BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR
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?
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