The colour PINK has become the norm in October every single year! The colour and pink ribbon which has become synonymous with Breast Cancer is now a symbol of hope, support and comradery.
Who would have thought that when Charlotte Hayley introduced the concept of a peach ribbon that her collaboration with Evelyn Lauder and Alexander Penney would give birth to the pink ribbon and that Susan G Komen
handing out bright pink visors to breast cancer survivors in the late 90’s would establish this symbol for breast cancer awareness, which we have all come to love and champion.
No matter where you are on this planet, we all know, recognise and understand the meaning of that PINK RIBBON and when October arrives, we do what is needed in our own way, no matter how small, to impact, to move forward!
This time we moved to Africa, to a continent where 95% of cancer patients are diagnosed way too late. Specifically, sub-Saharan Africa where Breast Cancer represents 22% of all cancers. We started with NIGERIA, a country which brings 28,380 new cases of Breast Cancer annually.
Did you know that the 5-year survival for Breast Cancer patients in Nigeria is 26% whereas for black women in the USA, it is 80%?
So, we thought about it! We said it! And then we did it! Here is a story of what we actually did during our recent trip to Nigeria!
What did we do?
We brought together a group of women from across the globe who had one thing in common – the desire to raise awareness, support diagnosis and hopefully treatment to African patients.
The group of women were made up of survivors, medical professionals, and pharmaceutical industry professionals – a mix that ensured we were not only heading in the same direction but also looked at things from multiple perspectives.
It was critical to establish a solid relationship with an implementation partner on the ground who could really bring our vision to reality. Breast Without Spot (BWS), led by Professor Ifeoma Okoye (known as the PINKY PROF) was that partner of choice and boy, did they deliver!
Despite COVID 19, plans were put in motion and although discussions started seven months in advance, last minute challenges hit us but did not deter us!
Enugu, Nigeria was our chosen first stop! The perfect location where we felt welcomed and witnessed comradery at its finest first-hand. On the 3rd of October 2021, we were off:
- We were provided with the “Sunshine” school building of the Spring of Life School in Enugu, to use for day 1 activities
- Ten classrooms were set up as screening rooms
- There were no beds, so we improvised and put 4 classroom desks together to make temporary beds – needs must!
- Professor Okoye’s team were mobilized (with the incredible Dr Shola in charge of all things screening)
- It was not just about Breast Cancer, we had a captive audience so we included Cervical Cancer screening
- 450 women were screened
- Uncovered 30 of them with cervical lesions
- Uncovered 13 of them with breast lumps
- Of course, we then had to plan for HPV tests on the swabs collected and mammograms for the 13 women – our search for sponsorship was far from over
The Young Ones
- As we had been provided with the school for the screening, we wanted to include the students in this, and add an awareness educational drive
- We had the most incredible session where young minds really took the opportunity to ask us ANYTHING and they did
- We identified 60 students to form a Cancer Awareness Club (CAC)
- These 60 are being included in a WhatsApp group and will have access to all the women involved so that they can ask any questions they may have
Meeting with Stakeholders
We knew we could run many awareness sessions, screening hundreds of women but we had to define what to do with any patients flagged for further investigation. We had to develop a sustainable model for this to work!
So, we met with the following stakeholders:
- Meeting 1: Oncology multidisciplinary team from UN teaching Hospital Enugu
- Each department was able to provide us with an overview as well as their challenges
- Meeting 2: BWS Strategy Team
- Define a ‘Train the Trainer’ approach where the 17 Local Governments in Enugu State will hold similar screening sessions – we discussed how this will happen and how we can sustain it
- Meeting 3: BWS & Women Groups
- A lot of organisations such a Rotary and women’s clubs wanted to meet the BWS team to understand how they can help
The PINK EVENT
This incredible event brought everything together. About 60% of the women who were screened on day 1 attended and all the stakeholders we had met on day 2 were present:
- This was educational with talks from 3 survivors, presentations, and lectures
- These women took notes and asked questions
- The Commissioner for Health, Enugu State attended
- The women took centre stage, showing us what they had learned by demonstrating boob checks
Here is what we made happen:
✅ 450 women screened for Cervical & Breast Cancer
✅ 30 women with cervical lesions identified
✅ 13 women with breast lumps identified and of them:
• 3 normal
• 1 breast cyst
• 1 fibroadenoma (lumperctomy scheduled)
• 1 cancer confirmed (tissue sent in for histopathology • With 7 more awaiting further assessment
Early detection does save lives!
We have now established a model and framework that sets the standard for all screening drives going forward.
We have delivered a formal report which will be sent to our sponsors to update them on all the activities they helped support and the impact they have had.
We are intensifying our message to pharmaceutical companies, seeing clinical trials as a critical treatment option. We are actively seeking support for the next round of screening across Enugu state but won’t stop there!
Although we wake up some days and ask ourselves why we are doing all of this – and believe me, it is a battle!3-day
“Words cannot be enough to thank Prof Ifeoma Okoye and her ebullient team for this life saving programme for over 500 women without any payment. God’s grace always to continue to save lives…. Women are the best, you are great, and we are grateful. Prof Ngozi Ejionueme.”
“Thank you Prof, BBB, BWS and the great team. I learnt a lot and I will say my October started. God bless you all.”
“I sincerely appreciate Prof and her BWS team and BBB project team, all the benefactors and everyone that made this BWS-BBB Project a reality. May God remember this huge sacrifice at your point of need in Jesus name.”
We are actually doing it! Having impact, changing lives and savings lives, one woman at a time!
Shalom and Tina