My journey to become a widow began three years ago in an oncologist’s office in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
If my wife, Grace, follows the doctor̵7;s advice rather than seeking the help of religious healers, I believe she will survive breast cancer and remain with me and the baby. Our three-year-old daughter.
She went to check for a large lump in the breast and the doctor said they had found out that there was an “invasive carcinoma”.
I didn’t understand what this meant and he explained that “the tumor is a cancer and we need to start the process of managing it right away to avoid spreading it”.
Grace looked frightened and weak, and I remember taking our baby – only a month old – out of her arms because I was scared of what she would do next. .
There is a solution
But the expert assured us that if she received treatment, she would survive. He advised a course of chemotherapy and possibly mastectomy, or surgery to remove her breasts.
Through the fog of that day, I tried to hold onto the idea that a solution was possible and that I would still have a life with Grace, whom I had only started dating more than a year earlier.
We met for the first time in the wild scenery of a busy Abuja bus terminal. She was having an argument with a bus conductor who overcharged for her luggage and I came to ease the situation. We ended up chatting on the journey and then exchanged numbers.
I was 33 years old and very lonely. As the eldest son, I am constantly reminded that where I come from eastern Nigeria, the tradition is to marry young and my brothers and sisters beat me for that.
However, I waited a few months before contacting Grace again and found out we lived close together. We became very close friends and then agreed to get married.
But 13 months after our wedding, diagnosed with cancer.
There is no free cancer treatment here and Grace’s health insurance won’t cover the cost, so I have to plan for a loan.
The total bill would go to 600,000 naira ($ 1,500; £ 1,200) and I got a loan to pay for the first treatment.
My worst decision
But on the way to the pharmacy to buy her first chemotherapy set, Grace called to let me know she was not going to continue. Instead, she had faith that God would heal her.
She told me that chemotherapy will kill the healthy cells in the body as well as the cancer cells, and she wants to put more faith in religion. It is true that the drug can damage healthy cells, but experts say this damage usually doesn’t last long.
I tried to persuade Grace to change my mind, but it was staged and I felt compelled to agree to look for alternatives – the worst decision I ever made.
Most Nigerians are very religious and when it comes to health issues, more people prefer to seek help from places of worship than from hospitals.
Grace’s decision to refuse chemotherapy was informed by the advice she received from friends and family. Many here believed it could kill you and Grace was scared.
She agreed to have surgery to remove the tumor, but this is only a temporary solution because the cancer has come back so badly.
My wife is a very strong woman and she endured the pain for two years without seeing a doctor.
However, we did visit churches and prayer centers, including those of the famous TB prophet Joshua, but no solution came up.
Most of these healers took money and promised us miracles. Some people told her that the day she went to the hospital would be the day she died.
We also explore traditional treatments, recommended by friends and relationships.
Not allowed to mention cancer
We pray together and exercise regularly, she drinks herbs and fruits, and refuses some other foods but the pain does not end.
I tried convincing to talk to a doctor, but she refused. Even when she went to the hospital for malaria treatment, she insisted that I didn’t mention the cancer.
By June of last year, it was clear that she was losing weight and getting weaker and weaker.
Then in July, her health deteriorated to the point where I had no choice but to send her to the hospital because she had difficulty breathing and was unable to stand up.
The first two hospitals where I tried to get her into the hospital wouldn’t accept her, but the third had agreed to manage her case.
How can you detect breast cancer?
The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or thickening in the breast – but there are other symptoms as well.
Change in the size or feel of the breast
Changes in the skin of the breast, such as indentation or redness
Leaking fluid from the nipple, during pregnancy or breast-feeding
Change the position of the nipples
These symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions, so it is important to see your doctor for any lumps or changes.
Source: UK National Health Service
Tests confirmed that the cancer had metastasized, including her second breast, lungs, and bones. And the doctor told me that there is no cure that can save her.
Chemotherapy is recommended for control of the situation and Grace accepts this. But from July to November, she goes in and out of the hospital on a regular basis.
At one point, I lived in my car parked on the hospital campus. When I wake up early in the morning, I take a shower in a place out of sight, then get dressed and go to work from there.
At that time, although she was very distraught, Grace’s mother supported me a lot.
Usually while I was at work, the doctors would call to inform me that Grace was having a seizure and that I would have to hurry to the hospital.
I am in debt to pay my hospital fees, but I want to make sure that money will never be a reason for poor medical treatment.
I can tell that our daughter, Golden Princess MmesomaChukwu, who is at a friend’s house, is also very miserable and she remembers the warmth from her mother’s arms.
I took her to the hospital once, but I can tell she is very worried and she doesn’t know how to react to the situation.
Finally, in November, Grace’s painful headaches showed that the cancer had spread to the brain and that she was in a coma and never woke up.
She died at the age of 33.
Tasting the sweetness of marriage to lose like this is painful.
I am now lonely, depressed and difficult to concentrate. There are tears every day.
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I set up a Facebook page in remembrance of Grace and to try to raise awareness about cancer, because to me it seems that many people in Nigeria don’t know much about it.
People need to be better informed about the best means of disease control and more money needs to be spent to pass this message on to ordinary people.
I still hear stories, including the wife of one of my friends, about people who refused chemotherapy in favor of religious healing.
Yes, our religion and traditions still play a huge role in our lives, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of losing love.