By Job Osazuwa
Part of the things that distinguish women from men are their breasts. While the breasts of women are succulent and pronounced, men have little or nothing to show.
Women’s breasts serve the primary purposes of feeding their babies with milk, as well as the bedroom needs of their spouses. However, many women have lost their breasts to cancer. For such women, it is not easy to cope.
As a way to mitigate the devastating effect of breast cancer, a non-governmental organisation, Care Organisation Public Enlightenment (COPE), has launched a shop where cancer survivors who have undergone mastectomy can purchase breast prosthesis.
The event, which was held recently in Ikeja, Lagos State, started with a health talk, where medical experts advised women on the importance of putting on a facemask, particularly when in a crowded place.
When a participant asked what could be responsible for seizure of breath after wearing a facemask for a long time, a medical worker among the women explained that the raw materials used in making some facemasks could make the user feel uncomfortable after wearing it for a while.
She stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic was still around, urging women, especially those with health challenges, not to take chances with their health. She encouraged them to stay strong and keep safe at all times.
Speaking at the launch, the chairman of board of trustees of the foundation, Prof. Osato Giwa-Osagie, a fertility expert, said that COPE was not like many NGOs that were after making money for their personal pockets. He said money realised must be judiciously spent for the purpose it was meant.
He said: “I am proud of this organisation. Without being tele-guided, the chief executive officer, Mrs. Ebunola Anozie, has been doing well. NGO development is a long-distance race.
“Today we are launching the breast prosthesis and brassiere. A big problem in the treatment of breast cancer among women is the thought of removing the breast. Some people would say that it is not their portion because they are more concerned about lopsided chest and the cosmetic aspect of it. This is attractive because it is a removable thing. It has no problem like implants.
“People can be self-conscious about breast matters. To address that, COPE has brought in the brassiere and the prosthesis so that, when the surgeon is telling a woman, I am going to remove your breast, he will also tell her that we have what you can wear so that people will not know that you have had a mastectomy.
“We have been on this very project for two years, especially on how to get funds and bring the products down to Nigeria. That is typical of Anozie; she is steady. I am very happy to be part of the organisation. We have women who have been survivors for more than 20 years. Some are up to 30 years that I know. The outlook is getting better because of earlier diagnosis and, again, micro diagnosis. Examination of breast regularly is far more important.”
On her part, Mrs. Anozie said when the organisation started in 1995 she was chastised. She recalled how people called her a jobless woman who went on air showing people how breast examination was done: “Today, God has vindicated what we are doing and we still stand tall doing what we are doing and impacting lives of Nigerian women.”
“Just like if you lose a leg, you have a prosthesis leg, when a woman has he breast removed, instead of walking awkwardly with one breast, we have this.
“We thank Variant Advisory’s CEO, Mr. Kehinde Durosinmi, Mrs. Yemisi Ayeni for sponsoring this project, and support from Access Bank. Now, people don’t need to worry about what to wear when they lose a breast and not being able to wear something that is admired.
“Breast cancer is not a death sentence, if detected early. We do free breast ultrasound scan examination. We have volunteers of experts who come here, because we have up to four machines. Most of the people you saw outside are survivors because they came early.
“All I am asking is, let the government come out and support cancer patients by ensuring we have comprehensive cancer centres. We don’t have one yet in Nigeria. Let them also help the doctors. We have brain drain in Nigeria because of the kind of health system we operate.
“We are appealing to government to do the needful because not many people can afford this treatment. Let us encourage organisations that are creating awareness and helping women. The women should stop running to churches or pastors. Have your breast screened every month. That pastor you are going to meet, you think he has fire coming out of his mouth, the moment he has cancer, he will go abroad for treatment.”
Anozie stated that, from available statics, one out of 12 women will have breast cancer. On the cost of breast prosthesis, she said it was expensive, and lamented that the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria didn’t make it easy for COPE to import them.
She argued that the foundation ought to have been given a waiver due to the nature of the ailment the importation was meant to address.
She said the prosthesis could be used for three years or longer when handled very well. She added that it should be washed with care.
“Always have your breast examination done. Go for a mammogram once you are 40. Have a doctor that can tell you how many times and how possible you can do it in your lifetime, especially when you have a history of breast cancer,” she said.
A survivor, who preferred not to be named, described COPE as a foundation that bears the burden of cancer patients.
She said Mrs. Anozie was someone that understood what every patient was going through at one point or the other, particularly during treatment.
Said she: “You can even call her in the midnight and she would pick her phone and attend to you. For those who have finished treatment but still want to keep checking their status, there is free ultrasound scan for all members.
“Sometimes, women run out of money because the medication is expensive. She could find people or organizations that would be of help to complete the treatment. Treatment in most cases can cost nothing less than N4 million, and it can be as high as N10 million. But she is constantly available to help, and that is the beauty of COPE. There are some people here whose husbands have left them, and some who were supposed to get married and their fiancés left because they had their breasts removed.
“I was diagnosed in 2015. Thank God, I was not in a terrible situation. I was in Stage 1 when my husband discovered it. After the treatment, I was later introduced to this place by one doctor and since then I have continued to derive joy here. I am now like a motivator that encourages others who are still going through treatment.
“Breast cancer is not a death sentence; early detection is the key.
“I have taken a lot of proactive steps in my lifestyle. I make it a part of corporate social responsibility to do enlightenment in church, in my business group, anywhere I find myself.
“I have lost a lot of friends to cancer because they were quiet. They did not speak out on time. Once you have cancer, you must take every sign seriously. Even if you have headache, you need to go to hospital to find out why.”
Some breast cancer survivors were given free prosthesis at the event.