Home Features How we survived cancer: Ordeals of ex-patients and caregivers

How we survived cancer: Ordeals of ex-patients and caregivers


By Romanus Ugwu and Fred Ezeh        

For the sick, health is, indeed, wealth. For the critically ill, helplessly lying inhospital or at home, wealth means regaining their health. But for the terminally sick, without medical solution; life  has lost its sweet taste.

For the last category, the trauma of being sentenced to “eat and wait for death” with the certainty that families, friends and more importantly the medical personnel can’t rescue them from the clutches of death usually overwhelms them.

This exactly is the situation most cancer patients go through, waiting agonisingly for the actualisation of the death sentence nature passes on them. They usually pass through excruciating pains with only banned substances like tramadol as solution to curtail the discomforts.

Most times, they pray for death to end their pains but it will refuse to come. There is nothing more torturous than being  living corpses. They are tired of consuming drugs and undergoing the torments of weekly chemotherapy, yet death would refuse to come.

Their miseries are unfortunately not transferable but they usually subject caretakers, caregivers and family members to torture. They equally go through pains watching them depreciate daily with the certainty of the imminence of losing them. Their inability to provide help and solution to ameliorate their pains worsens the situation.

Some of them would sell land, properties and other belongings to foot the highly expensive medical bills of sustaining cancer patients. Many have been impoverished and have even gone bankrupt. They know it is a waste of resources, it is like pouring water on a stone, yet they cannot abandon them to die.

They must be seen to be doing something to keep them alive. In fact, the heart-breaking situation cancer patients go through is one nobody wants to wish an enemy.

I waited for death, but it refused to come — Survivor

The heart-rending tale of a cancer victim, Sandra Vee, perhaps, paints a clearer picture of the miseries cancer patients go through. She grew up avoiding cancer-prone diets, yet she could not escape the deadly illness. It even came when and where she list expected it, resulting in unquantifiable loses including denial of return visa to her base in USA:

“Mine is a long and short story. Surviving cancer is a story that you don’t know how to tell the next person. It is a story you would want to keep to yourself. But sometimes, it is a story that we should share with others so that other women will know what to do when they notice anything.

“I noticed a 2cm lump on January 2, 2019, and immediately rushed to the hospital same day. I went through scan and doctors told me that it was fibroid enemas. With that I was supposed to relax, but I did not. I went to different hospitals and they told me the same thing. I went to Laparotomy which is to remove the lump. Immediately I removed the lump, I went to National Hospital, Abuja,  and did a Histopathology test which confirmed that I had triple negative cancer.

“That was on February 14. I begged death to come, I begged the ground to open and take me, but none of that happened. I never knew that a day would  come when I would survive the cancer. As a child, I was a vegetarian. So, when they say meat causes cancer, I never ate meat. I didn’t even know how meat tastes.

“My parents told me from the onset that my mother’s family has a history of cancer. So, you must eat right. My father was afraid of cancer all his life and I woke up one day and discovered  that I had cancer. I cried and cried.  At the National Hospital, I remember one of the doctors told me that even though it was  triple negative, the drugs were there and that I could  make it. I remember one Matron Ene at the National Hospital who promised to carry me on her head to make sure I survive cancer since we discovered it very early.

“The same 2cm lump I found on January 2 grew to 7cm by February 2. That is how fast cancer spread and it kills as fast as it comes. With the help of a Cancer Foundation, Medicaid, I was able to survive it. I became vegetarian and ate limited kind of food because of cancer. While we lived in America, we never ate certain food just because of cancer.

“I came back to Nigeria to see my mother in-law and they refused to grant me visa to go back. It was like a death sentence. But today, Medicaid has given me hope and I stand to say that you can become a cancer survivor especially if you find out early.

“Those who have cancer and refused to go for chemotherapy, I tell them that I went through eight round of chemotherapy and here I am. The only thing is that it has turned me into a glutton because I eat uncontrollably, not knowing when to stop.”

I sold land, borrowed to keep Mum alive —Son of breast cancer patient

For a journalist, Kenneth Tyoakaa Azahan, it has been torturous and hellish battling to keep alive his mother before and after undergoing breast cancer surgery in Abuja:

“Having a cancer patient comes with lots of challenges. Psychologically,

you are traumatised knowing that it is a terminal ailment. This feeling is even worse when you hear or see patients dying everyday.

“Seeing my mother through severe pains without providing any help to ameliorate the pain demoralises me a lot. The cost of managing cancer patient is well out of the reach of an average person.

“When my mother was diagnosed of cancer, I knew from testimonies from people that I did not  have the financial muscles to foot the bills. So, I began to inquire where help could come from. My search led me to a non-governmental organisation.

The organisation, from my findings, is dedicated to providing treatment for persons who could not afford the costs. So, I approached this organisation for help as clearly my monthly income and that of my three siblings combined could not pay for one particular drug (Herceptin) my mother was to take for every three weeks.

“She was required to take the drug costing N309,000 per dose at subsidised rate, 18 times. With this and other requirements, I felt my mother was qualified for the offer. But rather than get support or told right away that they did not have adequate resources, the NGO subjected me to series of procedures that made me spend the little resources getting letters from the hospital.

“All they could do was to send a consent form to use my mother’s photograph for fund raising. Of course, I felt disappointed and walked away.

“Our situation became worse when, as a retired civil servant from Benue State, my mother was neither paid gratuity nor regular pension five years after retirement. When she finally began to get pension, it cane three or four times in a year. So, the financial pressure has been so much on us.

“I spent fortunes to see her go through surgery and even shouldering post-surgery treatment. At a time, people clearly avoided me. They saw me as a burden even though I did not bring the sickness on my mother.

“As at the last count, we have spent well over N11 million just to keep her alive. Left with nowhere to source for fund, I had to even sell my father’s land and other belongings.

“The government has not demonstrated commitment to the plight of cancer patients. The cost of the drugs and other procedures the patients go through even in government hospitals are not subsidised. I have witnessed where patients who came to the hospital strong, died slowly because they could not afford to pay for tests and other things.

“Government and NGOs must demonstrate sincerity to help cancer patients. Just like the attention given to HIV/AIDS, government and NGOs should endeavour to genuinely float  programmes that will cater for cancer patients. In other climes, even in some African countries, government takes care of cancer patients knowing that most people cannot afford the treatment.”

A cancer patient, Zainab Yakassai with the Federal Judicial Service Commission, thought her end had come when she discovered a lump on her breast in October 2018 and was diagnosed of breast cancer a month later: “But help came my way and after series of chemotherapy and other forms of cancer treatment; I was declared cancer free in September 2019. Today, I am living a healthy life. “

Another cancer survivor, Ijeoma,  was diagnosed of breast cancer in July 2018: “My words of encouragement for others that might find themselves in the same position, they just have to be patient and face the treatment with courage. They must be prepared to bear the pains.”

Ocheme, another patient, discovered a lump on her breast while doing her national service: “After the discovery, I went to the hospital and was diagnosed of cancer. Immediately I got the information, I wasn’t myself. I almost passed death sentence on myself thinking that the world has come to an end.

“But a voice told me that it was not the end of life and that voice came from Medicaid Foundation. Since then, they have been of tremendous help to me. The assisted me to go through surgery and here I am today, cancer free.”

Founder of Medicaid and wife of Kebbi State Governor, Dr. Zainab Shinkafi Bagudu, told Daily Sun:

“It is all about saving lives. It is something so many people have interest in. Cancer is very expensive. We are still here talking, radiotherapy is about N400,000. The world needs to do more to eradicate the illness.

“Talking about the number of lives the foundation has saved, I can tell you that they are well over 200,000 lives and we have spent over $100 million with many patients still on our budget. It is not a huge amount compared to what it costs to keep one patient alive.

“I will, however, advise that government building more cancer centres will be the best approach to tackling the menace of cancer.”

Meanwhile, data obtained from Abuja Cancer Registry which is domiciled at National Hospital, confirmed the significant increase in number of new cases.

The data particularly indicated a steady and scary rise in new cases of breast and cervical cancer in past five years.

It revealed that in 2014, Abuja Cancer Registry alone recorded 42 new cases of cervical cancer. In 2015, the figure rose to 54, and came down to 48 new cases in 2016.

An official of the registry, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said the 2016 figure was questionable due to the fact that prolonged industrial disharmony in the sector affected the records.

Regardless, in 2017, the figure of the new cases rose to 84, and in 2018, the figure jumped to 120 new cases. The registry said the record of new cases in 2019 which is expected to be higher, will not be ready until the end of the year.

However, as regards breast cancer, record of past five years obtained from the Abuja Cancer Registry also revealed that there were 127 new cases of breast cancer recorded in 2014.

It rose to 222 new cases in 2015; 224 in 2016; 282 in 2017; and 343 new cases in 2018. Officials at the registry said the new cases of cancer is becoming more among younger generation as against the previous cases.

Head of Abuja Cancer Registry, Gloria Osagie, said only few Nigerians are aware of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine which was meant to prevent the cancer. She could not confirm the efficacy of the vaccine.

She said: “The vaccine is not up to 10 years in Nigeria. It was supposed to be given to young people between 10 and 18,  but many people are suggesting that it should be brought down to 10 to 15 years because many children are becoming sexually active earlier than expected.”

A consultant oncologist at National Hospital, Abuja, Dr. Festus Igbinoba, confirmed that there are increasing cases of cancer in Nigeria and Africa, with several institutional research confirming that.

The reason, according to him, could largely be attributed to increasing diagnosis and establishment of cancer centres that makes it possible and easy to detect cancer in life. (The Sun)

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