BETTY AKEREDOLU

BREAST CAN­CER SUR­VIVOR

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In life, you of­ten come across a par­tic­u­lar type of woman, who is strong, bold, beau­ti­ful and coura­geous. This woman is who in­spires, mo­ti­vates and has a zeal for life. Her Ex­cel­lency, First Lady of Ondo State, Betty Akeredolu falls into this cat­e­gory.

In 1997 at just 44 years old, Betty’s dreams were abruptly eclipsed by the cold, hard real­ity of a can­cer­ous breast tu­mor, end­less vis­its to on­col­o­gists and hav­ing to face her own mor­tal­ity at a young age. Rather than give up and re­sign her­self to fate, she de­cided to face her ill­ness head on and with a pos­i­tive spirit, and sup­port from her family and her hus­band she scaled through.

Twenty years af­ter she has be­ing cer­ti­fied can­cer free and now she uses her own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence to cre­ate aware­ness for this dreaded disease via her non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, Breast Can­cer As­so­ci­a­tion of Nige­ria (BRECAN)

In this in­ter­view with Konye ChelSea nwabo­gor, she shares her story, key sur­vival mech­a­nisms and ends with some words of en­cour­age­ment.

Even though when de­tected early, it is cur­able, many peo­ple still see Can­cer as a death sen­tence. How did you feel when you dis­cov­ered that you had Can­cer?

Though i was scared, i was ready to do what­ever it took to get rid of it and stay alive to raise my chil­dren who were very young at the time.

The path to re­cov­ery is te­dious and very painful. Some peo­ple have been known to give up the fight dur­ing this try­ing time. How was your treat­ment process and how long did it take?

i had all my treat­ment at univer­sity Col­lege hos­pi­tal, ibadan. i had a mas­tec­tomy, which is a to­tal re­moval of the af­fected breast. i didn’t take chemo­ther­apy be­cause it was at stage 1, still lo­cal­ized. The can­cer cells had not in­vaded the sur­round­ing tis­sues. so i escaped chemo­ther­apy the most dreaded as­pect of the treat­ment. how­ever i had ra­dio­ther­apy and was placed on Tamox­ifen for two years to check re­cur­rence. and thanks to god, it never did!

It has been said that the course of treat­ment stretches the emo­tional bal­ance of the pa­tient and those around them to the limit. What was most trau­matic for you dur­ing this pe­riod?

i was de­ter­mined to live. it was trau­ma­tiz­ing to think that an­other woman would pos­si­bly raise my kids. it made me fight harder. hav­ing watched from ca­ble TV then that women sur­vived the disease, i put my­self in their shoes, which was quite up­lift­ing. i de­vel­oped a win­ning spirit and it helped me pull through my days of feel­ing de­pressed.

There are also var­i­ous side ef­fects de­pend­ing on each in­di­vid­ual. Los­ing hair is the most ob­vi­ous but many women have ex­pressed many other as­pects. What were the side ef­fects of your treat­ments?

at the time, i to­tally lost all sex­ual de­sires.

It has also been said that some women have a stronger will to fight than oth­ers and this in re­turn, de­ter­mines how well they can deal with the ill­ness. What was your state of mind at var­i­ous times dur­ing this pe­riod?

i was very wor­ried. i kept ask­ing my­self, “will there be a re­cur­rence’’? The fear that the breast can­cer might come back can be very heart wrench­ing.

Sta­tis­tics also show that women who have great sup­port from loved ones tend to deal with the ill­ness bet­ter than those who have to fight it on their own. What spurred you on even at your weak­est mo­ments?

like i said ear­lier, my chil­dren. i have quite a bunch of them. The thought that i won’t be around to raise them and also ful­fill my dreams, kept me go­ing.

So in this case you do be­lieve that the state of mind plays a ma­jor role in the fight to sur­vive?

ab­so­lutely!

One can­not em­pha­size enough the need to do con­stant check­ing to enable women dis­cover the disease early. But the truth is, most women are still too scared to take that test, to some, much to their dis­ad­van­tage es­pe­cially if it then be­comes too late to do much about it. Do you think enough aware­ness is gen­er­ally be­ing made with women on this disease?

no i don’t think so. even at that, aware­ness at the mo­ment is con­cen­trated in the cities as com­pared to the ru­ral ar­eas where it’s re­ally needed too. gen­er­ally, the level of aware­ness in the coun­try is low.

As a sur­vivor, the urge to cre­ate aware­ness ob­vi­ously means a lot to you. In view of this, what are your plans to en­lighten women more on this is­sue?

This is the sole rea­son the Breast Can­cer as­so­ci­a­tion of nige­ria (BreCan) came into ex­is­tence. it’s mis­sion is to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on the need to have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the disease in or­der to do away with the mis­con­cep­tions con­cern­ing the causes and treat­ments. These mis­con­cep­tions of Can­cer are largely re­spon­si­ble for the late pre­sen­ta­tion and the con­se­quent un­timely deaths re­ported in our hos­pi­tals na­tion­wide. There­fore, there is an ur­gent need to have ro­bust aware­ness cam­paigns and struc­tured pop­u­la­tion screen­ing to save our women from need­less deaths due to ig­no­rance.

I was de­ter­mined to live. It was trau­ma­tiz­ing to think that an­other woman would pos­si­bly raise my kids. It made me fight harder. Hav­ing watched from ca­ble TV then that women sur­vived the disease, I put my­self in their shoes, which was quite up­lift­ing. I de­vel­oped a win­ning spirit and it helped me pull through my days of feel­ing de­pressed.

These mis­con­cep­tions of Can­cer are largely re­spon­si­ble for the late pre­sen­ta­tion and the con­se­quent un­timely deaths re­ported in our hos­pi­tals na­tion­wide. There­fore, there is an ur­gent need to have ro­bust aware­ness cam­paigns and struc­tured pop­u­la­tion screen­ing to save our women from need­less deaths due to ig­no­rance.

Then and now as a First Lady, do you feel the gov­ern­ment should be more in­volved in pro­vid­ing re­sources to fight this disease?

ab­so­lutely! health is wealth. a healthy pop­u­la­tion is associated with im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity. any gov­ern­ment or pri­vate sec­tor that is in­dif­fer­ent to the health of its cit­i­zens does so at its peril.

They say ev­ery­one has gone through some­thing that has changed in a way that they could never go back to the per­son they once were. How has this ex­pe­ri­ence changed you as a per­son?

The change has been pro­found. i am a new me. i dis­cov­ered that i could write with ease as i share my breast can­cer ex­pe­ri­ence. Pub­lic speak­ing is now part of my life as i am ever will­ing to tell my story in an ef­fort to pro­vide emo­tional sup­port to oth­ers ex­pe­ri­enc­ing breast can­cer.

For those go­ing through the chal­lenge of this disease right now, the fear, pain, un­cer­tainty and hope­less­ness, or what the fu­ture holds for them, what is your ad­vice to them as a 20-year sur­vivor?

Firstly, they should re­mem­ber that they are not alone. Many women are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing breast can­cer and are sur­viv­ing be­cause of their at­ti­tude to­wards their predica­ment. i ad­vise them to own it and move on. Don’t al­low it de­fine you. Don’t give a damn about side talks. you may hear, “oh she has one breast”. so what? sur­viv­ing breast can­cer is all about at­ti­tude.

And for those who have not ex­pe­ri­enced it, what is also your ad­vice to them?

ev­ery woman is at risk of de­vel­op­ing breast can­cer be­cause the num­ber one risk fac­tor for breast can­cer is be­ing a fe­male. it’s a disease that re­spects no one. Breast can­cer re­spects no­body so it could be any­one. ev­ery­woman must be breast aware; mean­ing, know­ing how your breast looks and feels by prac­tic­ing the Breast self ex­am­i­na­tion (Bse) ev­ery month. This rou­tine takes about 15 min­utes and it en­ables you to de­tect un­usual breast changes such as lump, thick­en­ing, dis­coloura­tion of skin and dis­charge from the nip­ples. when you no­tice any of such changes, go To The hos­Pi­Tal wiTh­ouT De­lay. go­ing to church and climb­ing moun­tains, to pray over breast can­cer or think­ing that the breast lump is juju af­flic­tion is a to­tal waste of your time. with my 20 years ex­pe­ri­ence as a sur­vivor, i can tell you with­out equiv­o­ca­tion that breast can­cer is a med­i­cal is­sue. if you are di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer and you seek care else­where in­stead of go­ing to the hos­pi­tal, you have on your own passed a death sen­tence to your­self. i want to state here that early de­tec­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion en­hances your chances of sur­vival of breast can­cer.

Firstly, they should re­mem­ber that they are not alone. Many women are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing breast can­cer and are sur­viv­ing be­cause of their at­ti­tude to­wards their predica­ment. I ad­vise them to own it and move on. Don’t al­low it de­fine you. Don’t give a damn about side talks. You may hear, “Oh she has one breast”. So what? Sur­viv­ing breast can­cer is all about at­ti­tude.

CRED­ITS Pho­to­graph- Ty Bello Makeup- Ti­ti­layo for Her­mosaa Makeup Stu­dio Stylist- Moses Ebite for Moashy Styling Out­fits by: Zo­hita Taglit, DZYN and Zadeen

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