Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer Survivors

Ayodeji Ake writes that while much attention was shifted to COVID-19 patients during the long lockdown to contain the spread, most cancer survivors on the other hand couldn’t seek medical attention from their doctors, which consequently, increased cancer mortality rate

Over the years, a lot of campaigns have been reported pleading to the government for interventions on expensive cancer treatments and creation of cancer comprehensive centre across the country to reduce the burden of cancer. Also, the government has on different occasions made empty promises with nothing to show for it.

Impact
During an exclusive conversation with THISDAY, Founder of Care Organisation Public Enlightenment (C.O.P.E), a breast cancer awareness nongovernmental

organisation, Mrs. Ebun Anozie, revealed COVID-19 lockdown had negative impact on quite a number of survivors.

Anozie recapped stories of survivors who couldn’t visit their doctors for medication because the attention was shifted to COVID-19 patients and survivors who missed their routine medication abroad due to the closure of the airports.

She revealed this increased depression cases among survivors who visited health facilities and were misdiagnosed for COVID-19, and couldn’t return to the doctor because they were scared. Consequently, she said there was increase in cancer mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

She said: “COVID-19 affected quite a number of survivors. They couldn’t have access to their various hospitals
because medical doctors were more involved with patients who had COVID-19 which is quite unfortunate. Some of them that had medications abroad couldn’t go for treatment because of the lockdown. Some died because they couldn’t access medication and those who didn’t have COVID-19,
some doctors reported they are positive which wasn’t true, and made quite a lot of people very depressed.

“Before the lockdown they meet one another and exchanged ideas on how they have been surviving. This is because being alone for cancer patients isn’t really very good. It’s also important they see their doctors but they couldn’t because of the lockdown. Although, during that period some had virtual meetings, some started farming while some started a new trade and they all learnt a lot of things during that period”.

Anozie expressed worry about increasing the brain drain in the Nigeria health system. She lamented that a number of Nigeria’s health professional doctors are abroad in search for greener pasture which as a result bends the Nigeria health system development curve.

“COVID-19 is still around but we have changed our lifestyle by being more careful and embracing proper
hygiene where people wash their hands regularly. For brain drain, unfortunately, some of our health workers are outside the country for greener pasture.” she said.

Battling Stigmatisation

One of the cancer survivors who pleaded anonymity, explained survivors wish their voices could be heard by sharing the stories to the public, rather stigma ends up catching up with them. She narrated how she told her story to one of Nigeria’s television stations which cost her love
relationship.

“We survivors always wish to tell our stories and I have tried three times but it came back to sting me. Most
stories that I read are for married women and of course, their husbands are already there supporting them through thick and thin and they can come out to the media and tell their stories.

“For people like me who is unmarried, we grant the interview and the moment it’s over I start receiving
calls. While some will encourage me, some will condemn me for telling my story. The last Interview I had, I was in a relationship. I didn’t tell him I was going for an interview until he watched the interview. After a week he jilted me. This is the reason why most of us shy away from telling our stories. To God be the glory for everything for COPE. Doing this is not easy because it’s almost like
you are begging for money” she said.

She urged the Nigerian media to effortlessly
drive the campaign against stigmatisation of cancer survivors.

Charge to Government

Mrs. Anozie emphatically said one of the ways to reduce the burden of cancer and to provide quality healthcare to
patients and survivors is to build a cancer comprehensive healthcare detached from the general hospital.

“Everything boils down to having a comprehensive centre. I won’t stop talking about it because we need to take
treatment of cancer away from general hospitals. Some visited a health facility in Lagos and were told they have COVID-19 which wasn’t true. They couldn’t return to the doctors because they were scared. We lost some patients.

“We don’t have a comprehensive cancer centre and we are yet to have one. I have been out there and I know what
one looks like. We have the wealth and Nigeria is blessed but they should help the cancer patients because they are dying. Nigerians are resilient people. Half of what we take here other countries doesn’t tolerate. I will say that the
way you treat your citizens is the way they will be treated outside.“

Appeal

Recently celebrating C.O.P.E 25th Anniversary and Fundraising Programme in Lagos, Anozie, urged Nigerians to support one another.

“I’m happy because you saw for yourself those survivors left here happy, which is something that gives me so
much joy. Cancer is not an easy thing to deal with. I told you that I lost my dad 25 years ago and my mom 50 years ago. For me it has been a journey, if anybody had told me that this is what I will be doing I will deny but I give
God the glory for what He has been doing. My father died of cancer of the stomach which is why I’m always very careful to what I eat. 25 years is a long journey.

“Right now, our main focus is to raise three million naira to be able to provide the items for breast cancer survivors. Though we have more things to do but these are what I saw as necessary rather than them using all sorts to support their breast. Basically for me, we have just started. We give thanks to God for this journey.

“ I want to thank the media for the support. I have people calling from different states. Some of them want me to come to their states but it’s difficult to be everywhere but we are trying our best because I counsel as well and we have about four machines that we use.

“It’s important that we appeal to Nigerians who have the heart of giving for support. The survivors have been
stigmatised in one form or the other. Some are in a relationship and at the end of the day they lose their relationships,” she said.

Rally for Support

While commending C.O.P.E’s efforts in fighting cancer for over two decades and half, the Founder, Ginger Soul
Lifestyle, Mrs. Aminat Gbajabiamila, noted there is a need to support the cancer patients and survivors rather than waiting for the government.

She said Ginger Soul Lifestyle among other nongovernmental organisations has shouldered increased awareness and advocacy against cancer.

She said: “I went into breast awareness and advocacy nine years after I lost my mother. I lost my mother to breast
cancer. The more I did my research, the more I found out that cancer does not discriminate but there are some things we can do to help prevent. Like this year our theme
for the campaign is ‘Green for Pink’.

“Even though pink is the colour for cancer, green is the colour for vegetable and the more we consume raw
foods the more it helps our digestive system.

“Those are the things we do as an organisation. We started as a hospitality venture and we progressed into a
lifestyle transformation coaching. Helping women live their best lives.

“A lot of what I do is building possibilities. We strategise on how to make women more impactful and growing more beneficiaries. We have seen jobs done at COPE cancer

centre and we see they could be of help with awareness and publicity. We are promoting wellness and supporting Nigerian brands.

“The target for our fund raising is 5000 dollars and at this point we have raise over a thousand dollars. We just
started the campaign last week and will run through the months and I’m very confident.

“I’m one of those who say government is man and vice versa so there is nothing like waiting for the government. So it’s about helping one another in the areas where government cannot meet our needs alone.”

One of the survivors, Mrs. Odugbesan
Oluwaseyi, who has also been a strong supporter applauded C.O.P.E for its constant support for cancer patients and survivors.

“When I called my sister abroad that I will be ordering for some breast foams and other items, she asked if I was
going to make some money but I told her I’m not selling them because I know in Nigeria the only challenge my people have is how to get these items. I want to
thank God and thank her for being an instrument that God used to make my wish come to pass.

“I want to appreciate every member of this family for His
protection over us. A very big thank you to COPE and everyone that had made this day a success” she said.

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