AHEAD of the 20th anniversary and the third lnternational Breast Cancer Symposium of the Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria, BRECAN, its founder, who doubles as the First Lady of Ondo State, Mrs Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, speaks on how she survived breast cancer in this interview with Vanguard today. –
Could you share your experience with women suffering from this disease?
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 thereabouts. 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 benefitted 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’. 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.