Physicians and survivors of breast cancer agree that ignorance and late diagnosis are two of the main reasons why people die of the non-communicable disease. And that was the experience of our guest, Stella John, founder of the Starlight Cancer Foundation, who lost her mother to breast cancer
My name is Stella John, and I was born on the 30th of July, 1983, in Kaduna State. I am the first child, and I have five siblings.
I had a very strict upbringing. My father was an army officer, while my mother was a trader. Growing up in a military environment was fun, and it also contributed to who I am today.
I started my primary education at Army Children’s School II in Bauchi. After completing my common entrance examination, I went to Command Day Secondary School, still in Bauchi State. My first degree in Office Technology and Management was obtained from the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi.
The Starlight Cancer Foundation
While growing up, my dream was to own an organisation that touches the lives of people positively. It all started in 2009 when my mom noticed an abnormal growth on her right breast. We never knew what it was, but at some point, I was not comfortable with it.
So, I urged her to go to the hospital. At first, she wasn’t serious about it because the lump was painless. But when the breast kept growing, we had to do something about it.
The first time she went to the hospital, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. When she told me the diagnosis, I was gripped with fear. They had referred her to Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, but since we didn’t have enough money for medical treatment, we went for herbal medication. Initially, we felt those drugs would cure her, but as time went by, she continued to experience severe pain.
According to the World Health Organisation, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women; and in 2020, approximately 685,000 women lost their lives to breast cancer.
My family didn’t have enough money for medical treatment of mom’s breast cancer; so, we went for herbal medication
When we were planning to raise money for breast surgery, the herbal medicine man made us believe that she was under a spiritual attack and didn’t need any medical surgery. To add to that, some pastors also said that she was suffering from a spiritual affliction. So, that was how we were brainwashed for many years.
When I saw that her condition wasn’t improving, I decided to take the bull by the horns. Thankfully, by then, I had secured a good job and could pay for her medical bills. So, I took her to the hospital. When the doctors saw her condition, they were very angry at us for delaying the treatment. She was quickly booked for chemotherapy, and after that, she started getting better and lived for a few more years. However, she eventually died after a long battle with breast cancer.
I believe all these things happened because we were ignorant about the disease. I still feel that if we had taken her to the hospital earlier enough, she probably wouldn’t have died. The pain of losing her fueled a fire within me—an unwavering determination to ensure that others wouldn’t suffer the same fate due to ignorance and delayed action. So, I started the Starlight Cancer Foundation in 2018 to raise awareness about breast cancer.
The pain of losing mom to breast cancer fueled my unwavering determination to ensure that others don’t suffer the same fate due to ignorance and delayed action
Many people suffering from cancer lack access to good medical treatment, especially those living in rural areas. Our foundation helps them get the right medical diagnosis and treatment.
Additionally, we actively participate in health fairs, fundraising events, and social media campaigns to reach a wider audience. We also provide resources such as informational pamphlets and online materials, ensuring that people have access to reliable information and support.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this journey is receiving positive feedback from individuals whose lives have been positively impacted by our foundation’s efforts. So far, we’ve received numerous messages from people who, after attending our workshops or learning about breast self-exams, discovered early-stage breast cancer and were able to receive treatment in time.
These stories remind me that every effort, no matter how small, can make a difference. Each life saved or positively affected fuels my determination to continue this fight against breast cancer.
The major challenge we are experiencing is the lack of funds to kick-start some of our awareness projects. Secondly, the COVID era affected our plan. So, for now, we are doing more online sensitization.
I am married to Mr Joseph Chukwudi Benjamin, and we have one child. My husband and siblings are fully supportive of my dream project.
Whenever I’m not working, I watch movies or listen to gospel music. One person I would like to meet in the whole world is Vera Winns because I love her charisma.
Final word of advice
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that primarily affects women. For those who are cancer-free, maintaining a healthy lifestyle through balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and avoiding harmful habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption is crucial.
Finally, early detection is key to combating the disease. Delay is dangerous. By being proactive, educated, and attentive to your breast health, you can take important steps to minimise the risk of breast cancer and increase the chances of successful treatment.