has there been a relapse?
Life has been normal as if nothing happened to me. This is simply because my case was very early and treatment was very easy. This is why we advocate for early detection and why we started this foundation; to help women appreciate the importance of early detection, regular screening and self-examination.

What changes have you made to your lifestyle?
The major change I have made to my lifestyle is to be more proactive about my health. I ensure I eat healthy, exercise regularly, do regular checkup and be around people who truly love me.

How can we improve ease and access to treatment?
We need to address structural, personal and financial barriers, improve health-literacy, raise awareness about the risk factors as early detection can reduce fear associated with seeking care for breast concerns.

What would you tell newly diagnosed women? How would you give them hope?
Breast cancer is not a death sentence; they should embrace the situation with open and positive mind as this has a very huge impact in their healing. I have been through that road and I can assure you that being positive will help your healing process. They should also ensure they follow the right treatment and conclude it effectively. Regular checkup is crucial and above all, pray and trust in God.

As a practicing lawyer, mom and running a foundation, how are you balancing everything and making it work?
I have a large family. I am a practicing lawyer and the managing partner of my firm and run the Worthy Wellness Initiative. However, the secret to succeeding in this situation is simply having a very good structure in place and being consistent.




source: Guardian