Battling Cancer Misdiagnosis

Ayodeji Ake looks at the life of 34-year-old Mary Abia, a visually impaired breast cancer patient, who could have been hale and hearty today if medical personnel did not misdiagnose her condition

It is no longer news that one of the biggest healthcare challenges in Nigeria is misdiagnosis, which often results in patients being treated for an ailment different from what they are suffering from. In many cases, the patients pay the ultimate price for such professional error. This is the lot of Mary Abia, a visually impaired 34-year-old woman.

The Lagos resident had in 2016 noticed a boil in one of her breasts and gone to one of the hospitals on Lagos Island to get proper diagnosis. The examination was done, and the doctor declared it was a fibrotic growth.

Abia, who is now on stage-four breast cancer, and presently on palliative care, told THISDAY that such declaration by the medical doctor was the genesis of her current condition. But she still hopes her situation is not beyond God.

Abia said when she approached the doctor, he asked to see the breast and after examination, told her he was going to need a small needle, which cost N22, 000, to collect a sample from the growth to complete the diagnosis. She said, “I was then given an appointment for next week to come with the money. He collected the money by morning, left the hospital and came back by evening while I was still waiting. He told me he went to buy the needle, which he eventually used to collect the sample.

“By the time I came back the next week for the result, he said the machine was faulty. The following week when I went back, he said the result showed fibrotic growth, and that I would go through a surgical operation to determine the exact issue, as his machine was not saying the right thing.”

Abia, who spent about N200, 000 for the surgery, said she was discharged a day after, even while she complained about uncontrolled bleeding. When all hope seemed lost, she commenced self-medication at home, while believing that God would heal her.

As days went by, her case continued to deteriorate and her breast tissues began to fall off. She went to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), where she was eventually diagnosed with breast cancer. It was information that came rather too late.

Abia said, “I was then immediately placed on chemotherapy twice a week, and this cost me N55,000 every week and I had to stop when I could no longer afford it. By the time I went back to LASUTH in January, my limbs were swollen. I didn’t know what next to do. My sister has been there for me, but the cost of treatment is overwhelming.”
Abia’s cancer is on stage-four; the last cancer stage, which means she can only live on palliative care until a miracle occurs.

Speaking on the development, Chief Executive Officer, Care Organisation Public Enlightenment (COPE), a foundation that caters for such patients, Mrs. Ebun Anozie, expressed sadness that Abia’s case had gone beyond what could be treated, and she can only be put on palliative care to suppress the pain.

According to Anozie, “I have told them the truth because in situations like this, you don’t hide it. All they can do for her is palliative care. It is a treatment that won’t make her feel the pain and they will continue to treat her until the time comes, because it is now on stage four.

“Government should up their game because people are dying. The healthcare system should also be upgraded because not everyone in Nigeria can afford to go abroad for treatment.”

Anozie, while lamenting the high cost of cancer treatment, called on pharmaceutical organisations to help reduce the prices of breast cancer drugs. She said, “I am appealing to pharmaceutical organisations to reduce the cost of breast cancer drugs, as some medication are as high as N700,000 and the patient may be required to buy up to 13 doses.”

On the prevention of cancer, Anozie urged Nigerians to go back to natural foods, instead of processed meals, adding that people should shun lifestyles that predispose them to cancer. She added, “We should maintain a heart of forgiveness, as unforgiveness breeds various diseases because of the venom it contains. People should exercise more, take a lot of water, but stop or minimise intake of cold water and other coloured drinks, among others.”

On what she was doing on her part to reduce the burden of breast cancer, Anozie said COPE had created a Wall of Fame tagged “The Big 10 Sponsors”, meant for the public to appreciate the partnerships that have been made in the fight against breast cancer in Nigeria. She noted that an annual contribution of N1 million by a company or organisation can make a positive difference in the lives of 333 Nigerian women at an individual cost of N3, 000 for a breast ultrasound scan screening.

“Under the Wall of Fame campaign, members of staff and customers will be beneficiaries; women will equally have the opportunity to get screened, regardless of their location and socio-economic status,” she said. “With this initiative, the perception that cancer is a death sentence will be a thing of the past, as early detection gives a better chance of survival. Prompt screening with efficiency is assured. It will also help develop standards and tools to guide the planning and implementation of interventions for prevention, early diagnosis, screening, treatment and palliative care.”

Appeal to Banks, Organisations
Anozie went on to appeal to banks to key into the cancer prevention and treatment initiative. “For instance, if a bank keys into this, apart from giving the vouchers to customers to use, female bank staff can also use the voucher for their screening. It does not necessarily mean that a customer must have breast cancer before the voucher is given to a customer as a thank you gift.”

Anozie further appealed to other private organisations to key into the concept as a means of giving back to the society and saving the lives of people transacting business with them. She noted, “If they are not alive and healthy, they can’t do business with you. So that is just the essence. But if they are alive and healthy, they can do business with you. A token of N3, 000 to your client is nothing compared to what the people have invested into your organisation.”

She added that for Nigerians who might not be patronising any of the fortune companies or organisations, they could benefit from COPE’s monthly breast ultrasound scan, which takes place every first Saturday of the month.

“For good 16 years, we did it free for women. I believe that if I can afford aso-ebi, I can afford an ultrasound scan with just a thousand naira to get my breast examined,” the advocate against breast cancer said.

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