‘Making Cancer Treatment a Fearless Journey’
Marcelle Ruth Friends, a cancer patient support group, spearheaded by patients at the Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre and Specialist Hospital, Lagos, is committed to raising awareness for cancer, encouraging early detection to save lives, and also removing the stigma associated with cancer. During the recent launch of the support group, they pledged to make cancer treatment a fearless journey, MARY NNAH reports
Marcelle Ruth Friends, a Cancer patient support group, in line with the World Cancer Day themes for 2022- 24 which is to #closethecaregap, is set out to spread two important messages: Early detection saves lives; so that everyone should ensure that they have annual wellness checks or report to a doctor once they notice problems that persist and may be related to cancer; secondly, to remove the stigma associated with cancer, as it is has been proven over time that many patients survive this journey and go on to live excellent lives.
A Consultant Haemato-Oncologist, Dr. Modupe Elebute-Odunsi, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and co-founder of Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre and Specialist Hospital, Lagos, during the inauguration of the support group, averred that coming together as a group that understands what individuals have been through in the journey, can help to improve the journey for patients.
Beyond that, she explained that Marcelle Ruth Friends will support in terms of advocacy, increasing awareness, helping to drive policy, and helping the government understand what is happening in terms of cancer care – the difficulties in accessing care and the issues about how expensive it takes when the majority of the care that is delivered is in the private sector, but this, Elebute-Odunsi further established, comes with a price.
She insisted that helping the government understand that the quicker patients can access care, the more they can continue with their care journey so that they don’t have to fall out because they run out of money, more patients can survive.
Expressing excitement over the newly established group and gratitude to the patients who came together to form the group, Dr. Elebute-Odunsi, admitted that it has always been her utmost desire to create a support group for the cancer patients at the Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre.
“We have been operational for about 18 months and it has always been part of our vision to form a support group for our cancer patients because one of the reasons we came to set up in Lagos is to stop the medical tourism where people have to travel out of the country to go and get treatments at international standards. So, we managed to achieve that, and today, we are now seeing the fruits of our labours where the patients themselves have put together this cancer support group that they have happily named, “Marcelle Ruth Friends”, she said.
“Although it has been at the back of my mind to set up a cancer support group, the patients overtook me and started this group and the fact that we can treat them with all the modalities of treatment here at Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre, is where we are delivering special care.”
The group, consisting of patients undergoing treatments; some of whom have already finished treatments and are now cancer survivors, together with their family and friends who support them through their journeys, aims to help others understand that cancer treatment is a journey.
The group also intends to pass the message that cancer is not fatal for everybody and so it is not the end of life. It is also to portray that there is hope in terms of getting treatments and for patients that will be part of the support group to see that other patients are doing well and in particular, that earlier detection saves a life. The group is already hoping to change the narratives that cancer is a death sentence.
She expressed confidence that the Cancer support group will grow to involve all patients including those who come from different parts of the country, hoping that when they go back will also impact other relatives and friends in their various domains.
“One of the things we have seen here is that a lot of our patients come from all over the country. We stand in the gap for people being able to access treatments here in Lagos if they live in Lagos and all over the country and for patients who would normally go abroad and now remain in the country.
“We have also seen patients who have also come back and were already having their treatment abroad but when it gets very expensive or they are running out of options or they are missing their families or for any other reasons, they come in back here.”
“The main role of the group is to support one another to bring positivity and remove sigma. Part of the World Cancer Day theme and agenda, not just for this year but for the next three years, is to close the cancer care gaps, which means increasing access to treatments, and the other one, means removing the sigma which is very important to what is happening today”, she added.
Dwelling on stigmatisation, another deterring factor to cancer treatment, Dr. Elebute-Odunsi said stigma is another huge obstacle to early detection and treatment of cancer as a lot of people shy away from making known their health statuses.
The Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre CEO insisted that stigma in terms of health care is a big issue in Nigeria, adding, “The issue we have with stigma is that when patients are diagnosed with cancer, they don’t want anybody else to know and this impact on their care. So, seeing this group being formed by the patients themselves, for the patients is gratifying for us.”
“What we have discovered since we started working in Nigeria is that there is hardly been any positive feedback or stories about cancer care so people feel that once they are diagnosed with cancer, they are going to die –that’s the message that they seem to get, even from the healthcare that they access, there is this background message that it is a fatal issue and it is not going to end well. So most, times you don’t want to tell people you are suffering from a terminal disease.”
The group, she stressed further, will also create awareness about screening, adding, “there is absolutely no doubt that early detection does save lives; not just that but early access to treatment and continuing on the treatment journey. This is a way that members of this group can help in the future to ensure that they impact not just themselves and new patients coming in but patients across the country and to drive policy. I think for me, it will be incredible to see that happening over the years to “.
Speaking further, she recalled. “We had a walk in March for Cancer Awareness to commemorate the World Cancer Day and that already helped to raise awareness about coming for screening after that walk we saw quite a several people coming to be screamed, so this support group has different other platforms that they work on.
“Apart from the fact that Marcelle Ruth delivers on international standards, within its Victoria Island premises, it is also a one-stop-shop for cancer treatment. One can be diagnosed as it has all the labs and imaging modalities to make the diagnosis and once the diagnosis is made, you can have chemotherapy, surgery, and all other treatments that you require to survive so that you don’t need to start going from one point to another to complete your treatment.So, the outcome and survival will be better because you would access treatment quicker and continue your journey.
“From the look of things, therefore, we would have many more survivals as time goes on and that is part of the message and hopefully, we would also help to remove this stigma once people continue to do well”, she added.
Chairman of Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre and Specialist Hospital, Mr. Bolaji Odunsi, said that apart from treating Cancer, the hospital also does other things, including the general practice, and bringing in other specialists as well.
In terms of development, he said the hospital has been extremely rapid in the last 18 months, adding, “It is by the grace of God, on the one hand, it’s good news for us while on the one hand, shows the lack of basic health care in Nigeria.”
He revealed however that the hospital hopes to expand soon into a plot of land close to its present site.
Speaking on the motivation for starting the group, Chairman, Marcelle Ruth Friends, Godwin Ibe, said, “It is something that came up incidentally. As a group of friends, we never planned to meet just because we came for medication, but met and got talking, and by the time we knew it, a group was already formed.”
“Marcelle Ruth Friends will support in terms of advocacy, increasing awareness, helping to drive policy, and helping the government understand what is happening in terms of cancer care – the difficulties in accessing care and the issues about how expensive it takes when the majority of the care that is delivered is in the private sector”