EARLY DETECTION CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE
“-...Margaret is a chartered accountant. She was never able to concieve chidren but has a wonderful husband that dotes on her. Eary this year, Margaret was offered a fabulous new accounting job in Kaduna, to start at the end of the year. Discussing the appointment with her husband, they decided that the appointment would be a great opportunity for her.
With no family history of breast cancer and no reason to believe her life was about to change for the worse, Margaret started getting dressed for the interview with her prospective employers. As she was getting dressed, she discovered a hard lump about the size of a small bean, just above her right breast. Margaret worried about it for a few days before she realised it wasn’t going away and she should really consult a doctor. She was apprehensive because she knew the lump might mean something was terribly wrong. The first doctor she saw diagnosed the lump as a subcutaneous cyst and declared it was nothing to worry about. Not fully satisfied, Margaret went for a second opinion. The second doctor insisted on carrying out a Mammogram and the test confirmed all of Margaret’s worst fears. The biopsy report showed that the lump was a malignant tumour in the advanced stage... Margaret Audu, the brilliant chartered accountant, wife, and a woman with so much to look forward to was diagnosed with breast cancer...!”
“-...Laraba is a hard working kola-nut seller. She has four children, 9 grandchildren and a caring husband. For the last 26 years, Laraba has not eaten meat and she lives on a diet, mainly consisting of fruit and vegetables. On a daily basis Laraba walks about 15 km from her house to the market where she sells her kola. She may not identify it as such, but Laraba is an extremely healthy and fit 59 year old. Early this year, Laraba was asked to supply 500 bags of kola for the wedding of a Chief in Lagos. Elated that the proceeds of the supply would allow her to set up a kiosk to sell her kola nearer her house, Laraba saw this as a great opportunity for her.
With no tales of a history of disease within her lineage and no reason to believe her life was about to change for the worse, Laraba started getting ready for the trip to Lagos to deliver the kola. As she was geting ready, Laraba noticed some yellow puss-like liquid oozing out of her left nipple. For sometime, she kept wiping away the liquid, but when it persisted, she decided to visit a herbalist. The herbalist told her it was only an infection and gave her some balm to spread on the breast and beverage to drink at night. However, when the puss started turning into blood, Laraba made the decision to go to the General Hospital. At the General Hospital, Laraba was given an Ultrasoud Scan, which eventually showed the growth of an aggresive form of cancer in its advanced stage... Laraba Olusore, the hardworking mother, grandmother and wife. A woman excitedly looking at the prospect of an easier life, was diagnosed with breast cancer...!”
In the year 2012, experts predict that at least 1.5 million people will learn that they have breast cancer. Of all the different forms of cancer, breast cancer is said to be the most prevalent and one of the principal causes of female mortality in the world. As we mark Breast Cancer Awearness month this October, every woman and some men must take seriously the prospect that any one of us could be suseptible to this dreadful disease.
The story of Margaret and Laraba, two women looking forward to a positive stage in their lives, is tragic, but it is not dissimilar to the tales of millions of women who suffer from breast cancer. For the last ten years that I have been writing, I have tried to address the subject of breast cancer anually because the message of awareness for this dreadful ailment can never overstated. Too often have I witnessed with dispare my friends and relations suffer and succumb to breast cancer. Some years back a very close friend of mine was diagnosed with the disease. I was obviously devastated becuase this is a beautiful-spirited woman with a young family and, as they say, her whole life ahead of her. But what was most disturbing about her diagnosis was the fact that she didnt fit the stereotype of a woman within the risk bracket. Being in her twenties and the healthy mother of two babies, whom she had both breast-fed, on paper she did not belong to the category of women at risk from breast cancer. But regardless of what the text books say about the pre-disposing factors of having breast cancer, despite the theories science throws out at us, the reality is that every woman, whether she is age sixteen or seventy, whether she eats healthy and exercises, whether she is overweight or whether she has breastfed or not, could be told that she has breast cancer today.
The subject of breast cancer is rarely discussed in Nigeria and the gravity of it is largely underrated. This lack of discussion has led to vast ignorance and misconceptions of the disease. As women, we need to talk about breast cancer to other women so that we can be aware of the factors surrounding it; so that we dont have continue detecting it accidently; so that we dont find out too late. In this country we urgently need established national screening programs. Without early detection, the sufferers of breast cancer have a smaller chance of survival, without early detection women like my friend face a long and tedious uphill struggle to beat this vicious and unforgiving disease. Without early detection, Margaret and Laraba have no hope and their story will end as follows...
“-...After her diagnosis, with the chances of survival for such an advanced form of cancer very thin, Margaret religiously tried every option money could buy. But the cancer had already spread. Within a very short time, the cancer devoured Margaret’s body. Her hair began to fall out, she bore rippling pain, her skin become ashen, she had become emaciated, she could barely speak and was bedridden. Within a very short time, Margaret succumed to the cancer. And on one dreary morning, with her husband by her side, death finally claimed her... Margaret Audu died of breast cancer...”
“-...At the time of Laraba’s diagnosis, her family didnt have the kind of money required for the treatment she would need. With few options, Laraba continued to take the concoction the herbalist had given her. As the cancer ate at Laraba’s body, she became bloated, her body developed sores, her skin became very dark and her left breast became green in colour. The puss easing out of Laraba’s nipple had become so constant and so pungent that her husband was almost repulsed at the thought of being near her. Almost as quickly as it began, with her daughters next to her, the desease that had laid claim to her life, finnaly came to collect and Laraba gave up the ghost... Laraba Olusore died of breast cancer...!”
Laraba and Margaret were two women with very different lives. Two women who had every reason to fight for their lives but started their fight against breast cancer too late. While not all women can be saved from breast cancer, not all cases of this desease have to end the way Margaret and Laraba’s did either.
We have a unique chance to reverse the incidence of breast cancer in Nigeria by creating general awareness. Our National, General and University Teaching hospitals should put up posters, train nurses and enlighten patients on how to determine their breast status for early detection of cancer. Our governments have a duty to provide new and modern screening equipment for hospitals all over the country. They should provide hospitals with Mammogram, Ultrasound scan and Magnetic Resonance Imaging apparatus.
Knowledge is power, and every woman should be equipped with the knowledge to examine her breasts for evidence of cancer, at least once every month, just around the week she finishes her menstrual cycle. Knowing the early detection signs of breast cancer is the surest way to beat the disease. If they had detected the cancer early, Margret and Laraba could have had a chance to beat the disease. If they had detected it early, Margret and Laraba’s life might not have ended in the tragic manner it did. Instead, it could have ended as follows...
“-...Margaret detected the tiny lump during one of the breast screening examinations she gives herself monthly. She was lucky becuase the breast cancer was in its early stage. And eventhough, she went through a brief bout of Chemotherapy, became very ill and lost all her body hair, Margaret gave breast cancer a good beating and she overcame it. Slowly, she regained her strength, prospective on life and her hair! Today, because of early detection, Margaret is a survivor of breast cancer...!”
“-...Laraba recognised the swelling in her breast, the purites and constant feaver as early warning signs of breast cancer because the women in the market often spoke about the symptoms. When the doctor told her that it had been detected early, Laraba was overjoyed. And although, she had to have both breasts removed, Laraba’s husband and children continued to love and admire her. Today, because of early detection, Laraba is a survivor of breast cancer...!”
For our two fictitious heroines, Laraba and Margaret, their story could have had an encouraging ending had they detected their breast cancer early. I hope that the difficult journey my friend and so many women out there are embarking on will conclude with them being ‘survivors of breast cancer’. I urge every woman reading this article to take some time to consider the message I have tried to relay and become breast cancer aware. Even if it is not something that has been of concern to you before, let this Breast Cancer Awareness Month be the start of you taking control and becoming aware. Let women consider enquiring into ways to examine themselves, let women know their breast cancer status, let women save their own lives. While nothing can truely be fool-proof against breat cancer, it is a fact that early detection can save a life.
By Hannatu Musawa