Breast cancer patients narrate experience as C.O.PE at 26 explains rise in cases
As part of activities to celebrate 26 years of awareness and advocacy campaigns against breast cancer in Nigeria, a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), Care Organisation Public Enlightenment (COPE), said it has screened more than 50,000 women across over 10 states in the country beside Lagos. It also plans to acquire a breast cancer screening mobile van and construct a permanent operation base as part of steps to increase the number of beneficiaries of its breast cancer intervention next year.
Founder/Chief Executive Officer, COPE, Mrs. Ebunola Anozie, told journalists the organisation is dedicated to reducing the mortality rate of breast cancer in Nigeria through screening, counselling, referral, education, enlightenment and nurturing, and is celebrating 26 years of supporting Nigerian women to mitigate, overcome and lessen the psychological, financial and socio-economic burdens of the killer-disease.
Anozie said COPE founded in 1995 has been at the forefront of fighting breast cancer in Nigeria and has recently broken new grounds into other areas of reproductive health including cervical and prostate cancers.
Anozie said: “Awareness and advocacy by the not-for-profit have resulted in many more women going for breast examination as well as speaking up about breast cancer, unlike in the past that it was considered a taboo.”
The breast cancer awareness and prevention campaigner further announced that the free monthly breast screening and counselling for women suffering from the disease, which used to hold once in a month, would now be bi-monthly.
“Data from our breast ultrasound scan screening initiatives, which spans over two decades, shows that one in 12 women is expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer and many cases occur in premenopausal women,” she stated.
Anozie, however, lamented that breast cancer rate in Nigeria was still high due to factors including late presentation, lack of finance due to the high cost of treatment, illiteracy, cultural and religious beliefs, and fear of losing the breasts.
“Unfortunately, more recently, our monthly screenings show that one out of eight women have lumps in their breasts. Some women who have cancerous lumps in their breasts refuse to use orthodox medicine and seek traditional means or go to religious houses, while others don’t do anything due to lack of finance or fear of losing their breast,” she stated.
Anozie restated her call on the Federal Government to set up a National Breast Cancer Centre in Nigeria, encourage all women to undergo yearly breast examination and all men of 40 years above to go for medical check-up, just as she solicited more support for C.O.PE as well as love for persons going through breast cancer.
Some of the breast cancer survivors, whose post-breast cancer survival years ranged from eight to 23 years, in their testimonies, were full of appreciation to Anozie and C.O.PE for the moral and financial assistance through the pre-treatment and post-management phases of breast cancer, stating that the organisation has given them reasons to live again.
A survivor, Mrs. Nnenna Obasi, who said she discovered a lump in one of her breasts in 2013, stated: “It was a harrowing journey, but with the support of Mrs. Anozie and C.O.PE, I am here today. I live a normal life. I am healthy. This is my eighth year as a breast cancer survivor,” she enthused.
Also, a survivor, Mrs. Bolanle Uwaoje, disclosed that although she had removed lumps in her breast three times, her breast cancer case began in 2014 when doctors confirmed her worst fears, but she was thankful to Mrs. Anozie for providence that crossed their path.
“The compassion, care and love that I received through Mrs. Anozie cannot be quantified. I am a living testimony of how much God has used her to give me hope and reason to live a happy woman. It is going to eight years now; I am fine and hope that it I will continue to be fine. Thanks to you, ma. Thanks to C.O.PE for your support,” she said.
Anozie also said C.O.PE has increased its capacity in providing free screening and support to breast cancer patients with the support of corporate bodies and individuals particularly with the donation of the first-ever digital breast cancer screening machine by Polaris Bank and another by Leadway Assurance.
She thanked the partner-organisations including Polaris Bank, Variant Advisory, Union Bank, Leadway Assurance, Access Bank, Pfizer, EKO FM87.9, Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA), Ford Foundation, Ashoka, UBA, Cadbury, Citibank, Mr. Kehinde Durosinmi-Eti, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, ex- First Lady Mrs. Abimbola Fashola, veteran broadcaster Mr. Lekan Ogunbanwo, among several others.
Anozie also commended the Board of Trustees of COPE chaired by renowned obstetrician and gynaecologist, Emeritus Prof. Frank Osato Giwa-Osagie, and patrons as well as friends of the organisation whose encouragement, guidance and support, she said have helped in keeping alive the vision she birthed in October 1995.
A 10-minute video on Breast Self-Examination (BSE) that teaches women the step-by-step of breast self-examination, enabled by Pfizer, was also unveiled during the event.
Speaking at the event, Chairman, Board of Trustees, C.O.PE, Prof. Frank Osato Giwa-Osagie, commended Anozie for her courage and commitment to the vision of the NGO, noting that through her advocacy, awareness and unrelenting support to breast cancer patients.
“She has given hope and joy to many families that have given up because of the devastating effect of cancer especially breast cancer,” Giwa-Osagie said.
Giwa-Osagie, who is also joint pioneer of Test Tube Baby/ In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in Nigeria, said, “The first day she walked into my office at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) at Idi-Araba, to come and tell me about her vision, and that she had made me the chairman of the board, I was amazed at her audacity. I told her, ‘I am an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist (O&G) professor of medicine, I am not an oncologist’. She said, ‘It did not matter, you are the one I have chosen to chair the board’. I said, ‘What kind of a rare human being is this?’
“The rest is history. T26 and we are still counting. Ebunola has demonstrated uncommon courage and bravery giving back to humanity through her NGO. By providing advocacy, mobilising resources and giving care to persons suffering from breast cancer, she has restored joy and hope to many families. And that is the motivation that has made me to stand by her and remain with her all these 26 years. It’s being an amazing journey. We can only wish her more successes in the years to come.”
Another highpoint of the event was the presentation of awards to five key corporate organisations namely: Polaris Bank, Variant Advisory, Union Bank, Leadway Assurance and Access Bank in appreciation of their exceptional support to C.O.PE over the years.