You think it is other people’s deadly disease, until it strikes you. It was a few months to my 70th birthday, when I opened the envelope containing my result from a laboratory biopsy test, when the bad news hit me like a devastating Mike Tyson punch: cancer of the prostate!
Rather than wallow in fear, self-pity and pessimism, I have prayed for God to heal me completely and strengthen me to become an ambassador and a soldier in the fight against this dreadful killer disease that can be cured through early detection. I have decided to be in the forefront of writing stories and even a book on cancer, helping to create awareness and educating people to go for early checks. I will interview oncologists, urologists, radiologists and cancer survivors to share their experiences and give advice. Today, I am starting with Dr. Adeoluwa Adeniji, an oncologist and Chief Medical Director I met at Me Cure Cancer Centre, Oshodi, Lagos, which is the first Oncology Centre to have a PET-CT scan in West Africa.
For cancer patients and those who don’t know a PET-CT scan, it is the foremost cancer-detecting machine and it is coming to Nigeria for the first time ever since it was approved 20 years ago for detecting cancer, no matter where hidden.
“The conventional CT scan talks about the anatomical structure, while PET-CT scan talks about both physiological and anatomical structure,” Dr. Adeniji explains. “For instance, if there are cancer cells that are not too obvious yet to the eyes of the radiologist, the fact that they are there and they are eating, the PET-CT scan would be able to detect them. So it has more sensitivity and specificity, compared to conventional CT scans that are in most places. The accuracy is much higher.”
For many years, most Nigerians suffering cancer travel abroad to countries like UK, United States, Australia, India and other more advanced countries to pay and benefit from the use of PET-CT scans. But the good news today is that Nigerians need not travel abroad for this procedure any longer. It is now available in Lagos Nigeria. And for those with prostate cancer, it is a double positive whammy because there is also available here at Me Cure Cancer Centre the PSMA PET-CT scan which picks cancer of the prostate more accurately than the FDG 18 PET-CT scan which is mainly for detecting cancer in the whole body.
The idea of bringing these state-of-the-art imaging cancer-detectors to Nigeria is the brainchild of Samir Udani, an Indian who is the Group Chairman of Me Cure, a company that is building a first-class cancer facility in Nigeria which consists of a six-floor building in Oshodi with capacity to have world-class surgeries, admit clients who need admission and also do PET-CT scan, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and all other advanced oncological services hitherto not available in Nigeria.
As the Chief Medical Director, Dr. Adeniji oversees the entire medical affairs of the hospital. He works together with the Chief Operating Officer who oversees the non-clinical role. A graduate of University of Lagos College of Medicine, Dr Adeniji specialised in oncology, seeing that the population of oncologists in Nigeria is fewest compared to the multiplicity of surgeons, gynaecologists, paediatricians, cardiologists and other diverse areas of medicine. Furthermore, he was attracted by “the peculiar nature of the job which is beyond practising medicine. It is actually like a calling, because you have so much to put in. You can stay with a patient and that patient can take a lot of your time. You cannot tell the patient ‘your time is up, move out.’ You allow the patient to cry and support him or her emotionally. Oncology is not just medicine. It’s helping humanity in a way.”
To this cancer doctor, cancer is not a death sentence. “Even in the past, it had never been,” he says. “The reason people ascribe cancer to death sentence is because of fear and ignorance… The only thing we tell people is that if the cancer is advanced, it is difficult to treat or cure. So it is better to detect it early as much as possible. My advice is that women who are 40 and above should do annual mammogram screening. And those below 40 should do ultrasound scan and breast self-examination. They should screen for cervical cancer. Young girls from the age of eight and above should take a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.”
For men, he advises regular PSA checks and a culture of annual check-ups where “all your organs will be checked, so that if anything is going wrong, it can be picked and treatment can come in and that person can live long.”
So, why did God create cancer? The oncologist and man of God laughs at my question, answering: “I don’t believe God created cancer. God created everything but not diseases. It’s like saying God created Satan. Scripturally, God created Lucifer, an angel of light that decided to become an angel of darkness. God looks for a way of healing people afflicted with diseases like cancer. It’s either they are healed miraculously or God uses doctors to treat them. The all-knowing God gives scientists the secrets to curing diseases through researches, clinical trials and machines like radiotherapy, PET-CT scan and those ones yet to be discovered.”
Dr Adeniji has gathered oncological experience from working in a number of hospitals within Lagos. He has worked in senior positions at Lakeshore Cancer Centre, Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre, Sameda Clinics, and a few other private hospitals as a visiting consultant. Today, he is the Chief Medical Director of Me Cure hospital, a cancer centre with big ideas.
So, with many Nigerian doctors travelling abroad, why has Dr Adeniji not join the brain drain? “I live for a purpose,” he replies. “I believe that the reason we are in this world is not just to make money or make name or fame, but to touch lives. Anywhere I am supposed to be to touch lives, I would be. If I am in Nigeria, then I will be touching lives. I may leave Nigeria later if necessary. I am supposed to be in Nigeria touching lives through my clinical and ministry work. It’s possible to make progress and prosper in Nigeria. I don’t have to leave Nigeria because everyone is going for greener pastures.”
Being a pastor, he adds, “gives me leadership skills to work as a doctor, counselling people, being patient, being able to help clients as much as necessary. There is a way you counsel people in church that may give you good experience in counselling in the medical practice.”
Still on brain drain, Dr Adeniji is happy that “many of my patients used to travel abroad to the UK, India, USA, South Africa, Egypt and Dubai to do their PET-CT scan. They go to pay in dollars and foreign currencies. Today, I am happy that they can get the same service in Nigeria. Consequently, people from other countries come to do their PET-CT scan here knowing that it’s far cheaper in Nigeria where they pay in naira or fair amount in foreign currencies.”