When you're diagnosed with cancer, you need support. Whether it's from your family, your friends or your local community.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, that wasn't my experience. As a Nigerian woman living in London, I didn't have my immediate family close by and I found there was a lot of misunderstanding and mistrust around cancer in my community.
My experience was that old myths such as 'you can catch cancer' or 'that's a white person's disease' were alive and well. I found that a lot of people with a similar background to me assumed that having cancer meant you would die. I suppose that's because in Nigeria, sadly that has been largely true.
I must admit that I too felt like cancer was something that only happened to white people. I see now that I was naive and felt like everything I saw about cancer in the media only applied to white, British people, so it would never happen to me.
Thankfully, following my diagnosis I was assigned a Macmillan nurse called Charmaine, who really helped me to make sense of everything that was happening. She could see that I was struggling emotionally so she suggested I attend a support group.
The whole concept of a support group just felt alien to me. It's not something I'd ever encountered in Nigerian culture. However, I knew that talking about what I was going through would help me, so I went along.
The support group was really useful. Just talking to other people who had experienced similar things was a big comfort to me. But I couldn't help feeling like mine was the only non-white face in the group. I wanted to find a place where I could receive support with people who also had similar cultural backgrounds to me.
I couldn't find such a group so with the support of a Macmillan grant, I set up a group and even enrolled on a counselling course so that I would be well equipped to offer support.
My main aim was to dispel myths amongst my community and encourage more people with similar heritage to me to talk about cancer and seek the support they need. For me it was really important to give something back after all the support I'd received from Macmillan and I wanted to spread the word in the Nigerian community that cancer isn't always fatal and there are lots of sources of support. I started to work with the Macmillan nurses at my hospital on outreach work to encourage more people with ethnic backgrounds to seek support following a cancer diagnosis.
Soon after starting the group in the UK, I travelled to Nigeria to visit my mum. While there, I met the founder of an NGO called COPE which is working to reduce breast cancer mortality rates in Nigeria. We got chatting about my experiences in the UK and how a support group could benefit women affected by cancer in Nigeria.
I could see there was so much will to help women with breast cancer in Nigeria that we decided to establish a support group there, as part of COPE. I really believe this is the very first cancer support group in Nigeria. The group meets once a month in Lagos and has been a huge success. Women travel from all over the country to attend the support group, showing that there is a real appetite for this kind of support among people affected by cancer in Nigeria.
Through the support group we are able to dispel myths about cancer, offer women emotional support and educate people affected by cancer on the benefits of things such as diet and exercise. This support has proved to be a real lifeline to some women and I'm so proud of how far we've come in encouraging education and awareness about cancer in Nigeria.
It just goes to show that cancer doesn't respect borders - it can happen to anybody, anywhere. If I can use my experience to support even one woman in Nigeria who wouldn't otherwise have access to the support they need, I'll be happy.
Della has shared her story this International Women's Day to support Macmillan Cancer Support. Macmillan believes nobody should face cancer alone. To find out more about the support Macmillan can offer, visit www.macmillan.org.uk
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