Having battled with breast cancer, Mrs. Remi Oyefeso, shares her story.
As Mrs. Remi Oyefeso made it into the room, her gait betrayed the psychological trauma she passed through for one year. She is a breast cancer survivor. Born in 1970, the mother of three was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2004.
She admits that the disease affected every aspect of her life. It all started when she was breastfeeding her last child one fateful morning.
“I noticed that anytime his hand touched a part of my breast, it would hurt badly. When I touched that part of my breast, I could feel a lump. At that time, it didn’t cross my mind that I had cancer. However, when the pain became unbearable, I went to a general hospital and was told that I would need to wean my baby before anything could be done.
“Prior to my visit to the hospital, some friends advised me not to go to the hospital; they said the pain was normal especially with breastfeeding mothers. They said it wasn’t serious. But within me, I felt something was wrong,” she said.
Oyefeso said she revisited the hospital after weaning her baby.
“They asked me to do all sorts of things. Their requirements were just too long. When it dawned on me that I was being delayed, I opted for a private hospital,” she said.
Her expectation was met when the hospital gave her a short appointment to for some tests.
She said, “The doctor examined me and said I would have to remove the lump. It was at the point of removal that I realised that something was wrong.
“I became worried. After he removed it, he insisted that I take the lump to a histology lab which I did. I was then asked to come back after 10 days for the result.”
‘I cried for hours’When Oyefeso got to the lab for the result, she was asked to wait for more days. That heightened her anxiety.
“My husband and I got to the lab on the day of our appointment but we were asked to come back after four days because the lump had to undergo some more tests. At that time, I was becoming very anxious.
“After four days, I received a phone call asking me to come for the result of my test. By then, I knew that I had cancer because I thought if it wasn’t anything serious, they would not have bothered calling me,” she said.
When Oyefeso got the result and was informed that she had carcinoma in situ (first stage of cancer), she broke down in tears.
“My husband went with me to collect the result. I was asked not to open the result until I met with my doctor but I could not hold myself. When I opened it and saw the result, I became so cold. My husband is a tough man, so he wasn’t too emotional about the result. After dropping me off at home, he went to work. I was alone at home,” she stated.
She said she cried for hours until it became impossible to shed any more tears.
“I remember that I walked into the toilet, sat on the ground and cried. I cried for hours. It was more than five hours. I just kept crying. The next day, when I got to the office, it was so obvious something was wrong with me. My eyes were swollen,” Oyefeso said.
Wondering what could have gone wrong, Oyefeso said she was very distraught.
She said, “I was so sad. Words can’t explain how I felt. I almost started questioning God. To me, there was no reason why it should have happened to me.
“While I was in school, I wasn’t promiscuous. I studied hard. I studied at the University of Ibadan. I was a quiet lady. I wasn’t into any relationship. I had a religious upbringing. I wasn’t using contraceptives. I have heard that ladies who use contraceptives have a higher chance of getting cancer. In my family, there was no trace of breast cancer. It baffled me.”
Oyefeso revisited her doctor with the result and was informed that she would have to cut off the affected breast.
“When my husband heard this, he wasn’t bothered. He kept insisting that if cutting off my breast would make me well, then I should go ahead. For me, I didn’t think twice about being a one-breasted woman. Till date, I don’t feel ashamed. Even when I look at myself in the mirror, I still see a woman with beauty,” she said.
Visits to worship centres
Finding solace in the axiom that: A problem shared is half solved, Oyefeso shared her health challenge with some of her colleagues in her office.
She said, “A few of my colleagues kept telling me not to go for the operation. They were afraid I would die and suggested some other negative things. I remember two of them who took me to different places for prayers. They told me that prayers from those places were very efficacious, and that the lump would disappear immediately they pray for me.
“The first place I visited was one prayer centre at Akowonjo, Lagos State. When I informed the woman about the situation, though I told her it was my sister that had cancer, the woman said I should tell her not to do the operation otherwise, she would die. She asked me to tell her to come to a mountain in Ilesha, Osun State for prayers.
“The other place I visited was a church in Abule Egba, Lagos State. A friend that took me there kept crying; telling me that I would die. She insisted that I follow her to her church. Because I was vulnerable at that time, I followed her. When we got to the pastor’s house, he prayed for me. He told me to come for one week prayers in his house. He warned me not to do the operation. But I had already made up my mind to do it.”
The cancer survivor said aside dealing with wrong advice from friends, she also had to conquer her inner voice.
“Before the operation, sometimes the thought that I would die during the operation would cross my mind. Or when dressing up, I would have this thought that there was no need dressing up since I was going to die. Immediately those thoughts came, I would rebuke them. Aside battling with the disease, I battled with my mind,” she said.
She finally summoned courage to remove her breast. But, according to her, the real battle began during chemotherapy.
Oyefeso said, “I underwent chemotherapy for six months and radiotherapy for three and half weeks. That period weakened me. During the period, I felt tired and helpless. I couldn’t do anything myself. But I was fortunate to have family members around.
“But in the process, I tried to put up a positive outlook. I didn’t allow people know what was going on with me. It was a tough period. In my own case, I didn’t lose weight, rather I added. I also didn’t lose my hair. I was placed on supplements which helped me a lot. During my treatment, I tried to read more. I read books about cancer survivors, diets for cancer victims and other books.”
But after her treatment she started having pains in her thighs and joints to the extent that it became impossible for her to walk.
“I went back to the hospital for some tests and was informed that the cancer might have spread to other parts of my body. They placed me on a drug for eight months. At the end of the day, the doctor realised that the drug wasn’t meant for cancer patients. Meanwhile, I had spent hundreds of thousands on this drug.
“The doctor didn’t feel remorseful about his mistake. He then prescribed another drug for me which cost about N80, 000. I still did not feel comfortable about his prescriptions. When I got the opportunity to travel abroad, I went to a hospital for test and the doctor said I was good. There were no traces of cancerous cells in my body. Sometimes, I feel I wasted money buying the drugs which were prescribed by the former doctor,” she added.
Intimacy with my husband
Oyefeso, who expressed happiness about winning the battle over breast cancer, said the experience taught her to appreciate life.
“I’m glad that I fought breast cancer and overcame it. This battle has taught me to live my today as if there is no tomorrow. Every day of my life is new. My husband appreciates me more. Being a one-breasted woman has not affected my intimacy with my husband; instead it has strengthened our relationship. I still look beautiful in his eyes and he still looks like the sweet, young man I married 17 years ago,” she said.