By Jemi Ekunkunbor
As the world marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, C. O. P. E., a non-governmental organisation at the forefront of cancer advocacy in collaboration with Access Bank, took cancer survivors out for a luxurious treat at the BNatural Spa in Lagos.
Women from all walks of life, took time out to enjoy life and wellness treat served them. The bonding was awesome and the joy on their faces expressed their gratitude to God and life.
Three of them shared their experiences.
TRINITA AKPAN… Self employed
What is it like to survive cancer?
Wonderful! I am not saying it because I am trying to impress somebody. I am saying it for myself and a whole lot of my friends who have also survived breast cancer as I did. It’s a wonderful experience knowing that you have passed through tough times and then you are out. You are healthy, standing and, most importantly, that you are flourishing after it all.
From the moment you got the bad news, how did you cope with the trauma?
Luckily for me, I am one person who reads articles on what the papers and magazines have to say about cancer. So when I saw the lump, I had an idea what could be going on. So, I went to the doctor and after a series of tests, the doctor confirmed it. I didn’t waste any time. They said I had to have a mastectomy; I didn’t waste time. It’s traumatic to know that part of your body organ is going to be taken off and it will deform you. You begin to wonder whether you will still be attractive or beautiful. For us women, God knows our breasts are what make us attractive. So, to have that taken out was a bigger trauma; more than the treatment I was to take. I had heard the treatment wasn’t a pleasant experience but I was willing to go through it.
I knew that my life was much more than a pair of breasts and my purpose in life was more than my physical looks. I was committed to staying alive so, I prayerfully went through the treatment. It’s four years now and it’s fantastic.
What would you tell someone who has just been told that she has cancer?
My first advice will be to take away fear because fear or the lack of fear determines fifty per cent of your healing. You must take away fear and not think that you are going to die in a few years. Ask the doctor immediately, what next? If you are married, go with your spouse. Prayerfully go through the treatment. Before you know it, you are done and back to living. Don’t be afraid that your hair is going to fall off. God is giving you a chance to have fresh baby hair grow out again. You’d get a fresh lease of life and you’d appreciate life better. You’d find you are more accommodating because God has given you a second chance.
SADE AKINPELU… Self-employed.
How did you feel when you received the news that you had cancer?
The news was shocking! I examined myself and saw the lump (and) went to the doctor. Initially, they said it was just benign. I did the first surgery; the lump was taken out and sent for further test. Then, after a few days, the doctor called me back to say it was cancer. Of course, the first reaction was that of shock. It took a while for the news to sink. After that, my question was: what is the next plan of action? He told us and we took action immediately.
How does it feel to be a survivor?
It feels great to be alive. I feel thankful and joyful. It’s just an excellent experience. You feel like you have a second chance at life; been able to fight this battle with God on your side and conquer. So it’s a very special feeling.
How has that experience affected the way you do and prioritize things?
Now, I have learnt to take things easy; enjoy the moment, believe in God. I have also learnt to relate with people differently because people are going through different things. I look at people and see things from a different perspective because she may just be going through a difficult moment. I have also learnt to be grateful and to use my time resourcefully.
If you were to counsel someone who just got the news that she has cancer, what would you tell her?
First, do not say it is a spiritual attack. Don’t go looking for spiritualists and herbalists. Listen to your doctor and do the right thing because a stitch in time will save you. The decision you make then will save you.
When you get this news, it is shocking. Some people would want to think about it, call family members, call their pastors etc. I am not saying don’t pray but seek necessary medical attention. That alone will save you. Some people will declare 40 days’ fast first. At the point of discovery, the action you take is very important. For some people, cancer might have been there for a while and you didn’t know so you don’t even have the luxury of time. Once you discover, the earlier you took necessary medical attention, the better for you.
DELLA OGUNLEYE… Church Administrator
How did you react when you got the news that you have cancer?
Honestly, my first thought was that they made a mistake. I live in London and I was thinking: we Blacks don’t have cancer so I wasn’t scared or thinking of death. I just got a new job; I was going to travel and all that. All I thought of was to have a quick fix. I had already had a hysterectomy. I had a wedding to attend in Nigeria so I wanted to have a quick fix and let me go. I had no real knowledge of what it entails and the effect. So I wasn’t scared.
If they had told me what the side effect of the treatment would be, that would have scared me. In the course of the treatment, I lost appetite; I lost my hair, I lost friends because the journey was terrible with the treatment. It was the support group that helped me cope with the psychological effect of losing a breast.
How do you feel celebrating life and Cancer Month today?
I feel great because I feel God has given me a second chance at life. I feel excited coming to Nigeria. I embraced my children – one was graduating, another was getting a job. I am happy to see my children, my mother etc. I just want to give back to people now to know that there is life after cancer.
What counsel would you give to a woman who just got the news that she has cancer?
I’d just tell her to be positive because it is fear that kills. Some people will say it’s because I live in London but other people had cancer before me living here in Nigeria and they survived. Each time I see them, they look better. So you have to be positive. Stop thinking about death!
Many things can kill you other than cancer. When I had a hysterectomy, I went into a coma. And, here I am with cancer and I’m out and well. So be positive and when you are, people around you will feel better. And the support group is there to help. Who will tell many of the women you saw today have one breast?