There is no statistical data to prove an upsurge in the carnage cancer has wrought on many families in the country. But there is a grim admittance of the preponderance of many Nigerians who are either suffering the pains of affliction or that have succumbed to the disease. No one knows how many have died from it, but each time a new victim succumbs, it brings the reality close and the pain even closer when a family member or a friend is the victim.
The fact that there is yet no definitive cure for the disease makes it all the more helpless. While the lack of appropriate data on those who have died of cancer is a function of the failure of our health management system, it is regrettable that misdiagnosis of the disease at the early stages by our medical system has been a major contributing factor to the long list of victims lost to cancer.
Most hospitals, public and very expensive private health facilities in the country don’t have the equipment and personnel to detect cancer. According to a patient who was misdiagnosed of having cancer of the pancreas, when in actual fact she had no cancer, “it was the most frightening moment of my life. I was terrified and just thought, ‘oh, my God, so this is it’. It was when I went to the UK for further test that it was discovered I had no cancer at all. You can imagine the relief I felt.” Continuing, She stated that after spending “so much money on the test at a highbrow hospital in Lagos, all they came up with was a misdiagnosis and scared the hell out of me.”
Investigations reveal that most of the hospitals have resorted to sending preliminary test to South Africa for confirmatory analysis and final result which inevitably cost more financial burden to the patient.
While the profiles highlighted in the following pages are by no stretch exhaustive, they contain a few of some of those in the media spotlight. Hundreds more in the rural areas die daily unreported and not even knowing what killed them. Many others are currently suffering and living with the disease and for privacy reasons are unwilling to disclose the nature of their illness.
PRINCESS OLUSOLA ADEOTI
Adeoti is the former managing director of the defunct City Express Bank and the daughter of the Kwara-born multi-millionaire, Chief Samuel Adedoyin.
She is the founder and head of MariaSam Foundation, a non-profit organization platform that is seamlessly and strategically structured to explore functional and reliable means to help the less privileged and lonely ones, who cannot afford the medical expense or do not have the needed environmental support for the treatment and management of the disease. The organisation is registered in Nigeria, United Kingdom and United States of America. Its main focus is to facilitate and promote cancer research, diagnosis, treatment and management as well as leadership building in Africa.
She was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2004 in the UK. After going through debilitating treatment regime she was informed that the treatments have failed to improve her situation and she had between four days to 4 weeks to live. However, that evening she got a message from God through Pastor Adeboye that rebuked the cancer cells in her body. Two days later she went to the hospital and was told the cancer cells have left her body. Hers is one of the few lucky escapes from the fangs of the deadly disease.
Born in 1964, a native of Trofani village, in Sagbama Local Government, Bayelsa State. She had a Bachelor‘s Degree in Banking and Finance and a Master‘s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt.
She was the wife of the former boss of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Chairman, Timi Alaibe and the boss of top Cosmetics Store Pretty Woman, on Toyin Street Ikeja. However she was best known and highly praised for her charitable deeds as the founder of award winning NGO, Family Re-orientation Education and Empowerment (FREE), an NGO designed to help the women of the Niger Delta region become literate and empowered.
The 45year old mother of five died on Saturday, January 31, 2009 in a UK hospital after being diagnosed a year earlier. Her death, according to the doctors who attempted to save her life, was caused by Renal Cell Carcinoma, a kind of cancer that is not unusual but very dangerous.
Chief Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi was a prominent lawyer and Nigeria’s foremost human rights activist, born in April, 1938, he dedicated his whole life to the defense of human rights and condemnation of all ill government polices. In the process of his crusades for the rule of law, he fought many battles against military dictatorship as a result of which he had been arrested several times by the military governments and their numerous security agents.
He died in the early hours of 5 September 2009 after a prolonged battle with lung cancer. He was 71 years old.
HAJIYA MARYAM ABUBAKAR
Hajiya Maryam Abubakar was the wife of the newly appointed Inspector General of Police Mohammed Abubakar. She died of cancer in a local clinic in Kano on 30th January 2012 few weeks after her husband’s confirmation as Inspector General of Police.
Dr. Olusola Saraki was born on the 17th of May, 1933 at Ilorin, Kwara State. He was a popular Nigerian politician and second republic senator popularly known as the “Kingmaker of Kwara politics”. He attended the University of London, and St George’s Hospital Medical School, London. He worked as a medical officer at the General Hospital, Lagos and the Creek Hospital, Lagos. The late Mr. Saraki was a philanthropist who was very popular among the poor people of Ilorin, the state capital, where he was referred to as “Baba Oloye.”
He died in Lagos on 14th November 2012 at the age of 79 loosing a five year battle against cancer.
NNEYIN ALLISON ATTAH
She was the wife of the ex-governor of Akwa Ibom Obong Victor Attah. Born in 1940, Mrs. Nneyin Allison Attah was originally from Barbados, a mother of two, and a graduate of Leeds University, UK, where she qualified as a Librarian. While serving as the first lady of Akwa Ibom, Mrs Attah, who had passion for child care, was chairperson, Child Development Trust (CDT), a non-governmental organisation that sought to change the lives of under-privileged rural children in Akwa Ibom through the provision of free health care services.
She died on the 29th of October in a private hospital at the age of 72 after losing a prolonged battle with kidney cancer.
Born in November 1948 in Asaba, in today’s Delta State Maryam Babangida was the wife of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who was Nigeria’s head of state from 1985 to 1993. As first lady, she launched many programmes to improve the life of women.
She founded the Better Life Programme for Rural Women in 1987 which launched many co-operatives, cottage industries, farms and gardens, shops and markets, women’s centres and social welfare programmes. She also empowered Nigerian women through programmes on adult education, primary health, agriculture, crafts and food processing. The Maryam Babangida National Centre for Women’s Development was established in 1993 for research, training, and to mobilize women towards self-emancipation. She died aged 61 from ovarian cancer on December 27, 2009 at California’s City Hope Hospital in the United States with her husband at her side as she died.
Oluremi Dorcas Osholake was born June 5th, 1961. She was one of Nigeria’s leading fashion designers and was known for her signature style always dressed in black. She said “When you have a black wardrobe, it’s coordinated in a way that there are no conflicts in colours and it goes from day to evening”. After her secondary school education in Lagos she moved to the UK for ‘A’ Levels after which she attended the Chelsea College of Arts and Design where she majored in Textile design.
She moved back to Nigeria in 1986 and opened a fashion company in Surulere Lagos which was called Freaky Designs. The brand was later rebranded and re-launched as Remi “Lagos”. She featured her designs and signature flowing Kaftans in fashions shows all over the world and she was involved in helping the less privileged and giving back to society through charities such as Change a Life Foundation founded by her close friend and TV broadcaster Funmi Iyanda.
Remi Lagos died on November 3rd, 2012 at the Harley Street Clinic, London, after a battle with uterine cancer a type of cancer the affects the uterus. She was 51. She was diagnosed with cancer in October 2012. She was hospitalized and began chemotherapy just two weeks to her death
MRS. CLARA OSHIOMOLE
She was the wife and first lady of the sitting Governor of Edo state Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. The 54 year old Edo First Lady was receiving treatment overseas and only returned to Nigeria for the daughter’s wedding slated for 19th December, 2010. She lost her battle to breast cancer at exactly 10:53pm on Tuesday, December 7, 2010, at the Abuja Clinic, Maitama. She was the initiator of the Health Foundation for Maternal and Child Care, a pet project which is aimed at providing quality healthcare for pregnant women and the girl-child.
ADMIRAL AUGUSTUS AIKHOMU
Admiral Augustus Aikhomu hailed from Idumebo-Irrua, Edo State, was an Admiral in the Nigerian Navy, and served as Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of General Staff and later, in the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, as Vice President from 1986 to 1993.
He fought for nine years to save his life from the ravages of prostate cancer until he eventually lost the battle on 17th August 2011. According to a statement by his son Akhimen Aikhomu “On Wednesday, around 6.15 pm, my father, who did not show any sign of ailment suddenly collapsed and became unconscious. Efforts to bring him back to life proved abortive”.
She was public relations consultant, beauty pageant organizer, founder of African Foundation and one of Nigeria’s most glamorous socialites.
She died on 16th June 2012 in a hospital in the United States after battling with cancer since 2010.
Yinka Craig was a pioneer radio and television broadcaster, sports journalist extraordinaire. He joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria) in 1967 as a studio operator. He rose to the limelight as a sports commentator and analyst in the 1980s while on the staff of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). Following his voluntary retirement from the NTA in 1990 He remained actively involved in television programming and soon became famous for his presentation of Newsline, a highly regarded news magazine feature on television. Craig also served as the main anchor of AM Express, an early morning show.
His travails with the disease was highly publicized which resulted in a passionate response by prominent Individuals, groups and corporate entities offering to contribute to Craig’s huge medical bills and did so. The Ogun and Lagos State Governments in particular were among the most generous contributors to the Yinka Craig fund, with the Lagos State Government donating as much as N15 million other prominent donors includes the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’adu Abubakar III. The fund rose about N38 million. His condition reportedly worsened because doctors had consistently misdiagnosed it in Nigeria. His type of lymphatic cancer, the Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas, is, according to doctors, more problematic.
He was reported to have been treated twice in the United Kingdom before he later returned to Nigeria only to relapse.
Craig was flown to the US in May 2008 for a Stem Cell transplant, a medical procedure that became necessary as a result of cancer of the bone marrow. He lost a two-year battle with cancer of the lymphatic systems at a clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in the United States of America on September 23, aged 60.
EDITH MARK ODU
Princess Edith-Ike Mark Odu, was a reputable female public relations manager with a Ph.D in public relations and government affairs.
She was the first scientific librarian for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). She set up Nigeria’s First Oil Library at the NNPC. She was the first female head of administration, in Lagos for Steyr Nigeria Limited, a federal government parastatal, before she joined Guinness Nigeria Plc, in 1986 as head of public affairs.
She was a member of the Nigerian Advisory Board of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), for Anglophone West Africa, a United Nations Agency for the advancement of women and a member of the African council on Communication Education. She was also the Vice President of the Women Empowerment Movement (WEM), an organization engaged with structuring strategies for enabling women’s entry into Policy and Decision-Making through political participation and economic empowerment.
She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 by the doctors at the Martin Luther King Hospital in US, Medical doctors at the University College Hospital, and also at UCH Ibadan. With concerted efforts by her and other friends and associates Princess Edith Cancer Fund Committee was established, the committee raised up to N4, 950,000, which saved Edith Mark-Odu. She had a successful surgery to remove the cancer tumour from her breast at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, Lagos.
Edith Mark Odu gave up the ghost on 11th December 2003 at the Lagos University Teaching hospital. She was 56 years old.
Tayo Aderinokun was the Group Managing Director of Guarantee Trust Bank from 2002 to the point of his death in 2011. A bank which he co-founded in 1990 alongside his good friend, Fola Adeola and served as Deputy Managing Director for 12 years between 1990 and 2002.
During his time as managing director, the bank witnessed tremendous progress and growth and was recognized as one of the most profitable and professionally managed corporate institutions in Nigeria with exemplary corporate governance practices and excellent customer service.
Mr. Aderinokun was also the recipient of ‘Banker of the Year’ at the inaugural THISDAY Awards in 2006, Most Respected CEO by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2008 and ‘African Banker of the Year’ by the “African Banker” magazine in September 2009.
He called some friends about a year earlier to inform them of his diagnosis around August of 2010. One of such friends informed him of an experimental immunotherapy treatment in Germany where he was taken to receive treatment. His condition improved for a while to the extent he felt the worst was over and he no longer had cancer. However, early in 2011 his health condition deteriorated drastically and had to be flown to the UK for treatment. Mr. Aderinokun passed on Tuesday, June 14, 2011, in the United Kingdom, aged 56, ending his struggle with lung cancer.
She was the wife of the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank, Mr Reginald Ihejiahi, a medical doctor by training, after a valiant struggle with the disease, she finally succumb early in 2010.
Prof. Omo Omoruyi was a professor of political science at the University of Benin. But he was better known as the Director-General of the Centre for Democratic Studies, and as Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s trusted friend and intellectual confidant.
He was firs diagnosed with the ailment in 2008, he survived that episode after a round of treatment in the United States only to relapse in the latter half of 2012. He has since been transported back to the United States to recommence treatment
Omo Omoruyi has struggled to cope financially with his ailment. Through the press He has expressed his feelings of being abandoned by his former friends in high places and credits his current sponsor Governor Adams Oshiomole for coming to his aid. He further expressed his fear of losing his life in a statement he made to journalists. He said
“I am going to the hospital in the United States to commence a new treatment plan and that treatment plan, how it will end, I don’t know. You will recall in the book, I said in the life of a cancer survivor, there are two fears. Fear number one is that of reoccurrence; the cancer would come back. Fear number two is that one could die”.
Fear number one is no more a fear, it is real. My cancer is back so it means I have to start a new treatment plan, I have to start a new journey because the other one was also a journey. I cried because since September, when I went to the hospital in the United States, all the series of tests showed that my cancer is back”.
He wrote a book on his experience with cancer since 2007 titled “My Journey back to life” which he was launched along with his foundation Omo Omoruyi Cancer Foundation (OOCF) in 2011. In his book he said about how the experience began “I did not know until March 2008 that my problem was not only cancer but a category 4 metastatic prostate cancer. The doctor in the United States hospital said to me, your cancer is very aggressive.”
“I did not know that I had cancer before leaving Nigeria on February 26, 2008 and I did not know the extent of the spread of the cancer cells before arriving US from Nigeria. All I knew was I was technically paralyzed. I had pains on my back and I did not know the cause of the pain. All I knew was that I was not able to move my bowel”.
Omoruyi said whereas the Abuja National Hospital failed to come up with a proper diagnosis after several days, “it took the Boston Medical Centre just a few hours to identify my ailment and the medication I should be taking to bring me back to life.”
Changing Lifestyle Largely to Blame
Prof. Akin Osibogun, the Chief Medical Director of LUTH in an interview with this reporter last year gives an insight on the upsurge in cancer cases and other ailmentsIt used to be very rare, but cancer appears to be on the rise lately among Nigerians. What do you think has given rise to that among Nigerians?
You know for every community there’s what we call the epidemiological transition. For every community you will start from a situation in which you have a high preponderance of communicable diseases, diarrhoea diseases, respiratory tract infections, malaria and so on, so, those will be the predominant conditions. And if you look back may be forty years because I remember when we were growing up you will see so many children dying from diarrhoea diseases and they are still dying but the number then was drastic. Every other day, every day you will just see children dying. So, we moved from that transition phase as the communities and our society improved its water and sanitation levels there has been a reduction in communicable disease and as people live longer there has been an increase in non-communicable diseases. Before you move to that final stage where your predominant diseases are non-communicable disease you have that transitional phase where you have a combination of both communicable disease and non-communicable diseases, so we are in that transitional phase now. So, we still have with us a lot of communicable disease – malaria, HIV, diarrhoea diseases, respiratory tract infections still killing a lot of people. But them because of changes in our life style, because of some ‘affluent life styles, non-communicable diseases are also coming in, people are smoking, people are abusing and misusing alcohol, people are living recklessly in terms of lack of physical exercise, bad dietary habit, consumption of fatty foods, fried items and not taking balanced diet. So, all that will then lead to a progression where you then have more and more non-communicable diseases including cancers. Although, cancers now are a special breed because they now sit between communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases. Some cancers now have been linked to some communicable disease agents. Cancer of the cervix for instance, has been linked to the human papilloma virus, but the human papilloma virus’ spread is also linked to life style, promiscuous sexual life style are linked to the transmission of the human papilloma virus. It is not to say that everybody who has cancer of cervix has been a promiscuous person. So, those are the factors that are causing the changes or the apparent increase in cancers.
For Hepatitis B it could be that we were not looking out for it, but now we have diagnostic facilities and we are picking them up. So, it is possible that because we have improved diagnostic capability, we are picking them up. But, please, also note that our life styles are also changing because Hepatitis is also transmitted through body fluids.
Why has ailments such as HIV, hepatitis B and cancer eluded cure for so long?
If you look at HIV the virus is an enigmatic virus because it is a virus that is not constant in terms of structure. So, the basic principle in antibiotic and anti-microbial treatment is that you study the structure of the organism and you develop a bullet to tackle that structure. But if you have an organism that is enigmatic and changes its structure and you are developing to tackle the structure and the structure keeps changing. That is what has been giving the scientists a big challenge as regards to HIV virus. But I do know that the global community is setting for itself a target date, in just nine more years, hopefully we are looking seriously, the global scientific and medical community is looking at 2020. so, that’s the challenge but I think the bigger challenge remains in changing peoples’ behaviour and what we need to do is behavioural change communication because we know how the viruses are transmitted and with this we should be able to break the chain of transmission. So, if you know that the virus is not transmitted by shaking somebody’s hand, you know it is not transmitted by hugging somebody so you know how it is transmitted so break that chain where it is transmitted. So, if an uninfected person does not have sexual intercourse with an infected person, in other words if an uninfected person does not expose himself because we know it is sexually transmitted, therefore we should be able to break the chains of transmission. If you do not transfuse blood that is infected to an uninfected person that person will not be infected. So, you know you can break the chains of transmission and that is why here we do the screening twice, it makes it expensive. Again, that’s another point, the patient will be wondering why they should pay this amount of money for a pint of blood. There’s no shortcut to it because you already know that is the chain of transmission so you try to break it.
So, behaviour is the most difficult thing to change, some will tell you at least this one time wont kill me and then another will tell you that after all something must kill a man but we need to change that attitude. I don’t know what we need to do because you are the expert in communication but may be if we give people more hope it may require even social engineering beyond communication, if we give people particularly, the younger people now, people in the universities and so on, if you give them hope and they see a bright future ahead they will be less likely to take the risk. And as I said HIV is transmitted sexually, Hepatitis B is also transmitted sexually. So, you can actually kill two birds with one stone.