Mrs. Ebunola Anozie is the National Coordinator/Chief Executive Officer, Care, Organisation, Public Enlightenment, (COPE), a breast cancer awareness non-governmental organisation based in Lagos. She is an Ashoka fellow who has been working in cancer control advocacy for over a decade. In this interview with Ebere Nwiro, she shares insight on her work and tips on what can help lockout the disease and the benefits of breast self-examination
What is C.O.P.E all about and what prompted you into doing this?
C.O.P.E is a breast cancer awareness network. It was founded in 1995. It came about due to the fact that I lost my dear ones to cancer and a friend as well. And over the years, we have been creating awareness making information available to people and also screening women for cancer with ultrasound scan.
We thank God that we are preparing to launch the recent ultrasound scan donated by Skye Bank to help actualise our goal of protecting more women from breast cancer. The question of having to organise screening programs maybe by annually or twice a year is now over. We can now come together regularly to perform the screening. We have made everything available for them.
What has been the impact of your work?
I should say that we thank God that a lot of women are becoming more aware, breast cancer is no more seen as a taboo to Nigerians unlike before that it was more like a taboo to them. Now people see it as the necessary health issue that must be tackled. So, basically a lot of people are becoming more aware and lifestyles are changing; people are trying to go back to the basics.
They try now by eating a lot of vegetables, and take a lot of water and they try by abstaining from coloured water. They live a kind of live that reduces the risk of having cancer.
If you look at the trend, is the Government doing anything to actually reverse this trend giving the efforts that charity organisations are making?
We are yet to see that and we are praying that in this part of the world, we learn to start paying attention to important issues such as cancer because we need to put cancer on our political and national agenda.
Not many people can afford to go abroad for treatment. How many people can afford to go to just South Africa here and India for treatment? We have the resources the money is there let us make appropriate use of our resources.
People are dying just go to the hospitals and 70 per cent of cancer deaths are all here in developing countries. A lot of women are suffering. We need a national cancer centre in Nigeria. The government should please give us a very good cancer centre. We are not asking for an ordinary cancer centre. We are talking about a cancer centre that we will be proud to say yes we have a good functional cancer centre.
We don't need obsolete gadgets. We need up to date gadgets that can detect cancer on time and that is affordable.
So what Experience have you had with cancer survivor and the patients?
We have had a lot of survivors who actually presented their cases late, and we are aware that if you come out early, the survivor rate is high and a lot better. Unlike if you present your case late in which case the survivor rate very low.
Then we still give hope to them because God is the ultimate. It takes only God to know the outcome. They come here and they share their experiences with us and other cancer patients so as to give hope to them.
How would you react to the fact that a lot of them don't want to come out which does impact on the awareness campaign?
Some might have personal reasons for not coming out and we do respect that. How many men come out when they have prostate cancer? But we do have women who are willing to talk about it. They come on air and they tell you that look I am a survivor don't be afraid. I want you to be pro-active don't give your life to chance; they come out to talk about it. we respect their views and we respect their privacy, and those who are willing to talk about it we encourage them.
What message do you have for women on cancer issue?
A lot of women come when it is late, they actually give the excuse that ignorance was the reason why they didn't begin early treatment. Some would say, I was told but I didn't have the money to treat the cancer early, some belief it is a taboo to talk about it at all, so they are scared to open up, some actually believe if they ignore it, the cancer would go away. I simply want them to be pro-active; they have to make themselves available for screening so that they can be helped on time if they happen to be found with this illness.
Like I said, very soon we are going to start screening people here, it's a different thing when we make something available for someone and it is a different thing when one takes advantage of it. It is also important for them to do self-breast examination continuously by touching the breast to know if there is a lump somewhere.