It all started in March 2011. I was having my bath and I viewed myself in the bathroom mirror and the thought flashed that …ah! Women are always advised to check their breasts regularly for any lumps or visible changes; why don’t I just check? So I did. From my observation, one of my breasts felt different from the other. And it also seemed like I felt a lump or two. Because I wasn’t sure, I asked my husband to check it for me. He did; and he also felt something different in one of the breasts. At that point, we both agreed that I visit the doctor in order not to assume it’s nothing to worry about.
At the doctors’ visit, after the necessary physical examination, I was told that it would be necessary to do a biopsy. On the 10th of March 2011, I had a lumpectomy; after which the sample was sent to the pathologist for investigation. The result came back stating that the growth was benign (non cancerous)and that, there was nothing to worry about. However, I was told that I had a breast condition called fibrocystic breast disease. I thankfully returned to my normal everyday life.
During the following months, I kept observing some changes in that particular breast and just assumed the changes were all associated to the fibrocystic breast condition. About six months later, I was no longer comfortable with the changes I was noticing, so I decided to pay another visit to the doctors. At this time, I was asked to do a mammography after which I was sent for further investigation by way of a suno mammogram and an ultrasound scan in addition to a second biopsy. I did. And again, the sample was sent to the pathologist. And Whoa……..this time, the result came back stating that the growth was malignant (cancerous).
The diagnosis was made known to me in the company of my dear husband on Friday the 23rd of September 2011. Words fail me in describing how I felt on that day. I felt like the whole world was crumbling down on my shoulder. I was totally devastated. I looked at my husband and just thought…..so this guy is about to watch me get sick and sick, and sick…..until I die? So he is about to pass through some serious trauma because of me? What about my two daughters? Are they going to grow up without their mum? How will these two innocent children cope? Who will love them like me? Who will care for them like I do? Who will tolerate their mistakes and their childishness and still show them love? I was full of questions…… then I finally broke down crying like a baby. My husband broke down too. We both went under a tree somewhere near the clinic and really let it all out. While there, the only thing I kept telling my husband is that I’m so sorry for putting him through this; that he doesn’t deserve this kind of trouble/temptation, and that my only desire towards him has always been to do him good. He in turn also kept telling me that I also do not deserve to go through this. Anyways, we both cried and then we eventually put ourselves together again. He went back to his office while I went for school run.
That weekend was indeed a black one for us. Even though I knew in my heart that God loves me, I couldn’t understand why God would allow me to pass through this trying situation. It was too hard for me to accept or even understand. I felt like standing on the roof top to announce to everyone that cared to listen, what was going wrong with me; so that, they can all join in ‘’begging God’’ on my behalf. Though the truth is that God did not have to be ‘’begged’’ for the general well being of His own daughter, I just couldn’t figure out why my world was crashing down right in front of me. But over time I remembered that “…………..even though I pass through the fire, it will not burn me; and even though I walk through the flood, it will by no means consume me”. And “……yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”.
On Monday 26/09/11, I reported to the clinic as my doctor advised, to resume chemotherapy. I didn’t know what to expect. I was full of so much fear and anxiety. My husband was with me, and we had a long discussion with the Doctor who intimated us with the proposed time table for my treatment plan. He told me I was going to have 6 courses of chemotherapy in all at a three weeks interval between each course. But that, after the first three courses, I would have a mastectomy before I continue with the remaining three courses. This is medically referred to as the neo-adjuvant approach. He also made mention of the possible side effects of the treatment. So we got started. The treatment went well that day; and I came back home the next day. As expected, I suffered a whole lot of side effects from the therapy. I suffered nausea. My taste buds were just wacky. I experienced discoloration in my palms and nails. My blood parameters were all attacked and a host of several other side effects. On the fourteenth day after the first treatment, I noticed that my hair started to fall off; so I decided to just visit the barbers and get a proper hair cut. I did. Despite the low cut I had, I still kept experiencing hair loss until I was completely bald.
Anyhow, I tried my best to adhere to the treatment plan; though there were times when the state of my general health could not permit me to go through therapy as at when due. For example, many times, my blood level was short of the required standard to qualify for therapy, I therefore needed to build it up at all cost. To achieve that, I had to be juicing pumpkin leaves (Ugwu) to drink, while I also incorporated the vegetables into almost every meal I ate. Well, somehow, I passed through the first three courses and it was time for the surgery.
The surgery was done on the 21st of November 2011 and it was successful. To the glory of God, there were no complications whatsoever. I was however an emotional wreck at the time because I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I had lost my breast to breast cancer. My husband however made it easy and a lot more bearable for me as he stood by my side all the way. His presence and encouraging words were so precious and priceless to me at the time. He reassured me nothing had changed. My daughters were however full of questions after I got back home. I also tried my best to reassure them that their mum will be fine eventually. I can tell you that it was really a trying time for everybody in my family; but God brought us all through it. That’s why I love the scripture that says that …..Because of the Lords great love, we are not consumed (Lamentations 3:22).
Some weeks after surgery, I resumed chemotherapy and thereafter went for radiation therapy. That was another challenging time because I had to undergo this part of the treatment in Lagos (a city far from my place of residence), and therefore had to be away from my family for about 5 weeks. Once again, my husband showed me so much love and support as he came to Lagos to visit me every weekend; while the children were being taken care of by my sister in-law. At this time, I better understood the scripture that says He (God) is our ever present help in time of trouble. The Lord always brought me help just in time in every area. I had the right domestic help at the right time. I had friends who were willing to go shopping for me when necessary. I just had help all round. And I’m deeply and forever thankful to God and to everyone who supported me at the time. At this point, it is worth mentioning that though it was and still is a trying experience, I can boldly testify that through it all, God neither left me nor forsook me. I could feel by the power of His spirit in me that He was walking with me all the way. He indeed had His hands on me. I couldn’t have come through all that on my own.
After radiation therapy, I came back home to continue and conclude the outstanding courses of chemotherapy. At this time, the oncologist I saw while in Lagos recommended a different drug combination for the remaining courses of treatment and also recommended that I receive 8 courses in all; as against 6 that were originally recommended by the initial doctor.
I resumed chemotherapy two weeks after returning from undergoing radiation. This time, the drug that was being used caused me to experience diarrhea and low white blood cell count. The diarrhea will typically start on the fourth day after chemotherapy; and would be on until the seventh day. Also, the low white blood cell count got so bad that I had to be quarantined at a point in order to avoid picking up any possible infection which I was very prone to at the time. I had to take certain injections to help boost the white blood cell. The Lord was so faithful that the drug worked like magic to the amazement of me and my healthcare providers. To the glory of God, I passed through it all to the very end of the treatment plan. At this time, I had added as much as 15kg to what I weighed at the time I started treatment. None of my clothes fitted, even my shoes didn’t fit. I simply couldn’t recognize myself whenever I looked in the mirror. So many things had changed about my body. I however told myself that I cannot afford to linger and wallow in self pity; I needed to pick up my pieces and move on.
I resumed doing regular everyday exercise in June 2012 in the bid to shed the extra weight gained and also to recover from the entire battering my body just went through. I gradually started losing the excess fat. I’m still in the process, and I’m making progress by the grace of God. I’m currently on hormone therapy. Beyond all the drugs and medical attention I got, it took the grace of God to pull through. Clearly, without God, I wouldn’t be singing this victory song today. I trust and believe that victory is mine and I’m a winner in the final analysis.
In July 2012, I had the privilege of traveling to San Antonio in the United States. I was there for a few weeks during which I came in contact with this ‘not for profit’ organization called SLEW. The organization was born from the fact that the founder-Ms Olga Young, who is also a breast cancer survivor, saw the need to help other women going through cancer. I enjoyed so many of their services like massages, group sessions, seeing a psychotherapist etc. I was also given some prosthetic forms, mastectomy bras, a nice wig and a lymphedema compression sleeve, all at no cost. I also had their navigation specialist accompany me for my doctors’ appointment in order to ensure that I ask the right and appropriate questions that will make my appointment a worthwhile one. It certainly was a refreshing experience. One of the most reassuring aspects of it all was the fact that, I met so many other women like me going through this same wilderness experience and at different stages in the journey. It kind of gave me renewed hope as it opened my eyes to see that my case is not the worst; and I’m not alone in this whole thing.
Based on this, I started to think to myself that there are many women out there in Nigeria who are dying every day from this deadly disease. How can I help them? How can I give another woman ‘HOPE’ as I have found hope again? I didn’t have answers to these questions, so I decided to schedule a meeting with Ms Olga in order to ask her questions about how she started SLEW. We discussed at length and she told me the truth is that, to get a ‘not for profit’ running, I need some huge financial support. I need to source for funds to buy supplies that I could give to the needy free. She gave examples of organizations that have so far supported her in the United States but didn’t know what to advice me on how to source for funds given the fact that she doesn’t have any idea how things run in Nigeria. Following that, I decided that I’d just start with helping women who have gone through mastectomy by sourcing for and helping them buy the right size of prosthesis. This, I figure will be a good starting point as prosthesis are not readily available in Nigeria. Also, I recognize the fact that, everywoman wants to be confident and elegant in their looks; and this can be a real challenge after going through mastectomy.To achieve that, I needed to get trained on how to properly and professionally fit the prosthetic breast forms. I therefore registered, enrolled and attended a course for that purpose which held in Dallas, USA.
Meanwhile, a few days after my discussion with Ms Olga, she called me up saying that one of the philanthropists that usually donates prosthesis to her organization has some that he would like to give out; and asked if I’d be interested in taking them to Nigeria based on the fact that I’m desirous to help other women in Nigeria. She didn’t mind giving them to me as her storage was at that time full. I happily said a big ‘YES’ to the offer and that’s where the vision to help women suffering from cancer in Nigeria began.
Truthfully, I have no idea what God has in store for us as an ‘NGO’. But I’m poised to keep taking one day at a time while putting in as much effort as I possibly can to make it work. The bottom line of what I have in mind as the vision for Elpis Sapphire Foundation is just to give HOPE to cancer survivors, hence our slogan….Dare To Hope. Now, maybe with time, the picture may get clearer and bigger……I don’t know. But for now, I just want to comfort others with the comfort with which I have received.
May I seize this opportunity to say a very BIG THANK YOU to all my family and friends that made the journey bearable. Without you, I won’t be standing today. I deeply appreciate all your kind, warm and generous gestures towards me. May God bless you all indeed!
Thank you for taking out time to read my story. I sincerely hope it has encouraged you, and added some value to you somehow.
Elpis Sapphire Foundation is here for charity; therefore, your kind and generous donations are welcome anytime to help us achieve what we set out to do.
Thank you, and God bless……