Undercover Investigation: Cancer is the disease, Nigeria’s health system is the killer​

Full story title Undercover Investigation: Cancer is the disease, Nigeria’s health system the killer. can be found on the original page. Credit to ‘Fisayo Soyombo


This is one of the most intense, riveting love stories you will ever read. Contrary to what you may be thinking already, it isn’t set in the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva, Switzerland — the world’s most expensive hotel — or in the famous Burj Al Arab in Dubai, the third tallest and fourth largest hotel in the world. It isn’t set in Paris, the fabled ‘city of love and romance’, either. Instead, this true life story is set in the frenetic city of Lagos, specifically domiciled at the gynecology ward of the Lagos University Teaching hospital (LUTH). Dateline, February 2018.

A dark, beautiful young lady from Edo State — confined to the bed by terminal sickness — writhes in agony. She twitches her right fingers but the rest of the arm is static; it’s swollen and bandaged, the source of enormous pain. She closes her eyes and grits her teeth as though mustering all the strength within her in an attempt to say something to the doctor, but she doesn’t. Weak and helpless, she gives up.

Her boyfriend — a dark, handsome, confident young man from Delta State — cut a forlorn picture. The agony in his eyes is palpable; it is clear he wants to help, but he can’t. He can’t even hold her hands in his; one touch and she’d scream in excruciating pains. Instead, he stares at her in consolation, wearing a sombre look suggesting he would rather bear the pains on her behalf.

One of his girlfriend’s breasts has been cut off; mastectomy is what the doctors call it. It is from there that the cancer raging through her body emanated. In all, she has undergone surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy — the three commonest medical solutions to cancer — yet her condition is deteriorating. She is becoming paler, losing weight, now unable to move — because the cancer has so spread round her body that she now suffers from metastatic neuro disease. Also, due to the cancer, she has lymphedema, responsible for the swelling of her eyes and right arm. She has intense chest pains and struggles for breath after weeing. She’s on oxygen as well. And what more? Breasts don’t regenerate; that breast is gone forever. Still, he loves her.

“I love her so much. She was my crush then when we were in Uniben but she used to play hard to get,” he says. “I never knew we would meet again in Lagos.” For the first time in a pain-laden 15 minutes, she blushes, her face lightening up and her lips slowly parting to release such glorious smiles that set one wondering just how pretty she must have been in her healthier days. Love, oh love! Such medicine even to the sick.

They have been dating for roughly six months. After losing track of each other back in Benin, where they both grew up, they met fortuitously on the streets of Lagos in January 2017. She had just undergone surgery at the time; and as the friendship blossomed, she told him she had cancer, and that one of her breasts had been removed.

“Trust me, it wasn’t an issue,” he says of the breast removal. “Even she was shocked [by my reaction] when she told me; I never felt anyway. If you love someone you have to accept them the way they are; it’s the truth. Life goes on. You can’t hold on to that, because it’s not her fault that she has cancer. I have accepted it.”

What he has accepted is often not so easy to deal with. As explained by the external oncologist who joined the journalist in entering the hospital undercover, there are ample examples of husbands who divorced their wives after mastectomy, despite already having kids after several years of marriage. In fact, there are cases of husbands who prevented their wives from undergoing the procedure, despite knowing that retaining the breasts literally meant a death sentence.

One more time she clenches her fists in pain and her man’s face contours into a frown. It’s such an unpleasant sight to behold. For how long will they endure this pain? When will she be strong enough to get out of the hospital and return to her normal life?

“I pity her a lot,” says the undercover doctor. “But I pity her boyfriend more. This lady I see has one year — probably two more — to live. The doctors handling her case must have told her, and I hope she has told her man — because no doctor will. The doctor tells the patient the truth but no one else. There is a doctor-patient confidentiality that forbids the doctor from opening up to anyone else other than the patient.”

Full story title Undercover Investigation: Cancer is the disease, Nigeria’s health system the killer. can be found on the original page. Credit to ‘Fisayo Soyombo


Nigeria’s first non-governmental organization dedicated to creating unmatched awareness for wellness and (specifically) colorectal cancer, conduct screening for early detection, advocate for better treatment and support research for its cure.

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