Founder of the Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria, BRECAN and First Lady of Ondo State, Mrs Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu recently opened up on her battle with breast cancer.
In an interview with Vanguard Newspaper, Akeredolu revealed how she was scared and devastated when she discovered the lump in her breast.
”I survived breast cancer about 20 years ago. It all started in 1997 when I was diagnosed. Before then, I didn’t know anyone who had that experience and the little information I got was from the international media. On that fateful morning when I felt something in my breast, of course, my mind raced to breast cancer because it was where such a disease was located. I was scared and didn’t know what to do; it happened when I was resting at home during my annual leave. It got me thinking that if this happened to be breast cancer, what was I going to do at that age? I was 42 or 43 and I had little children. What would become of those children? I kept the discovery to myself for almost one week. My baby was just four years’ old or thereabout. So, I just tuned to television that morning and what I heard was that ‘this programme could save your life’. Immediately I heard that, I raised my head from the pillow, sat and began to wonder, what could this be? And it happened to be about breast cancer survival journey. That coincidence saved my life. There was this woman and it was her journey through breast cancer diagnosis, and she happened to be the mother of a popular Hollywood actor. She went through the treatment and, as a survivor, was sharing her experience. She used her journey to lift the spirit of those undergoing such experience and I benefited from it. That was how I summoned the courage to go to hospital, and said that ‘whatever this woman did, I am going to be like her’’.
Speaking further she said;
”After the examination, the doctor confirmed there was a lump, but he didn’t know what it was. When I told my husband, he was scared but he didn’t know I had been fortified by that television programme I had watched. He must have wondered where I got the strength because I was on my feet and prepared that whatever that woman did, I was going to do and overcome. Then my treatment commenced. The first treatment was mastectomy. At the said time (1997), the level of breast health care was at the rudimentary level. Radical mastectomy meant ‘just remove everything (breasts)’ and I said ‘remove the damn thing if that is what will make me live’. My experience was one of shattering loneliness, unavailability of information and group support, coupled with the tight- lip syndrome and indifference surrounding the disease’ she said.
Speaking about what prompted her to start BRECAN, she said;
”My situation inspired me to do something that will bring about a positive and lasting change in the attitude of breast cancer victims and the Nigerian society towards breast cancer and sufferers.”
Speaking about why some women keep quite about their cancer, Akeredolu said;
”Like I always tell women, surviving breast cancer is all about attitude. If you lose it, it can be very difficult because some women, immediately they are told they are going to lose their breasts, they are already gone. First, they would think their husbands would marry other women with two breasts. The man shouldn’t that be on the radar screen, they should be more concerned about their children. They must do everything to live and take care of the children because they could not tell the character of the women the husbands would marry to take care of their children after their death. So when women reject mastectomy and run to a pastor who will give them ‘holy water or Jerusalem oil’ to rub because they don’t want to lose their breasts, at the end of the day, they come back with decayed breasts. So, which one will anyone choose? Is it not better you lose breasts, live and be well for your children and husband than you being preoccupied that your husband will leave you and marry someone else? You have to live before you can talk about enjoying marriage; one comes first before the other. Being one-breasted doesn’t really define you. I once told a woman, ‘when your husband first saw you, he never saw your nakedness’. But should victims be afraid of mastectomy? Even after mastectomy, you can still have a baby, yes; you can breastfeed with one breast. But you must be alive to be able to do this. I had successful treatment and everything done at UCH. That brings me to the point that the country doesn’t know what it has because we have everything to make this country great. I think those that take decisions are the ones that are not thinking rightly of what this nation can be. When I had my surgery, there was petrol scarcity, so we had to buy fuel in Jerry-can and gave to my consultant to use because I needed to get rid of this thing. I was lucky my own cancer was discovered at stage one. There are many women, but because it isn’t painful, they just carry on; not knowing that they have bomb in them waiting to explode. Unfortunately over 80 per cent is what we see in our hospitals nationwide”.