... In 9 months, my son took 19 pints of blood --Riskat Oshagbemi
... I exhausted my savings, yet my daugther died -- Buki Oluwaojebi
Cancer is a bully, worse than the playground bully. It does not only try to steal the children's lunch money but also steals their future.
No parent wants to hear, "your child has cancer". It is simply terrifying. When cancer affects affects a child, no member of the family is spared.
It used to be believed that cancer was a disease of the elderly. Sadly, every year, thousands of children in Nigeria are diagnosed with cancer. The truth is that many childhood cancers have an excellent prognosis when detected and diagnosed early, and properly treated.
But, unfortunately the Nigerian story remains one of late detection, delay in presentation, and poor survival rate.
Despite the burden of the disease, there is no supportive treatment plan for children with such terminal illness in Nigeria and worse still, the burden of treatment lies solely on the families of such patients.
Sharing their experiences with Good Health Weekly at the launch of "Childhood Cancer Handbook Series" written by The Dorcas Cancer Foundation, it was mixed feelings as mothers whose children lost the battle against cancer and those who managed to survive narrated their struggles, agonies and hopes.
One of such mothers, Mrs. Riskat Titilayo Oshagbemi was in tears when she recounted her experience at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, after her son, Joshua, aged 10 years following his diagnosis with cancer of the kidneys.
"Since his diagnosis in 2013, Joshua has had 11 cycles of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.
He has had fluid drained from his chest and more scans and tests than we can count but my son still keeps fighting."
Oshagbemi said in 2015, they spent eight months and 10 days on admission in the hospital and between August 2016 till date, Joshua had collected 19 pints of blood.
"Aside from the stress of paying for the tests at one point and collecting the change the receipt at the other end, not to talk of moving from one ward to another and buying the drugs outside the hospital, I have sold all my belongings.
"The only things I did not sell were those things which people were not ready to buy from me. Caring for him made me lose my business. His elder sister has been out of school for a year and a half, and Joshua himself was eager to return to school after three years," she stated.
Mrs. Obienu Chiamaka whose child, Emmanuel, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of four, recalled that when he began manifesting symptoms of kidney cancer, she didn't take it serious because she never expected a little child wold have cancer.
"I don't know that children do have cancer, I thought it was a disease of the adult. When he fell down in school, he developed fever and then his temperature would go up in the evening and by morning it would come down", she said
Chiamaka said when he took him to a private hospital the doctor said it was infection and treated him but after some weeks the condition would resurface and would even become worse.
"He could not eat and was unable to do things that he used to do. He was just lying down and started losing weight while his stomach was getting bigger. In December 2016 Emmanuel was diagnosed with kidney cancer and since then the battle for survival began.
Thanks to Dorcas Cancer Foundation that assisted us financially, he is still alive. It is hell caring for a child with cancer."
While Joshua and Emmanuel are still alive, Dorcas was not so fortunate. Her mother, Mrs. Eriola Adepitan recalled how her daughter (Dorcas) battled with the scourge for three years before she lost the battle.
"In 2012, she complained of pain in her leg after she returned from school and I didn't take it serious but when her complaint was persistent, I took her to the hospital and after an x-ray, the doctor said she had bone cancer.
She was given series of treatments including surgery on the right leg but despite these efforts, she died."
Also, Mrs Buki Oluwaojebi. mother of late Atinuke, recounted how she died.
She said three-year-old Atinuke died in pains.
"We spent so much money, sold all our properties and became almost impoverished. She was taken to India for bone marrow transplant but at the end she lost the battle. For over a year, it was like living in hell fighting cancer," Buki lamented.
"It all started with fever, and my mind didn't go to cancer because I could not imagine anything more than malaria for a three- year- old baby. For two months of our consistent visits to the hospital, there was no concrete diagnosis so they placed her on antibiotics for another three weeks before she was later diagnosed at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH and our nightmares began."
Good Health Weekly also spoke to the Founder, The Dorcas Cancer Foundation, Dr. Adedayo Joseph who noted that Joshua and Emmanuel won the battle due to early medical intervention and support,.
On the other hand, he explained that Richard, Aliyat, Timothy among others would have been alive too, if they received early treatment and care and support.
Adebayo explained that the Foundation has produced three handbooks to create awareness about childhood cancer.
"These books will go a long way into letting them know that they are not alone, and the Dorcas Cancer Foundation is rooting for them, until every single Nigerian child is no longer at risk of dying from childhood cancer."
In the view of a lecturer from the Department of Paediatrics at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Dr. Seye Akinsete, Nigeria still lags in cancer care, arguing that "we still have issues with manpower to provide care, the facilities in management are not available while there is need for robust health insurance".
Akinsete regretted that children continue to be at the disadvantage edge when it comes to cancer care.
"The National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, includes breast cancer, prostate and cervical cancer but childhood cancer is not included. Between 30 to 40 percent of children with cancer has genetic predisposition and over time the environment works on it and it manifests.
"If your child is having recurrent fever or is consistently treated for malaria or has swellings around the neck, among others, you need to seek medical evaluation," he explained.