While cancer can play havoc in your life both mentally and physically, early screening, timely medical intervention and keeping a positive mindset, can help people beat the deadly disease. The most common type of cancer prevalent in the UAE is breast cancer and accounted for 21.4 per cent of new cancer cases in the country in 2020, according to the Globocan 2020 study.
October is observed as International Breast Cancer Awareness Month and many free screenings are being held across the UAE to encourage women to get themselves checked.
We bring you the inspiring stories of three cancer survivors – Filipina Mary and Nigerians Okebugwa Osinachi and Nwerenda Wobia – who share their emotional journey to encourage others not the ignore the signs and pay attention to their health.
Grandma hero from the Philippines
A ticketing officer working as a senior supervisor in Expo 2020, Mary Joy Villanueva Balagot, 51, was a happy grandmother of two. Realising she was approaching an age when one can be an easy victim of breast cancer, an extra cautious Mary quit smoking after 30 years. However, last year while doing a routine self-examination, she felt a lump in her left breast.
“Mary was diagnosed during the pandemic’s lockdown period of March/April 2021 with stage II breast cancer. She was referred to me for chemotherapy sessions after she had undergone a mastectomy – a procedure to remove the cancerous breast,” said Dr Sai Babu Jonnada, consultant oncology, NMC Royal Hospital, Sharjah, who treated Mary
Mary was advised to undergo 16 chemo sessions over a year. Unfortunately, she ran out of insurance cover midway as she had crossed the mandated limit. Good Karma played its part as help came from local charities and foundations to help her complete her chemotherapy cycles.
Mary is cancer-free and happy today and maintains a monthly follow-up. “Dr Jonnada helped me with my journey of treatment and recovery. Most importantly he helped me deal with stress as I would sometimes be emotionally drained. And I am grateful to him for his understanding of not only the disease but also of emotions playing behind the scenes of a troubled soul,” said Mary.
Dr Jonnada said: “Whenever a person is diagnosed with breast cancer - or any type of cancer - the world turns upside down for the patient and their family. But it is not the end of the world. With the right attitude and positive approach, coupled with excellent medical expertise, we can beat cancer. I thank Mary for being such an inspiration to one and all.”
Mary now urges people she knows to start exercising and paying attention to their health and follow a healthy lifestyle.
They travelled to UAE for treatment
The stories of Okebugwa Osinachi, a young 26-year-old pharmacist working in a local hospital in Nigeria, and of Nwerenda Wobia, a 45-year-old homemaker wife to a real estate promoter in Nigeria, are inspiring in more ways than one. They were both diagnosed with cancer in the left breast in their home country after self-examination. Searching on the Internet, they found out doctors, reached out to them and connected them with their caregivers back home in Nigeria - since they could not travel restrictions on travels owing to the pandemic.
Dr Ahmed Awad Salim EL Hakeem, consultant general surgery, at Sharjah’s NMC Royal Hospital, said: “We collaborated with their doctors to reach the conclusive diagnosis and line of treatment. Their chemotherapy sessions were started in Nigeria and the plan was to remove the cancerous breast here and send them for radiotherapy and call them again for breast reconstruction.”
Both finished their six chemotherapy sessions each in Nigeria and resumed their travel to the UAE to undergo radical mastectomy – removal of the breast. After her surgery on Jan 12, 2021, Okebugwa remained in the UAE for two months and returned to Nigeria for her radiotherapy sessions and hopes to be back for a breast reconstruction soon.
“Everything went smoothly as per the plan and as per our expectations. The UAE is becoming popular in my country as a destination of choice for medical treatment. I am happy at the outcome of my treatment,” said Okebugwa.
Osinachi, mother of Okebugwa said: “Despite all the research work and confidence of my daughter, I was scared whether I will go back with my daughter. But I am really happy now that the surgery went well. The physiotherapists were excellent, while the nurses were caring and prompt at all times, regardless of it being night or day.”
Okebugwa’s story is of grit and determination as she fought the battle bravely all alone from the very start. She had a healthy lifestyle before she contracted cancer, and vows to continue pursuing health and fitness.
While the young girl Okebugwa fought it all alone, her compatriot Nwerenda Wobia, left her three children behind as she traveled with her husband for her surgery on June 12, 2021, and also stayed for two months in the UAE.
Her journey to recovery was extra-emotional as her children were far away from her. Incidentally, even their wedding anniversary was celebrated in the hospital and it was their testament of love and support for a lifetime of togetherness that she came through the difficult period.
She also returned to Nigeria for her radiotherapy sessions and hopes to be back for breast reconstruction.
None of the above three patients had any family history of cancer.
Michael Brenden Davis, CEO, NMC Healthcare, said, “Battling cancer is an arduous journey, yet the patients don’t have to walk the path to recovery alone. Treatment is difficult, but there is always hope. I was so glad to learn the stories of Mary, Okebugwa, and Nwerenda, and their resolute fight to defeat cancer with the support of our doctors, their families, and other caregivers. God bless them and the clinical staff.”
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