Ruona Meyer is the first Nigerian journalist to be nominated for an International Emmy Award. She decides to share her journey through breast cancer and I know you can learn a thing from her story because I did. The biggest for me is – Don’t let anyone downplay your curiosity and intuition. “Person wey ask question no dey miss road.” Read her story below;
A year ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. January 5 to mid-June this year I had chemotherapy. July 10, I opted for a full mastectomy, and declined implants. I’ve been in remission since July 18. The stereotypes, as seen in the screennshots below, which affect women, and are literally killing them, are why I am coming out.
I’ve always had really bad fibroids – inherited it from my mum’s family, along with the slim figure. So, in 2015, I had to have yet another operation. Doctor said fibroids were too big, so he literally reached behind his desk and gave me a drug to reduce them.
As the child of a nurse, I immediately opened the packet. Side-effects? Rare risk of breast cancer.
Me: Doctor, I don’t want this medicine.
Him: You have to reduce the fibroids or the surgery will end in a hysterectomy, or greater risks.
I’m like it doesn’t even remove fibroids, so am I to risk cancer just to reduce fibroids? Egbami. Am I to pour acid on myself, to ease the burn of hot water?
He asked if there was breast cancer in my family. I said no. Asked me to lie on the exam chair, did a breast check. He said I had no dense tissue in my breast and should not worry. The risk is small, compared to the fibroids squishing my organs.
Na so I enter one chance.
I start taking Esmya, and two weeks later…HAIR started growing on one nipple. Egbami. I stopped immediately. I told Oga Doctor. He said if I did at least 8 weeks, it would really help reduce the fibroids. Said to continue. I said no. If this can cause such an effect in two weeks, I don’t want to know what else it will do. He said my operation would be risky. So I said…then cut off the womb! I’d rather be womb-less than get cancer on top fibroid…you need to cut it.
That was how I had a hysterectomy, in 2015.
Fam, 6 weeks later? I
discovered a lump in Miss Hairy Nipple breast. Ran back to Doctor Weyrey and
he said oh no, it is just a cyst. I was basically in and out squabbling with
this idiot for the next few years – one time, he said it was the tissue from
the weightlifting I was doing at one point, so I stopped. Still, the lump was
there. He insisted it was a cyst.
By 2017, me and my definitely precancerous lumps moved to Lagos, and began working there. Fam! All the time I was doing Ughelli low-budget Nancy Drew, investigating cough syrup? I had breast cancer. All the time I was saying “I am so sorry,” to my late elder cousin who was having a bad reaction to chemo in Lagos? I was a cancer patient myself. Mad oh!
Stop reading this post now and check yourself because with cancer ehn…e fit be you oooo!
So, soon I was always tired, and out of breath, with night sweats that I decided to keep badgering my doctors in Germany. At a point, my GP was testing me for allergies. When he saw nothing, he said you need to try and get a mammogram, as you say you have a lump. Go to your Gynecologist and ask for it. I said I already did, even wanted to do it privately but he’d refused to give me a referral. My GP left me that day saying “well you have to keep trying.”
So I went back to Doctor Weyrey and said, give me a mammogram. He said I was not yet 40. I told him I would not leave until he did. I was ready to scatter the place, fam. To stop my shouting and disruptive behavior, he gave me the mammogram referral. The mammogram lab technicians sent me straight to a biopsy and I was diagnosed with Herceptin positive DCIS cancer on 4 Dec 2018.
Six days later, I lost my best friend from childhood. I was in hell, to the extent I needed a grief therapist. On 5 January, same day I was to move to Leicester for my PhD, I was instead starting chemo. My oncologists said they were going to be treating me as stage 4, based on the time my file showed I had been exhibiting symptoms. In fact 6 months earlier, I was in the same hospital with chest pain, and they had suspected a heart attack but we now know it was the big tumors pressing on my chest. I now know from a lady who made this video, that this is a common sign in tumours on the left in women. Had I seen the video earlier, I would have been wiser, and definitely diagnosed quicker – these things are why I have to “come out.”
Ladies like Dee, who even took time to answer my Instagram messages are the salt of the earth
Meanwhile, as per suspected stage 4, I had to have a bone biopsy 2 hours before I started chemo. Those days were hell, but my doctors urged me to be strong – they could not stop treatment for tests, and vice versa. I agreed.
When my EXTRA-SUPPORTIVE supervisors maintained that they were retaining my PhD scholarship, I had a goal to strive for. They treated me like they knew I was going to get through this. So I continued to work from Germany, and would even shift my chemo to accommodate my actual life and travels, not the other way round.
Shout out to Prof Stuart Price and Richard Danbury!
I named my tumors. Felicia for the one my oncologist called “a satellite” which was growing towards my neckline I REALLY wanted the bitch gone. And other names J, T and C for some evil people I’d encountered in the year 2017.
I would imagine the EC chemo aka “Red Devil” was Rosé, getting them dead-drunk. By late January, Felicia was the first one to disappear. My doctor’s eyes watered as she said Ruona, we cannot find it! Me, I was just shaking my bumbum, all day saying – bye, Felicia!!
With weekly chemo, the clinic had a radio
permanently playing old school music. I would sing and bob my head. Music is my
weakness. Do you know that by this time I was busy drinking chemo like
cocktails, Aunty Esmya had been banned in the EU pending investigation –
a whole year earlier.
Because it was/is also destroying women’s livers too. Chei! A pure case of #HadIKnown
Esmya announcement: https://www.ema.europa.eu/…/women-taking-esmya-uterine-fibr…
Funny enough, I always felt Esmya would fuck me up. I made a tweet 3 years before my diagnosis with breast cancer, when I was talking about why I chose to have a hysterectomy. #CancerInAfrica
Why I’m saying all this? I nearly entered stage 4 cancer. DESPITE being in a country with the best care worldwide. BECAUSE I almost let a doctor silence me and my intuition.
I only got through chemo working and being me because I saw other women like me, albeit all Caucasian, who were willing to share EVERY step of their journey. These women are on flatclosurenow.org and “My Flat Friends” on Facebook.
I got through chemo because I shut out my family in Nigeria – with good reason. Their worry would affect me. I had no answers, starting as being classed stage 4, until the tests came back, almost three months into treatment. When it was shown there was no spread, and I did not carry any of I think 16 cancer genes they tested for, I realised that not seeing the Whatsapp forwarded messages to drink soursop indiscriminately, to eat pineapples at 6:45am everyday was stuff I could do without.
Which brings me to the serial forwarders and unsolicited advisers saying cancer is punishment. You do realise that you yourself may be walking about with cancer, right? You do realise that cancer will happen to whoever it will and will take whoever, moneyed or not?
Early detection and awareness is our best weapon, not fear-mongering and outright stupidity to proffer daft advise. Months after the fact, someone said I need to be closer to God…I legit ghosted because I treat diseased body parts and stupid people alike – CUT THEM OFF.
Like, wasn’t it God who made it that I was in the right place, at the right time for treatment without having to go penniless like others I am not at all better than? God was not the one who made my doctors dumbfounded at how my hair grew during chemo, abi? God was not the one who made it that despite the years, not one lymph node was affected, and I was a total response to chemo, such that even the tumors when cut and tested were dead cells with zero cancer in them? Right.
Speaking of chemo, please don’t be afraid. I never threw up once. I actually added weight during chemo that I am still trying to lose hayghood. Then work wise, I would shift chemo to go and work and continued doing my PhD from my bed. I know of women who these stereotypes affect – who leave treatment and care too late because they are afraid. Please don’t be. Information will save you. Look at me, during chemo, and after radical mastectomy going to award ceremonies.
There is nothing a good wig, faith and positive thinking cannot do. Yes, even with stage 4. There are women living ten years after stage 4 diagnosis.
For now, all I have on my radar is how to raise awareness and dress up my new self – I am discovering literally that I am more than my body parts. Yes, I sometimes think of my gorgeous breasts, now long decomposed in some medical waste site, but I think of my being here with my family, and my work. To be honest the occasional physical hang-up is often all in my head. I still get catcalled. If I didn’t love the German so, your girl would have easily gone on at least 3 dates, given the amount of hollering that happened when I rocked up to my Emmys nomination ceremony.
So sis….what are you afraid of?
Being told you have cancer?
Having a mastectomy?
Going through chemotherapy? Having one breast or no breasts?
Yes, it is okay to be afraid, but you need to
realise that you are the only one who has the cancer inside. Your chances of
dying (and treatment costs and treatment time) are greatly reduced if you know
quickly. Early detection also means you may not go through all stages of
And even if you end up having to decide on a mastectomy, Sis…is being dead really better than having a flat chest?
Understand your family, church, advisors are coming from a place of sociocultural norms they were raised with and hold on to, but remember that if you are going to die, you will die alone.
Therefore, make sure the decision you take is for you, your mental health and quality of life. You can reach me on the dedicated Instagram page I started… @ablackcancerpatient because I do not want my Twitter to be all about cancer.
I had cancer. Cancer doesn’t have me.