You must have noticed that a lot of breast cancer awareness campaign happened within the month of October. This isn’t a coincidence. October is actually the Breast Cancer Awareness month. As a result, most women had to wear pink or ‘a touch of pink’ all through the month. People like me have pink T-shirts that loudly call women to go for tests or have their breasts examined in order to save their lives. In fact, my own T-shirt has breast cancer boldly written strategically at its front and back. I enjoyed seeing aghast looks on people’s faces when they see me in that shirt. Some even gathered enough courage to chide me for wearing clothes with such loud tabooed expression. Then it will be my turn to laugh at them for seeing ‘breast’ without seeing ‘cancer’ and ‘battle now’.
Some of us in different cities of the federation must have seen cancer awareness posters, groups participating in awareness campaign march, calls for seminars, workshops, and so on. Even the internet buzzed throughout the month with this cancer awareness thing. But, I don’t think anybody saw any public announcement on free cancer tests and diagnosis – this is the basis for this write-up.
Our worries about cancer shouldn’t just end with breast cancer. Cancer can come in different forms, even though it looks like breast cancer is the commonest one – even amongst men. For us women, we are mostly worried about breast and cervical cancer. We have to examine our breasts every now and go for cervical pap smear (every three years) to test for human papilomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. One good thing is that the cause of cervical cancer has been detected.
The problem with other types of cancers is that their causes have not been detected. The risk factors these oncologists keep mentioning will make you wonder what you are still doing in this world. One of such seminars I attended revealed that even some of the materials used in building our houses expose us to radiation that can cause cancer. And in Nigeria, that is riddled with low income (I don’t want to say ‘poverty’), smoking cheap cigarettes is still prevalent – and you that is minding your business will be the one inhaling the smoke, even more than the smoker himself.
So, apart from cervical cancer, the causes of cancer aren’t known yet – as far as I know. This means that the only way to fight it is through regular tests. And ‘tests’ here isn’t ‘self-diagnosis’; you need to go to the hospital for it. This means you have to spend money; and heavy one at that.
We are constantly told that early detection is the key; but has anyone asked if we have the means for the ‘early detection’? How many Nigerians can afford these tests when they are struggling to put food on their tables? Please, don’t come with the ‘health is wealth’ slogan because everybody knows that already. But, believe me, you wouldn’t think about health when your children are looking at their empty plates because you want to use their ‘chop money’ for mammogram and other tests for cancer cells.
I always wonder why more attention is given to HIV/AIDS, that people already know how to avoid, than to cancer, that the only way to fight is by performing tests. HIV tests are conducted freely or at very low charges in almost every hospital and medical laboratories, but no one will conduct ordinary breast examination for free. Maybe Naija government is waiting for this monstrous disease to become endemic before they do something about it – but God no go gree.
You know one problem with cancer, if you don’t detect it early, it will eat deep and destroy the system. Most Nigerians that have the means to travel out of the country for better medical attention at the early stage of the illness were lucky to survive it. But then, how many people can afford that? Some people after being diagnosed with cancer have to start looking for the heavy money required before treatment commences. By the time they have a little percentage of the money, the disease must have eaten deep into them. This is quite pathetic.
So, if Nigerian government wants to reduce the number of citizens that are killed by cancer, they need to:
- Establish cancer diagnosis centres in every government hospital. If finding oncologists and other related medical practitioners is the problem, they should send some interested medical doctors for the training. This way, every Nigerian can have access to these professionals without having to kill themselves going to tertiary hospitals for ordinary diagnosis.
The good thing about this is that with time, private and missionary hospitals will open their own centres as well.
- Run free cancer tests for people. I know they will say that the cost of procuring the reagents or equipment, or whatever they use in doing these tests is expensive; but if Naija government can pay ‘sleeping senators’ heavily, they can also procure these equipment and reagents for their hospitals.
- Sponsor many Nigerian doctors and scientists to embark on further research on how to prevent cancer. Please, they should stop giving us funny risk factors that scare the life out of us. They should be more detailed and concrete in their analysis and hit the bull’s eye. We need to know what to avoid so that we run away from cancer.
- Create louder awareness on cancer prevention. Most people that died of cancer knew what it was but didn’t give it serious consideration until it hit them. We can’t continue like this. The same way ‘noise’ is being made for HIV/AIDS is still the way it should be made for cancer. NGOs that are looking for new grounds to break may have to come in here. Let more light be thrown on cancer prevention.