Every year, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) organizes the World Cancer Day on February 4 to raise awareness of the global impact of cancer and increase understanding of prevention, detection, treatment and care.
This year, “I am and I will” is the theme and it acknowledges that everyone has the capacity to act in the face of cancer.
To mark this year World Cancer Day on Tuesday, pharmanewsonline will bring to you stories about breast cancer survivors, their families, as well as cancer surgeons and doctors.
The importance of discussing this disease on World Cancer Day cannot be overlooked – after all, breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed diseases among African women.
The Stigma of Breast Cancer
According to Dr Justus Apffelstaedt, a specialist surgeon with an interest in breast, thyroid and parathyroid health as well as soft tissue surgical oncology, breast cancer has carried all sorts of stigmas around self-image and sexuality.
“In recent times, treatment has advanced significantly and a breast cancer diagnosis is no longer the death sentence it was once perceived to be. The down side though is that the treatments can expose patients to side-effects which can impact mental health. This is why recognising the impact of breast cancer and its treatment on long-term outcomes, like your mental health, is so important,” Apffelstaedt explained.
Fear of death, disruption of life plans, changes in body image and self-esteem, changes in social role and lifestyle, and financial and legal concerns are some of the significant issues.
We were able to gather the stories of a Nigerian and an American, who shared their stories, key survival mechanisms, what they are up to in the world today, and will end with some words of encouragement. Meet Ifeyinwa Anigala and Bershan Shaw.
A Nigerian woman, Ifeyinwa Anigala, shared the story of how she overcame breast cancer and went on to have a baby, despite the medical report saying she would never be able to conceive.
Anigala, who used the anniversary of her birthday to share her survival story on her Facebook page revealed the trials of fighting cancer and how she won.
In Dec 2012, Anigala said as she was taking her shower in the morning in order to set out for her business, she noticed something big in between her right breast & armpit.
Although she did not understand what it was, however she knew it was a big lump and it feels so strange, becoming so agitated and scared made her to call a friend of hers ‘Chinyere Ogu’ who encouraged her to call her doctor.
Rushing to their family doctor for quick admission, the doctor sent her for a mammogram; mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast. Doctors use a mammogram to look for early signs of breast cancer.
According to Anigala, the test result showed that the lump was benign which simply means it was not cancerous, she said the doctor went further to carry out a surgery in order to remove the lump.
“It was later that I realized that he never had much experience on this case. I said so because of what transpired later. Besides, he gave me an unimaginable big cut on my breast,” she panicked.
“The Doctor admitted me in his clinic for five days after the lump removal before I was finally discharged. I was strong, happy & good to go. Since the mammogram showed I was free, I was even happier. But the Doctor told me that he was sending the specimen removed from my breast to the lab to be diagnosed which was normal, Anigala explained”.
According to her, the doctor never contacted after the whole process and of course she never did too, she said she ignorantly relaxed thinking she was in safe hands as she was not summoned by him anymore.
On April, 2013, the month she was to celebrate her birthday, she noticed another lump in her breast.
“This time, it was a bigger lump. I panicked. I called back my doctor that was when the doctor remembered that he had not collected the result of the specimen he sent to the lab four months ago.
Few days later when he picked up my result, he sent for me. When I got to his clinic, he broke the news to me, the survivor said.”
She cried when the doctor informed her that she has been diagnosed of breast cancer, according to her, the news sounded more like a death sentence to me. “The news that you’ve got cancer kills faster than the disease itself”.
Anigala was taken to another private hospital for the new doctor to examine the new lump she detected in her breast, it was then the new doctor saw the initial result of the mammogram which showed benign & the biopsy which showed malignant and told her it was complicated.
The doctor arranged for the removal of the second lump immediately to clear his doubts. After the removal of the second lump by the second doctor, she said was discharged that same day.
According to her, in less than two weeks after the second surgery, another huge lump surfaced again (the third lump), it was then she was then referred to University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) where she should have been directed initially for proper management.
Explaining what transpired between herself and the doctors, Anigala said the doctors told her she would undergo a major surgery mastectomy; the removal of my entire right breast.
In her words, the thoughts of her having just one breast made her sad, she said she had to brace herself up and do the needful.
“And as I fought each day after my mastectomy, during my chemotherapy, radiotherapy, I just knew that cancer was losing and I was winning,” she said.
When asked what kept her going
Mrs Ifeyinwa Anigala said, God came to her aid and performed a miracle on her and made her defeat cancer, she added that the conception of her miracle baby Daniella rearranged every defect in her system/organs. She added that God sent the child to her.
She said that medical science was proven wrong. Humans were proved wrong. The only report she stand to believe is God’s report and she can move mountains with her faith.
In 2007 at just 33 years old, Bershan’s dreams were abruptly eclipsed by the cold, hard reality of 1.2 cm tumors, endless visits to oncologists and having to face her own mortality at a young age. Bershan decided to face her illness head on, with a positive spirit, and with support from her family and her husband. To protect herself from infertility, she opted for radiation treatment instead of chemotherapy. All was well for a short while, but two years after the cancer returned. Two weeks before her wedding, her doctors gave the bleak diagnosis: stage four breast cancer with six to nine months left to live. It appeared her fight was over.
The warrior in Bershan had been tested many times in her 33 years. But when she was told her cancer was unbeatable, and it was time to set her affairs in order, the warrior inside her rose up to meet the impossible with a spirit of hopeful defiance. Bershan leveled a steady gaze at her team of grieving oncologists and replied, “This is not my life. I will not die, because I was meant for more.” True to her word, Bershan has done much more. Rather than living in the shadow of a stage four cancer diagnoses, Bershan chose to work tirelessly on her mental, physical and spiritual health. Seven years later, she is cancer-free (no evidence of disease).
3 Survival Mechanisms:
Prayer. “God is my all in all. I got on my knees and prayed if God keeps me alive then he could use me as a vessel to help millions.”
Positive affirmations. “I say positive affirmations everyday nine times a day because it sticks in your head. Endless good comes to me in endless ways.”
Eating healthy and exercising. “You have to eat healthy and take control of your mind and body. I changed my thoughts and attitude, which changed my life. Change your diet and make changes for the better because your body is your temple.”
Her life today:
Bershan is a life coach, author and motivational speaker. Determined to be a blessing to others, she started a unique social network support site, URAWarrior.com
Words of encouragement:
Embrace your warrior spirit and “step into your greatness” and turn your pain into your purpose. Live life with no regrets because when you’re done, you’re done.