Cancer Diagnosis: Not a Death Sentence (1)

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By Dr. Goke Akinrogunde
“Hush..Rumour has it that Oga on the rock has cancer – lymphoma, prostate cancer or whatever”….And so what?
Anybody can get sick and seriously speaking any human being can have cancer – it is not a respecter of age, position, gender, creed, religion or ethnic affiliation but the defining line is early diagnosis for most cancers; hence to be diagnosed of cancer is not necessarily a death sentence as the following lines suggests.
Breast cancer – a case study
In all modesty, I must say that the balance sheet with cancer awareness in general, especially breast cancer awareness, is much better now than it was some two decades ago during my earliest face-to-face reality encounters with victims of the condition. Breast cancer is particularly notorious, this is because for most people by the time it becomes obvious or noticeable, it would have come to a point of return and hardly curable by most standard.
In other words, earlier detection is the norm for a possible cure. Earlier detection however comes with some experience with self-detection techniques in all women and to some extent in men too (since about 1-3 per cent of all breast cancers are also found in men). However, a regular examination with a special X-ray machine (the mammography) over a space of every other year is also recommended, particularly for ladies over the age of 40 years; below this age group, a mammogram may not revealed much. Instead, a breast scan may be more appropriate and handy with a clinical examination of the breast by a doctor.
Certainly, increased awareness about the above breast examination procedures has changed the viewpoints on breast cancers, leading to early detection, which has saved many lives and seriously curtailed the potential course of the disease in a number of women.
Although, I should quick to add that the reduction in the rates of morbidity due to breast cancer in developing countries like Nigeria is far off from the situation in the developed world where access to basic health is not far removed from the populace as it is the case here. The reason for this is not far-fetched; ordinarily, the cost of obtaining a mammogram in Nigeria goes between N10,000 and N25,000; for a number of Nigerians, this cost is way out of affordability. In the same vein, more than half of the populace live in rural settings with low level of education, intense poverty and are not exposed to basic information gadgets like TV, radio etc, where they could have come across some of the advocacy programmes enlightening on breast cancer and self- breast examination.
In general, however, the awareness campaign has made some impacts with more women now getting bolder about scrutinising themselves for possible breast lumps and more patronages are daily reported at the mammogram centres across the country. It is only a pity that the intense capitalist nature of our society has put profit-making over every desirable services, including social services like health; if not, it would have been possible to have a number of Mammogram machines, distributed in thousands across the country, with the intention of detecting small but potentially dangerous breast lumps before they start reigning havoc as breast cancers.
I have personally come across a number of women who had fallen victims to breast cancer and were not able to survive it due to the fact that the disease was detected when it was too late. On the other hand, I had similarly come across a fewer numbers that were able to brace the condition because they detected their cancers much earlier.
Below is a published confession of a breast cancer survivor, Irsan Gao; her story is not only simple and concise, it is also very inspiring and her actions are worthy of emulation for other women. She wrote the following lines in her article titled: “Breast Cancer – a Must Read Confession of a Breast Cancer Survivor”.
Is not cancer a very dreadful disease? Mortality of women dying of breast cancer is lower today. The key is early detection, then treatment. When detected, a patient is in denial stage. Why me? – This is the perennial question. But – it is important to think positive; and you are now in acceptance stage. This is true to me – I was first in denial only to accept my fate later and – I am thankful for what I am now. This is a great lesson in life. I was watching the television. I felt a lump in my right breast – small it was, yet it caused me anxiety. Shall I or shall I not see a doctor? What if the diagnosis is cancer? Is death imminent? I prayed and prayed and prayed. Initial Examination I bravely went to see a cancer surgeon. He felt the lump, did an aspiration and to my dismay – the syringe was filled with blood. The Diagnosis The cancer surgeon is very popular for his specialization, the best so they say. Without hesitation, he said it is 90% tumor – the lump small, still in early stage of breast cancer. Nevertheless, it is still cancer! First Treatment – Mastectomy He advised me on the date of operation – the sooner the better. I was admitted in a semi-government hospital for confinement and operation. My whole night in the hospital room was a torture. I was afraid. I cried and I prayed. During the operation, the surgeon removed the lump in my right breast, had it examined (frozen biopsy). It was an early stage of breast cancer – Stage 2A to be exact. Radical mastectomy ensued. When I woke up some after hours, I was one-breasted. Yes – gone is my whole big right breast. Second Treatment – Chemotherapy I was referred to an oncologist. Several laboratory tests were done until finally chemotherapy was recommended. Chemo so they say will make my chance for survival higher. It was six-session chemotherapy, done every 21 days. My first chemo was okay – no nausea, no vomiting. Supported by vitamins and supplements, I felt strong and alive. But after a week, I endured the side effects – I felt weak, I could not eat. Then, when I was recovering my stamina, chemotherapy treatment resumed. Then the same side effects registered. The cycle continued until the six sessions were completed. Post Treatment Check-up every three months, then the interval was longer – every 6 months. Finally, it is annually. To be qualified as cancer survivor, I must be in full remission for five years. It is now seven years. I feel healthy and sexy – even only with my left breast intact. I am alive and that counts. I thank God for my life extension. So – if you were in my shoes, do what I did. When you discover a lump in your breast – run to the doctor! You can save your life. Have no fear. Breast cancer is one of the most easy to treat – in the family of the Big C.
My take away
Frankly speaking, what is true for Irsan Gao is true thousands of breast cancer victims who reported early, after noticing the unusual in their breasts.
My take away today on this discuss on breast cancer today is train yourself on the appropriate methods on how to self-examine for a breast lump and how if in doubt about your breasts’ status, go for a mammography or a breast scan as appropriate. And this message is applicable to men too – breast cancer does occur in men (though not as frequent as in women)!
INSIDE THE HOSPITAL
Dear Dr. Goke,
Is my rashes caused by oral sex?
I wish to raise my concern about a condition that has been bordering my mind for some time now.
I had oral sex with a girl sometime ago and I began to notice some rashes on my organ which later spread to other parts of my body.
I went to see a doctor who carried out some blood tests (not HIV) and advised me to use Travocort cream for six months. I met another pharmacist who advised me to use Ketoconazole tablets for 1month.
I have carried out all instructions and even went back to the hospital to see another doctor who told me to consult a dermatologist. These rashes have become itchy and it is embarrassing.
Please do advise me on what to do.
Thank you.
Chidi
Chidi,
Your apprehension in relation to the concern you had over these rashes of yours are quite understandable, especially because the response has been slowed with all the drugs you have been taken over the period under reference.
However, I should say that the fact that you had an “oral sex with a girl” a month to the commencement of the rashes all over your body does not strike me as the immediate or primary cause of these rashes. This can as well be attributed to other causes, other than the oral sex.
The above is the reason why I will advise that in this case you should stop the various “try and error medications”, it is probably wise for you to seek an appointment with a practicing dermatologist, since the primary complaint has to do with a skin rash.
I am confident that the attending dermatologist will be in the best position to decode the nature of the skin rashes, and if necessary send you for relevant tests.
Best wishes, while you sort yourself out.