How These Survivors Coped With Breast Cancer

Sola Adeoti, Tara Fela-Durotoye, Kofo Orija, Kehinde Gbelee

-Breast cancer survivors explain that the disease is anything but a death sentence, reports The ELITES.

Sola Adeoti
Sola Adeoti
Exactly ten years ago, Mrs. Sola Adeoti, then managing director of the defunct City Express Bank, took her eldest daughter for a routine check-up in a hospital in the United Kingdom.
After her daughter had been examined, the doctor suggested that Mrs. Adeoti submit herself to breast screening. For a woman who assumed she had a healthy lifestyle, the suggestion did not spark panic. She obliged. But the outcome was the complete opposite of what she expected: she had a lump in one of her breasts. More ghastly news followed, with the doctor disclosing that the lump had become cancerous.

“I was devastated when I was told I had the cancer. The breast cancer I had was peculiar. It came as tiny dots instead of lumps and it could not be felt during self-examination,” she said. After leaving the hospital, she called and informed her husband of the outcome of the check-up. Her husband immediately sent words to her family and to the brethren of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. He also told the General Overseer, Pastor E.O Adeboye, whom he wanted to pray for her. What followed was a grueling six-month period of treatment, during which she had six rounds of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to weaken and obliterate cancer cells in the body, including those at the original cancer site and those that may have affected another part of the body. The treatment affects the whole body by going through the bloodstream. It has the potential for side-effects like anaemia or low red blood cell counts, diarrhoea, fatigue, fertility problems, hair loss, memory loss, nausea and menopausal symptoms. It could also cause bone loss, heart problems as well as vision problems.

“It was so traumatic and I must have died a million deaths. My body was not prepared for that kind of ordeal. Chemotherapy affects everything in your system, especially the blood cells. I almost lost my mind,” she recalled.

Tara Fela-Durotoye
Tara Fela-Durotoye
With chemotherapy, the cells decrease, but not in her case; instead of the cells decreasing and dying, the reverse was the case.
By the time she went through her sixth chemotherapy session, her doctors said they did not think her body could take any more and that there was no alternative treatment.
Chemotherapy did not just drain Mrs. Adeoti’s body, it drained her family’s bank account as well. Support, however, came from members of her family and church.

What it failed to drain, however, was hope. On account of the doctors’ helplessness, she was discharged. Mrs. Adeoti had nothing else to cling to other than her faith. “All I could ask for was a miracle. So, I began to pray to God for help,” she said. That miracle, she claimed, came through Adeboye. “He laid his hands upon me and prayed the cancer out of its roots. Two days later, when I went to see my oncologist, she confirmed that there were no more traces of cancer cells inside of me. She was astonished because she claimed she had never had such a case before. My response to her was that I serve a strange God,” she said gleefully. Five years after, she claims, her doctors gave her a clean bill of health when she went for her last check-up.

Her grim experience provoked in her an urge to help people who have the same condition. That urge resulted in the establishment of MariaSam, a non-profit organisation that aims to set up a cancer research centre among other things.

Another survivor is Kofo Orija, a medical doctor who, in 1999, discovered a lump in her right armpit. Initially, she took it for a boil, but was prompted to see a doctor because it was harder than a boil and painless. The doctor advised her to get the lump excised. The advice was heeded. That was by no means the end, as a follow-up examination showed that the lump had developed into a cancer that had spread to the breast region.

“Later, at my doctor’s insistence, I arranged to consult an oncologist. That was when it dawned on me that I was up against something that needed my complete attention!
“I travelled to London to keep my appointment with the oncologist, and after a barrage of tests and investigations to determine the nature and type of breast cancer, my surgeon was ready to operate. I was lucky. The cancer tests showed that the cancer was still contained within the breast. My surgeon recommended that I had a lumpectomy and axillary clearance (that is, the removal of the lump with a wide border around it, and clearing the glands in the armpit),” she explained.

Kehinde Gbelee
Kehinde Gbelee

Ten days later, Orija saw her doctor. The doctor was happy at her progress.
Even then, she still required chemotherapy, which she underwent. The side-effects were pronounced. “My waist-length hair fell off in clumps. My nails changed colour to glossy black; my skin turned dry with splattered black patches and I had nausea and loss of appetite,” she recalled.

It was a torrid time for her husband, who was wracked by fear that he would lose his wife. Orija summoned all that was left inside of her. “My attitude was I would give it my all,” she said. She did and survived to set up Bloom Cancer Care and Support Centre in 2001.
Orija blames today’s lifestyles as one of the major factors that predispose people to cancer. “Our lifestyles have changed. We are eating less natural food and more processed food. Not that these processed food cause breast cancer, but they are known to be associated factors. So, because our lifestyle is now exposing us to those associated factors, there is an increase,” she stressed.
Tara Fela-Durotoye, a make-up artist and entrepreneur, knows a thing or two about being hit by cancer. While she is not a victim, she has lost three close relatives to the disease. She lost her sister, step-mother and mother-in-law. “Although it is over three years now, I am yet to get over the trauma and pain that I went through. My mother battled with the disease for two years, during which the doctors had to take off both her breasts. My mother-in-law was also suffering from it at the same time and they died one month apart,” she said.
Ebun Anozie, a breast cancer awareness crusader, is of the opinion that the scourge is gradually taking the shape of an epidemic. “It is sad that breast cancer is on the increase and people are dying at an alarming rate. Most families have been affected by breast cancer and it is unfortunate how people are still in denial. Breast cancer is a capricious disease and the only way to be aware is to do regular checks,” she advised. Anozie is the founder of C.O.P.E–Care Organisation Public Enlightment–a non-governmental organisation devoted to eliminating breast cancer as a major health challenge among women through awareness creation.
Kehinde Gbelee, a Lagos banker, explained that early detection can save cost in treatment and also enhance the chances of survival. Kehinde was also diagnosed with breast cancer ten years ago. “I was lucky that the lump in my breast was detected on time. Breast cancer is a life-threatening disease and it is not a cheap disease to have. But if one is able to detect it early, the treatment is less expensive. So, if you detect it early, the chances of survival are great and the cost of treatment cheaper,” she said. Gbelee finds it disturbing that most women are still living in ignorance and thus, have refused to wake up to the reality of the devastating effect of the scourge. “Most Nigerian women who have the lump do not go to the hospital. They wish it away. Some women even put shea butter on it. I came across a well-educated lady, who told me that she felt that if she has another baby and the baby sucks from the breast, the lump would go away. The lump will not go away unless something is done about it. And the good news is that, nine out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. So women should not be afraid when they discover a lump. The first thing they should do is see a doctor,” she advised.
Gbelee talks about her experience with breast cancer with relief having sacrificed the anonymity and privacy of her family with the hope that other silent victims may be encouraged to face up to the new reality in their lives with fortitude.
Olukemi Odukoya, a professor of Pharmacognosy at the University of Lagos, is a breast cancer survivor. She offered that love is the ultimate panacea in a world full of diseases and pain. “Breast cancer patients need the love and support of people. And people should be passionate with love and not with pity. Breast cancer is not a passport to death. I implore a positive change in the lackadaisical attitude of the health personnel in the treatment of cancer patients and I advise victims to be optimistic about life,” she said.

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