October 2012 Hilda Egboh’s Husband discovered a lump on his wife’s breast; he thought it might be dangerous to ignore it so he put pressure on her to have the lump checked. Hilda herself was unconcerned, but her husband was. A month later, she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer and suddenly found herself undergoing rigorous treatment, Hilda Egboh shares her story with Olatunde Alara & Ifeoma Ehiri
When did you discover that you had breast cancer?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2012; barely a month after my husband noticed a lump in my breast. I was in the UK at the time and lumps in women particularly over 40 are taken very seriously, so the process between when I saw my doctor, had the tests done, and getting to see an oncologist, was accelerated. Everything thereafter was also done quickly including the hormone therapy, surgeries and radiotherapy.
How did you discover the lump in the first place?
In late October my husband noticed a lump in my breast and insisted that I have it checked. I was convinced it was nothing to worry about; I felt the lump was just a lump and that it was more evident because I had lost considerable weight. I however went for the tests as he advised. I didn’t expect that I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. I am glad my husband knows my anatomy better than I do.
At what stage was it detected?
It was discovered at stage 2. This meant that the lump was not too large and could still be operated upon but had spread to my lymph nodes in my armpit, which meant they had to be taken out as well.
What was your first reaction?
The time between when the lump was first noticed and when the results were released was very difficult as I was anxious. However, accepting the diagnosis was easier than I imagined, waiting for the test results had helped me to resign to the possible outcome as well as the tremendous support from my husband who went to all the hospital visits with me. He was there when I was eventually told I had cancer. Confidence in the competence and expertise of the medical team as well as the information and options of treatments available also made it easier for me to come to terms with reality.
How did your family react to the news?
I had my husband with me when we got the results and diagnosis, so he had the information first hand from the doctor, which I believe made it easier on him. I insisted on telling all other family members in person so they could see firsthand that I was doing great and this helped to soften the impact. In telling my kids, I did my best to help them understand the battle ahead and prepare them for whatever the outcome might be. I sometimes still see the fear and worry in the eyes of family and friends but I guess we all have to live with that fear while trusting in God’s plan.
Is there a history of cancer in your family?
As far as I know, no one in my family had ever been diagnosed with cancer, but I had lost my mother earlier than we thought possible to hypertension so I was quite concerned about my chances, as side effects to cancer treatments could sometimes be stressful on the individual.
Before your personal experience how much did you know about cancer?
My knowledge was very limited even though I had worked within the medical field in Nigeria for about 5 years. I knew theoretically how to do a breast exam but never bothered to and had never had a mammogram screening before the investigations that led to my diagnosis. However in September of 2011, I moved to the UK to study for about 18 months and in that time, my knowledge of cancer in general was increased by constant in-your-face print and electronic awareness programs. By the time I was diagnosed, I had a fair idea of what to expect, how to help the caregivers achieve the best for my wellbeing and what treatment options were available to me.
What treatment options were available to you after your diagnosis?
There were several options as I was in the UK at the time. I subsequently had two surgeries (one to remove the lump and a second to take out all my lymph nodes) and radiotherapy. As my cancer was also hormone induced, I am on a 10-year hormone therapy treatment. The caregivers at each stage told me what the options were and gave me advice (citing the benefits and side effects) so I could decide if I could and if I wanted to go ahead with a particular course of treatment.
Did you get any assistance from individuals or organisations outside your family?
No, I did not seek external assistance, as that from family and friends was adequate financially and emotionally. A number of our friends sent gifts of cash knowing we had bills to pay and it was very heart-warming but not unexpected, as my husband and I have few friends and they are truly dear to us. Family helped in various ways visiting my kids in school, checking up on my husband and I, and praying fervently for my good health.
Where did you get treated?
I got most of my care in the UK, as that was where I had been diagnosed. I have now transferred my care to Dr. John Ojukwu, an oncologist in Nigeria.
What do you think about the PinkBall initiative?
I think the Pink Ball has done a lot to create and improve awareness but most importantly, I think their involvement in treatment is laudable as it is where the most deficiency exists in Nigeria. In speaking with health care professionals in Nigeria, I am amazed at the dearth of expertise and caregivers in the related fields to manage cancer and the side effects arising from the treatments. It is my hope that as the Pink Ball continues to provide help with treatments; others will help with equipping caregivers with the required training and facilities.
Is there a stigma attached to having Breast Cancer?
I have not had to deal with any situation, which left me with an impression that I was badly treated because of my condition, so it is my belief that there is little or no stigma to the condition; I actually find that people are very empathic instead. There are however some complications arising from breast cancer like lymphoedema or open sores that people find repulsive and could bring about inconsiderate behaviour towards the cancer patient.
As a breast cancer survivor, do you think enough is being done to create awareness?
There are a lot of organisations and individuals who are working hard to create and improve awareness but there is still so much more to be done. While a lot of the awareness drive is about detection, very little care is given to treatment and management. The Pink Ball in its contribution to treatment is definitely a trailblazer!
Any words to women regarding Breast Cancer?
It is important that you are body aware, that means: knowing your body well so you easily notice changes, be health conscious and always strive for total wellbeing. It is important that we continuously work to improve our knowledge on diseases that affect us as women and how to prevent, manage and access the treatments available to us.
Any words of encouragement to those who may still be struggling with Breast Cancer?
In dealing with breast cancer, it is important to have a positive attitude, learn all you can about the disease so you can manage your condition and most importantly a healthy dose of Faith in God’s plan for you is key.
Photo Credit: The Niche
Editor’s note: Big shout out to my colleague Olatunde Alara for working on this piece with me. We actually did it for the Genevieve Magazine and in that same edition, there are 2 other cancer survivor stories. It is the May edition that has Tara Durotoye on the cover. So, kindly ask your vendors if they still have a copy. If not, you can send me an email and we can see how to get you one. Still on cancer, the tickets for the Genevieve Pink Ball is available for 30,000 Naira, 50,000 Naira and 100,000 Naira. You can also have a table for 10 which is 1.5 million Naira and 3 million Naira.