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Thursday, February 29, 2024

With barely three weeks to live, Nigerian diagnosis centre said I was alright -Breast cancer survivor

When medical experts told her she had just three weeks to live, she refused to accept the grim prognosis and fought tirelessly until she conquered the formidable disease. Ethel Olomu shares her story.

Rivers State-born Ethel Olomu’s journey in the world of cancer management started in 2010 when she was undergoing a six-month training program at the Lagos Business School.

She narrates, “Although I was staying in Lagos, I used to return to Port Harcourt during holidays. So, one night, while I was in Port Harcourt, I felt a very sharp pain in my left breast. When I woke up in the morning, I told my mother about it. She examined my breast and noticed a lump on my left breast.

‘When I went to the hospital, the doctor recommended a lumpectomy, which went successfully. After the surgery, the lump was sent to the laboratory for diagnosis, and the results stated that it wasn’t cancerous. So, that meant I had nothing to worry about.

“Four weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night to urinate. When I tried to get up from my bed, I felt a sharp pain in my left breast. When I looked at it, I saw that the breast was very swollen and leaking fluid. In fact, the whole bed was soaked with pus and blood. I was so scared!

I woke up in the middle of the night to urinate. I saw that my left breast was very swollen and leaking fluid. The bed was soaked with pus and blood. We used over 20 towels daily to clean up the mess

“The first person I called was my doctor. After narrating my condition to him, he recommended some antibiotics, which I took for three days, yet, there was no positive result.

“The weight of the swollen breast was so much that I could barely move my chest. I had to take the next flight to Port Harcourt, and upon arrival, I was quickly rushed to the hospital.

“The breast was drained, but the fluid kept accumulating and leaking. We were using over 20 towels daily to clean up the mess. The most painful part was that there was a big wound on the breast, and it wasn’t healing.

“At a point, we were referred to another hospital, and I was booked for another surgery. When the surgeons opened up the breast, blood was gushing out so rapidly. They had to quickly stitch it, but in the process, I passed out. That was how they started running helter-skelter to revive me. They tried their best, and thankfully, I came back to life, but the battle wasn’t over.”

there was a big wound on the breast, and it wasn’t healing. When the surgeons opened up the breast, blood was gushing out so rapidly. I passed out

The search for solution
After Ethel survived that near-death surgery experience, her breast continued to decay, and, as she said, her entire body ached agonizingly.

“So, we met a herbal doctor who said that he could treat it. He gave me all kinds of bitter and sour concoctions to drink. After enduring the taste bud assault, he would then apply a weighty herbal compress to my breast, and that was so painful. In fact, I think he also sprinkled pepper on the open wound.

“After three months, I told my family never to take me there again. We also tried treating the condition with supplements, but they didn’t work,” Ethel says.

Breast cancer survivor Ethel Olomu

The cancer diagnosis
Continuing, she says, “As I mentioned earlier, while we were going back and forth searching for a solution, my samples were taken to the best diagnostic centers in Nigeria, and the test results were benign. Since the doctors didn’t know what the issue was, they kept giving me antibiotics and painkillers.

“At that point, I couldn’t swallow any food, I was bedridden, anaemic, and dying gradually. One day, someone suggested that the samples should be sent abroad, and we did that. When the results came, it showed that I was experiencing stage IV breast cancer, and the disease had spread (metastasized) to my vital organs. The report also stated that I had barely three weeks to live.

my samples were taken to the best diagnostic centers in Nigeria, and the test results were benign. Samples were sent abroad and results showed I had stage IV breast cancer and i had three weeks to live

“That was how everyone started crying. By then, I couldn’t speak, but deep inside my heart, I refused to accept the death prognosis. I also thank God for my family members who refused to give up on me. They started sending the medical reports to different hospitals in India, the USA, etc.

“We were expecting them to accept the case so we could get an emergency visa to travel overseas for treatment. Unfortunately, more than 10 hospitals declined our requests. According to them, my case was already beyond repair.

“After several attempts, one hospital responded and requested an initial deposit of N10 million. Meanwhile, by then, we had already sold everything. So, we started seeking financial help from people and couldn’t even raise a reasonable sum.”

Rare symptoms of breast cancerHow I met a helper
I used to have a beading shop in Port Harcourt, and while I was sick, my store was locked up. One day, a neighbor who knew about my ill health ran into one of my customers, who is a medical doctor and the wife of a top politician in Rivers State.

After my neighbor told her that I was sick and dying, this compassionate woman came to visit me. When she saw my decaying state, she broke down in tears and questioned why I didn’t reach out to her for help.

regular breast examinations, early detection and accepting treatment are key to surviving breast cancer

In a nutshell, she promptly contacted a specialist doctor based in the United States who happened to be in Abuja at that time. After narrating my condition to him, the doctor said that they should bring me to the hospital in Abuja.

When the doctor saw me, he was scared to handle the case. He even assumed that I wouldn’t make it out alive because the cancer had spread. So, while they were about to take me back, he said, ‘As I am looking at you, I can see a sparkling light in your eyes. Are you a Christian?’ Since I couldn’t talk, I blinked my eyes in response. Then he said, ‘Okay, let’s see what your God can do for you.’ So, that was how my treatment began.

The chemotherapy experience
I was placed on a blood transfusion for six weeks. After that, I began the first chemotherapy course. After the third round of chemotherapy, my swollen and leaking breast suddenly shrank.

The doctor, observing this new development, said, ‘Ethel, indeed, your God is at work.’ It was at that moment that the breast was completely removed, and the healing process commenced.

I underwent a total of nine chemotherapy sessions and survived them. The next step was to undergo radiotherapy in Ghana, which was aimed at eliminating any remaining cancer cells that chemotherapy might have missed.

To pinpoint the exact locations of these cells, I was asked to run a series of tests and scans. Two weeks before my scheduled departure for radiotherapy, my doctor announced to me that my test results showed that I was free from cancer.

I underwent a total of nine chemotherapy sessions and survived them

Indeed, God intervened and cleared it all. It’s been 14 years since that experience, and I am still free from cancer, to the glory of God.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Image credit: Medical News Today

Engraced Life Foundation
One reason why many people with breast cancer die in silence is because of the fear of stigmatization. I was stigmatized and abused during my journey. They said I was cursed and that the gods were punishing me for a sin I committed.

Chemotherapy sessions made me look very dark. I lost my hair, my nails were dark, and I was very skinny. Due to my appearance, some people called me a witch. I also had friends who stopped coming close to me because they felt breast cancer was contagious.

After I conquered the disease, I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to creating awareness about breast cancer, and that was how Engraced Life Foundation was founded.

I was stigmatized and abused during my journey. They said I was cursed and that the gods were punishing me for a sin I committed

Apart from awareness campaigns, we also offer breast screening and support breast cancer patients by raising funds for their treatments. We have been doing this great work for some years now, and although it hasn’t been an easy journey, we are still pushing on.

Foods for breast cancer prevention. Courtesy: Health Web Magazine

At ELF, we address misconceptions about breast cancer. While there are some risk factors for developing this disease, also bear in mind that it can happen to anyone, irrespective of age, gender, race, family history, lifestyle choices, etc. Therefore, we encourage regular breast examinations because early detection and accepting treatment are key to surviving this disease.

Many women who were diagnosed with breast cancer died because they couldn’t afford the cost of medical treatment. I wouldn’t be alive today if my client-turned-friend hadn’t recommended me to that specialist doctor and she generously paid millions of naira for my treatment.

While there are some risk factors for developing breast cancer, bear in mind that it can happen to anyone

As a survivor, I want to say that you need the right medical treatment plus the God factor to conquer breast cancer. Herbal drugs will not cure it. Medical science is a miracle; therefore, attending prayers and fasting without going to the hospital is wrong.

If you don’t have money for medical treatment, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Even if it seems no one wants to help you, keep asking and don’t give up on your faith.

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