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A survivor's story: It was tough battling cancer - Julia Oyefunke

By The Citizen

Julia Oyefunke Fortune, author of  'Chronicle of a Cancer Survivor' and a volunter for cancer and legislative ambassador for the American Cancer Society, tells the story of her battle with cancer and her campaign against the disease.

December 13, 2007 is a  day I would live to remember.   It was the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The revelation was like a thunderbolt. Although the sun was shining, its glare was not enough to illuminate the darkness that enveloped my world. I was shaken to the marrow.

Confusion, denial, anger, fear, all set in. I wondered if it was all a bad dream, a terrible nightmare. My mind was in turmoil. I was in a daze. It was scary, it was real, and it was ugly.

Although just a preliminary examination, there was a glimmer of hope that a confirmatory test would overturn the initial outcome, but, deep down in my heart, I knew my life would never be the same again.

*Julia Oyefunke
I didn't pretend to be too naïve not to admit, at least to myself, that my journey into the terrifying world of cancer had begun.

A second mammogram only confirmed my worst nightmare. My journey into the cold, dark world of cancer had indeed begun. But I had a resolve:

It wasn't going to be a one-way journey. I would return.

From then: it was from one referral to another, from one oncologist to another, and from one evaluation to another.

A personal disease
Cancer was no newcomer to me. As an experienced entrepreneur, I already knew of one associate or distant relative who had succumbed.

Many friends and acquaintances had battled the disorder, so, in more ways than one, I was wise to the warnings. I knew about breast cancer long before it knew me.

Before my diagnosis, I had done my research. I visited websites and learned all the essential step-by-step information on performing self-examinations. I kept on top of the cancer statistics, mentally noticing researchers estimated a 3.5 percent increase in breast cancer cases alone.

I kept track of survivor rates and knew that no less than 2.4 million women supposedly won the fight against cancer every year. Regularly and religiously, I did all the right things, performed the breast self-examinations and always looking for signs of a tumour and was almost paranoid. But as a survivor, I never lost hope.

I know how alone cancer makes you feel. Even if you have a world of supporters, cancer is still a very personal disease; it takes hold of your soul and can make or break you. That choice is yours and yours alone to make, but no matter how bad the situation may seem, no matter how hopeless you may feel, there is always something you can do about it, even if it is as simple as learning to be at peace with your fate.

Road to recovery
My road to recovery didn't start too well, but I fought gallantly and won. There were diagnostic drugs to take. I asked myself that if I used all those drugs, of what benefit would they be to me? Will it benefit by 10 percent, 15, 20 or 80 percent? Will the cancer come back? Will it spread?   More questions than answers.

I knew there were tools that can detect cancer but doctors in Nigeria are not using them. The typical treatment is radiation and chemotherapy. These are terrible; they are brother and sister and are killers. I deviated from radiation and chemotherapy because my body was already exhibiting the symptoms and side effects of using them, even without using them, so what would have happened if I now took them? I would have gone real fast. The hospitals here (Nigeria) don't really test the people as thoroughly as required. I checked myself for vitamin D deficiency, my bones were weak, my joints were weak and the side effects of chemotherapy would have attacked the bones.

Role of faith
Cancer visited me uninvited, so I had to figure out a way to deal with it. My faith played a major role. From Day 1, I said, 'Lord, you know I have four children, Adeyinka, who turned 31 this year, Adeola, 26, Adedoyin, 25, and Adebola, 18'. I said,  'Lord, just hear my prayer. I'm asking for just three things, that is when I will know I will live long. First thing is You will let me see my grandchild, give me that privilege'. That has been granted. My grand child is three years old.

Then I said, 'Lord, You will let me witness and participate in the white coat ceremony of Adeola', who went to medical school last year. I was a proud mother at the ceremony. Third, I said, 'Lord, you will allow me visit the country I come from. I owe that country something'. I said, 'God use me as an instrument to remove the covering on my people's eyes about this disease. I want to make an impact in Nigeria'.

Diet war
I want to plant anti-cancer foods, to let people know what they should eat. I'm teaching people to grow these foods even in their houses. I want to win them away from the cancer causing foods that they are ingesting now. Nigerians are copying American diets and that is why cancer is increasing. Cancer does not like sodium which is salt. Cancer does not like sugar, and all these pasta and snacks we eat turn to sugar. So there is need for the education about what to do.

I have done studies to know that when you change your diet, cancer can regress.

Doctors know what to do, but do not do it, except for a very few. When Nigerians go down with cancer, they run to America, yet there are 7.5 million misdiagnoses due to medical errors in the US alone every year. Yet we rush there, pay for everything, take the chemotherapy and die.

Advocate of cure
But for me it is more of being an advocate to force the government to do the right thing, which is to improve the infrastructure, spend money on research, and embrace, alternative medicine. Instead of condemning, let us embrace them. Cancer has been around for centuries yet there is no cure. Where is the cure going to come from anyway?

Cancer is complex. Two people can have the same type of cancer but react to it differently.   For some people, cancer is ready to kill them. But for others, it's a call to action for survival.