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Fight against cancer is hopeless with our cash and carry health system – BRECAN leader

Mrs Betty Anyanwu Akeredolu: There was indifference to breast cancer and cancer in general because of the perception that cancer has no cure, in other…

Mrs Betty Anyanwu Akeredolu: There was indifference to breast cancer and cancer in general because of the perception that cancer has no cure, in other words “a death sentence” as nobody wanted to talk about it and its victims suffered in silence. My experience was characterised by shattering loneliness, unavailability of information and fear of stigmatisation. Above all, government indifference to breast cancer stirred me to do something that would bring about positive and lasting change in the attitude of victims themselves and the Nigerian society towards breast cancer.

WM: When you were diagnosed of having cancer, how did you take it and how have you been able to survive it all these years?

Betty: It was most devastating. Fear and confusion took over my entire self. I could not think. I was about 42, upwardly mobile, full of life and plans. My kids were very young. It couldn’t be me, I had thought. But somehow I managed to pull through thanks to a programme on breast cancer survivors that I watched on Sky network. It gave me the courage I needed to face the challenge. I told myself “you are a survivor too” just like the women in that programme. It was psychological anchor. Coupled with the incredible support of my family, I hung in there through every surgery to this day. Furthermore, founding BRECAN was turning adversity to advantage. Running the organisation kept me very busy and the positive impact of our various activities on people’s lives brought me great pleasure and fulfilment.

WM: Did your plight then hinder you from forging ahead with life?    

Betty: Not at all. Instead it opened up opportunities. Breast cancer brought me into contact with great personalities in the global cancer community. Meeting with Hillary Clinton whom I look up to as my role model was my big moment. I am engaged in my profession (fish farming and consultancy) with renewed vigour and optimism.

WM: Did you ever encounter any form of discrimination?

Betty: No

WM: What has been the major challenge for your association so far?

Betty: Lack of funds, false beliefs about breast cancer and how it can be treated and lack of cancer control policy in the country.

WM: What do you mean by cancer control policy?

Betty: It simply means that the government should give priority to cancer as in what they are doing with the HIV/AIDS campaign. And treatment can be subsidised or made free. It should be a policy that no woman suffering from cancer is turned away or denied treatment because she does not have the money to afford the treatment.

WM: In your opinion what other ways can be used to sensitise the society on breast cancer.

Betty: Basically there are two ways: the short term which involves the media. Flood the airwaves especially the radio with jingles on breast self examination. Taking campaign the grassroots especially market women. And the long term option should involve a legislative bill on breast health comprising breast health awareness, access to treatment and care for all. No woman should be left behind no matter her socio-economic status.

WM: With the association how far have you been able to raise breast cancer awareness in the society and do you carry out workshops or seminars to sensitize people?

Betty: We have been in this fight for over 12 years and without sounding immodest we have touched lives positively. With adequate funding, BRECAN is poised to cover more grounds in awareness creation. Through market rallies, workshops, lectures in secondary and tertiary institutions, churches and mosques, jog for life, we are increasingly reaching the Nigerian public with greater attention to women and girls.

WM: In a country like ours is there any hope for those with either breast or cervical cancer?

Betty: It is a hopeless situation for any victim without means due to our cash and carry health care delivery system. The system does not provide safety net for the poor. It’s rather unfortunate. But we can change the situation if Nigerian women see breast cancer as a disease that is threatening their existence and come out and speak with one voice. Most importantly, our women, both the well and the sufferers must identify with the cause and strongly push for legislative action in the national and state houses of assembly.

WM: A word of hope for people suffering with cancer.

Betty: Don’t give up, you are not alone. Reach out for a support group, share your experience and keep being busy. This is a coping strategy that worked for me.