Port Harcourt big babe Miss Boma Susan Banjo has been battling Breast Cancer for some time now. She is a youthful-looking lady who is an unassuming and serious-minded lady who controls multi-million naira enterprises. She is a successful female entrepreneur, running SIGNATURE COUTURE and SIGNATURE MAKEOVERS in Port Harcourt.
Boma a University of Port Harcourt graduate of Psychology (Guidance and Counseling) has been through a lot in the past one year, battling Breast Cancer and finally as a survivor, she tells City People’s Port Harcourt Bureau Chief, EMEKA AMAEFULA (08111813069), her heart-wretching experience while undergoing chemotherapy and breast-surgeries, that saved her life. Read On.
For the past one year, you have not been active in business, what happened to you?
Well, it has not been easy, but I thank God, I thank my family and friends for standing by me. It has not been easy because I was battling Cancer. So, it was hard, you know. But thank God that I survived. It was really difficult, but I thank God that I survived.
In the beginning, how were you able to know what was happening to you?
You know, I attend House On The Rock Church, Port Harcourt and in the Church, we have a group known as Army Of David which is the Ministry arm of House On The Rock church. We normally have Health Awareness Checks and all that. They do Free Health Checks for all kinds of people and It was during one of those exercises that they gave us talks on cancer awareness and how to check oneself and all that. Funny enough the talk stuck in my subconscious mind because after the talk I used to check myself and one day I stumbled on a lump and I asked myself if it was there earlier and I found out that the lump wasn’t there before. It wasn’t painful and I felt a bit relaxed and I told my grandma and friends to check for me and they were like ‘Boma you worry too much’ this is because normally I have the habit of if I have rashes for two days they don’t go I will go to hospital as I don’t normally do those self-medication thing. So, I left it a bit and I went to Lagos to visit my mum. It was while I was in Lagos that the lump started getting painful like a month later and I now felt a biting pain and I wouldn’t feel it for the next two or three days but it became more frequent I got worried and I went somewhere in Lagos to do a scan, but the doctor said that his machine could not see anything and I am like “Doctor leave this your machine thing, use your hands because it was manual check that I did and I felt it. He said with his hands yes, he could feel it, but his machine wasn’t seeing anything. So, I left him and he said it was a benign lump. I wasn’t convinced. So, that was when I now told my mum and my aunt who now told me ok there was this Professor (specialist doctor) at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital-LASUTH.
That was how we went to him and he saw it and checked it (Breast) and it was a lump and he had it removed. And when he tested it, barely two weeks later the result came out that it was a Breast cancer. I felt like they just handed me a death sentence but I escaped. All I remember was that I stopped talking and it felt like I left this world and came back it was like what are my chances, but my aunt and her friend who went with me …because I had already told them what I was going through all came with me to the hospital for support. I had no idea that I was going to hear such life-changing news .So, when we got there, I asked what my chances were? The specialist said: ‘Well thank God’ that I found it out early. That it was still treatable. Those days were the hardest days of my life. That was because each day, I remember coming out from that place and feeling like ‘Oh God, you don’t love me because if you do why would you allow such a thing (cancer) to happen to me and if you love me, why would you want me to die?…If you love me, why have I been in this world working so hard only for me, to go down this way’. So, I was miserable. Now, I know why some people are suicidal when they go through certain things. For me, before then, I used to say it to myself that nothing in this world would make me kill myself”.
Decision time, life after diagnoses
“So, after that, I decided that no this is a battle it has come and I must face it. And if I knew that I have to win the battle I have to be strong. That was how my days of crying became ‘oh I have to win this’ and then I started chemotherapy and then I did surgery and I am here today.
How many times did you do the surgery?
The first one I did was the Lumpectomy, that was to have the lump removed and after that, I did the Chemotherapy as I started doing the Chemotherapy before the main surgery because it would shrink the size of the tumor first, and weaken the cancer cells so that it would not spread, while the surgery was being performed. I did 4 rounds of Chemotherapy first, before my next surgery and I now did the surgery, breast conservative surgery. At first, I was supposed to do Mastectomy surgery, which is the total removal of the entire breast so that you can be alive. So, I ended up doing Breast conservation surgery as I didn’t do the mastectomy. After the four rounds of chemotherapy, I went in for surgery…I later completed two more rounds of chemotherapy, making it six circles of chemotherapy altogether. I also did Radiotherapy at the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (N.S.I.A) Cancer Center at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital-LASUTH”.
How expensive is cancer treatment in Nigeria?
”So, it has not been easy… But one of the most challenging things is that I remember when I first had the diagnoses, a lot of people came saying that Nigerian doctors cannot treat cancer ‘Oh Nigeria! They can’t treat Cancer oh! Go to India. Go to South Africa. Go to Dubai and it was like someone came and said go to Egypt and I am like, Egypt again that I have never heard that before?
I have faith in Nigerian doctors because the doctor who treated me, Professor Oluwole Ateyobi, of Salvation Clinic, Ilasa Maja, has treated so many people in the past. So, luckily, I spoke with some people he treated 15 years earlier and I am like now so, I am like I have faith and I have confidence that the man knew his job. I didn’t listen to those who were saying go to India, Go here and there…because cancer treatment is quite expensive even in Nigeria. You can imagine going abroad and maybe you getting stranded. Our doctors here are really trying it is just that they do not have enough facilities, I mean equipment for treating people.
At what time did you notice the lump and had the first surgery?
Okay, I noticed the lump in May 2018 and I travelled to Lagos that same month, May 30th. It was in June 2018 that I went to do the scan that first, revealed that it was a benign lump and that there was nothing there. And when I saw the doctor and I did another scan, which said that there was a complex mass…so I did my Lumpectomy first procedure surgery on the 21st of July, 2018 and 2nd of August, 2018 was when I saw the doctor and he told me that I had breast cancer. And that I needed to start treatment like chemotherapy. At first, even my mum said ‘no’ that my daughter was not going to do chemotherapy because chemotherapy does not kill, but it is the relapse of the disease that kills many of people who have cancer and they hide it. Some people think that it is a spiritual attack… I remember someone very close to me, telling me that this is not ordinary and that it was spiritual and I said to the person “no problem, I am a child of God that I will pray while I take my treatment and that it would work” So, we need to get rid of that mentality that cancer is not an ordinary sickness and that it is spiritual as it kills a lot of people because they delayed treatment. Thus exposing them to fatality. When they die, they attribute it to chemotherapy. So, we really need to be health-conscious in Nigeria although our economy is not helping, the government has a whole lot to do because a lot of people are suffering before now if someone had told me that one injection would cost three hundred and Fifty thousand naira to Five Hundred Thousand naira and some are above Five hundred thousand naira for one, I would not believe and they would tell you to take 18 doses of such injection depending on the type of cancer that you have.
So, many people who are dying of cancer died because of a lack of money. When patients hear such a prohibitive bill that they have to pay to cure cancer they run to churches and spiritual homes or to anybody who is willing to tell them what they want to hear. Some even say supplements could cure cancer and I tell them that on a pack of supplements, it is written that supplements cannot cure malaria. So, cancer treatment is very expensive.
How can the government help reduce the cost of cancer treatment and other terminal diseases?
I think our government has a lot to do. First, let us talk about Radiotherapy, in the whole of Nigeria, we have Radiotherapy machines that are not working. The one at LUTH caters for so many patients. I went to National Hospital, Abuja first, and I was supposed to do it there, I couldn’t do it because the CT scan machine broke down. And you need to do the CT scan. I was in Abuja for over two weeks and the machine didn’t come up and I went back to Port Harcourt before they now called me to come to Lagos that the machines have started working. I was in Lagos and because of the crowd on the one Lagos. I was there for almost a month before I started the Radiotherapy itself. I don’t know why we cannot have Radiotherapy machines in all the 36 states in Nigeria and I don’t know why the Government cannot subsidize or make cancer carefree for its citizens. Nigeria is an Oil-rich nation as we have all the resources and we have all that it takes to cater to our citizens. I don’t know why our government is unconcerned because when the government officials get ill, they travel abroad for treatment. So, they neglect all the healthcare facilities in Nigeria. So, the normal person could not afford treatment of cancer I remember meeting a girl at LUTH and her brother had to register her with N20,000 and they were asking me that these people are asking them to pay N20,000 that how much is Radiotherapy? And I said radiotherapy costs about Eighth Hundred and fifty thousand naira (N850, 000) and the other one costs about Four Hundred and something Thousand N400, 000 or more, depending on the type of palliative or curative that the person wants.
At that point, the boy said that they could not afford it and it means they would resign to fate even if she finds cancer out early, funds are a problem as she couldn’t afford it. It is like going home to wait for death. And there is a lot of people like that. When they are told and do CT Scan for N40,000, they are like where will I get N40,000 from? So, governments need to provide adequate machines and not when our Lawmakers are ill, they go abroad for treatment. No, they should do it in a way that when they are ill they should take treatment here as Americans don’t go abroad when they are ill, of course, they cannot come to Africa, we have nothing to offer them.
We have development interventionist agencies like Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), what is your opinion on what they could do to help citizens live and have better healthcare?
I think they really have a lot to do.
They can set up awareness centres. The first thing to cancer treatment is to fight to create awareness as information is key. And if we are talking about NDDC, they are just going to do for Niger Delta, but even if they start with a few persons, they can touch lives by subsidizing the cost of drugs, make them free. If you are going to treat somebody and you are asking the person who doesn’t earn Fifty thousand naira a year to pay about N3million or N15m for treatment, they would resign themselves to fate saying maybe God wants them to die or their uncles or their grandmothers in the village want to kill them or their enemies want to kill them. Even our oil companies multinationals could help to create awareness about cancer and support the health system in Nigeria.