Dozens of Lagosians marched down Allen Avenue in Lagos, Saturday, as part of efforts to raise awareness on the menace of breast and cervical cancer.
Cyclists – in full gears – and ladies bearing placards were part of the event tagged ‘Walk, Race, and Cycling Against Cancer’ which also witnessed a symbolic bursting of a balloon to “burst cancer away,” according to Project PINK BLUE, the organizers.
The organizers said that the event targeted a provision of free breast and cervical screening for about 70 women.
”The idea is this month, October, is International Breast Cancer Awareness month, so we are using this platform to ensure that at least 50 per cent of Nigerian women do their own breast examination this month and beyond this month,” said Runcie Chidebe, Executive Director, Project PINK BLUE.
“The idea is to create awareness and to provide women with free cancer screening, most especially the rural women and low income earners who don’t have the kind of health facilities that the wealthy people have.
“And that’s why we brought this event at Alade market. So that the local women who can’t really afford very expensive treatments but they should be able to take preventive strategies to ensure that they stay free from this disease.”
Obinna Nwaneri, a medical doctor and participant, said that women over 40 should go for mammogram “every one to two years.”
“But for every young woman, once you have a breast, you should do a Breast Self-Examination, at least once a month to understand and know her breast. So that if there are changes, she can go to her health care provider and have it checked out,” said Mr. Nwaneri, a Medical Oncologist at St. Nicholas Hospital, Lagos.
Mr. Nwaneri said that breast cancer has been on the rise due to lack of awareness and the effect of environmental toxins.
“A lot of women are not breast self-aware,” he said.
“Some people think breast cancer only occur to people who have had it before or her family member. No. Breast cancers are actually more likely to occur in anybody. A woman who lives up to 90 years old has a one in eight chance of having breast cancer in her lifetime. So that chance increases as the person gets older.
“However, there are issues when people have breast cancer at a very relatively young age. So that’s why we recommend breast self examination, it’s very important.
Over the years we are having a significant increase in breast cancer and the problem is related to environmental toxins. What you eat what you drink. There are many hydrocarbons that can go to the breast to affect the breast.
“The breast changes. There’s a cyclical time for the breast, usually related to the menses. There are some environmental chemicals that can also affect the breast. We are worried about that and people should watch what they eat but I think environmentally we are having more and more breast cancer, across the world and even in Nigeria and in African women.”
The march, which began with aerobics, had popular singer, Chidinma, as well as Nollywood star, Oge Okoye, in attendance.
Chidinma said that her participation in the cancer awareness campaign was to lend her voice to other women.
“I chose to be a part of this because I’m in support… first and foremost, I’m a woman and I think that every woman should check themselves,” she said.
“It’s not like I have breast cancer or cervical cancer. It’s not until you have a problem before you can be a part of the solution.”
For Oge Okoye, the cancer menace had struck closer home.
“It’s a painful one, but it’s a true life story,” the actress said.
”I have a member of my family that has got breast cancer and I know how she struggled hard for her to be alive today, so much chemotherapies, a whole of things.
“So when I heard about this I said I just have to support this because this is a big cause and we want so many of our young ones out there, so many women out there to know what it entails and how to curb it and how to avoid certain things.”
A survivor’s tale
Gloria Orji, a cancer survivor, participated in the aerobics under the Saturday morning sun.
She describes herself as “a champion.”
“Cancer is not too powerful that we can’t overcome it,” she said as she wiped off sweat from her brows.
“I believe that the awareness is what matters because most at times you find people, when you have cancer you kind of try to hide it. The society will even tell you not to talk about it.
“If you say ‘I have cancer’ they’ll say ‘Oh, you are claiming it. Remove it.’ I think it’s wrong. We need to fight it headlong. It doesn’t joke with you so there’s no reason why you should joke with it.”
In 2009, Ms. Orji said that she felt a lump on her right breast and immediately went to a hospital where it was removed.
“They took a specimen to the lab and they said it was benign,” said Ms. Orji, who works in Abuja.
“A year later I felt another lump at the same place and I went back to the hospital. The doctor said we still have to do another surgery and when that one was done.
“In June 2012, it was diagnosed to be cancerous. He (the doctor) referred me to the National Hospital for further treatment.”
At the National Hospital, a treatment plan was arranged for Ms. Orji and, afterwards, she was referred to the Oncology Ward.
“I started my treatment, with chemotherapy. In fact, by the time I was half way, I couldn’t feel the lump anymore. It had basically dissolved. I continued and finished the courses.
“I went back to the surgeon, he said I was going to go through a ‘wider margin excision.’ It was removed, and they sent me for radiotherapy. I did radiotherapy for about six weeks.”
Ms. Orji said that she had continued to go for her periodic medical check-up as well as take the drugs prescribed for her.
”And I make sure I feed well, I run away almost always from junk foods, eat natural things, and then be happy with yourself knowing that you have conquered.”
Tips by Dr. Nwaneri on Breast Self-Examination Procedure
1. The woman stands in front of a mirror, puts her two hands behind her head and looks at the two breasts for asymmetry – is there any difference between either side?
2. Are the nipples coming out properly? It’s called nipple retraction, when the nipple is inside or coming outside. They should be coming out properly. Again, it’s important that the woman knows whether there has been any change in her body. That’s why the Breast Self-Examination is of paramount importance, especially when people don’t have a lot of money to be doing mammogram every year.
3. And then she starts with one hand, right or left, and feels the breast, she can either do it in a circular fashion or up and down, from inside to the outside until she gets to the armpit (which is called the axilla). Then she feels for any lump there. Again she does it on the other side, from inside, up, down, until she gets to the armpit.
If she feels anything different, it’s time to tell her doctor.
But any woman over 40 years of age should have a mammogram one to two years.