Create, Grow, Die: The Cancer that Refused to Conform


Fisayo Ojabodu

The process of life has been almost perfectly predesigned; we are created, we grow, and then we die. It does not matter how big or small the said life is, from human beings even down to the smallest of organisms; the process is the same – create, grow, then die.

I use the words “almost perfectly predesigned” because the slight imperfection comes in when these cells deviate from the normal process; it is due to this deviation that the menace we know as cancer came about.

Cancer, as it was first called by Greek Physician and father of medicine, Hippocrates, is a disease involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.

In layman terms, cancer is what you get when the cells (that is, the basic unit of life) that make up the human body begin to replicate themselves beyond control.

Cell growth when normal is a beautiful thing; it is the biological phenomenon behind so many human occurrences from the development of a baby from a single cell, to the growth of that baby to a teenager, and then an adult.

But just like everything beautiful, there is a possibility of extremities.

The extremity that is cancer, has according to the Nigerian Cancer Control Plan, claimed about 8.2 million lives with lung, breast, liver, cervical and prostate cancer being the leading cancer types globally. In Nigeria, cancer is responsible for about 102,000 new cases in Nigeria with 72,000 recorded deaths recorded yearly.

However, the scary part is that not enough is being done to check the prevalence of this disease, hence the number of deaths has been predicted to increase with time.

Due to late presentation, low access to treatment, delays in access to cancer treatment and poor treatment outcomes, the mortality rate of cancer in Nigeria is believed will increase by about 85 per cent in the next 10 – 15 years.

However, while there has been little ongoing improvement in the average Nigerian’s access to clinical services for cancer prevention, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment, there is growing awareness of the disease through various private and government outreaches.

Cancer is said to have no specific ‘cure’ hence it is important for Nigeria as a country to come together in the daily fight against cancer. And doing this goes beyond mere word of mouth; it includes, among other things, participating in various cancer education programmes, lending intellectual input to cancer research labs, and being an active member of the many cancer outreach programmes in Nigeria.

While I strongly believe Nigeria possesses the intellectual resources, it is important to admit to ourselves that we are indeed behind when it comes to resources needed in the on-going battle against cancer.

Winning this fight would require a lot of funding; medical institutions need support staffing, monetary and equipment, so it doesn’t matter who is doing what against cancer, if the financial resources aren’t available, then the whole agenda stands still.

It is because of this that Nigeria is yet to have palliative care units even though there are numerous of palliative nurses available. It is also due to this reason, that sufficient research centres haven’t been established despite the vast availability of scientists and researchers in the country.
According to W.H.O, cancer is the 7th ranked cause of death in Africa. But for Nigeria which has recorded a 60.8 per cent mortality rate in cancer cases, this percentage is set to increase in the near future due to the immense lack of funding.

Nigeria as of now, even with the dangerously high numbers of cancer patients, has only seven radiotherapy machines, five of which are faulty, and because of this, the battle to obtain treatment for cancer has become a struggle that only the rich can afford.

Growing up, one of the basic human rights we were all told we had was the “Right to Life”, but where does that leave the average Nigerian who has been diagnosed with cancer in a country with only four functioning Radiotherapy centres out of eight?

How exactly does Nigeria as a country help a citizen whose cancer bills averages about $40,000 but has an average salary of $480 and $645? However, some organisations like the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) have taken to raising awareness, increasing advocacy, and raising funds to support the fight against cancer in Nigeria.

The NSE runs a yearly initiative called the NSE Corporate Challenge. Conceived in 2014, till date the Challenge has been able to raise N63 million through corporate partnerships, dealing members and wellness companies.

Indeed, it is high time the government and more concerned stakeholders understood the danger cancer is and tackle it head on now and in the near future because just like in the human body; the host either kills cancer or cancer kills the host.
… Ojabodu is a public health enthusiast