BY KATE HALIM
Oluwayemisi Mafe believes women play pivotal roles in keeping the society together, and as such, they should be cared for and protected. In view of this, she co-ordinated her friends who pulled resources together to enable many market women in Lagos enjoy free screening for cervical cancer.
Being a women touched by the plight of others and with a willingness to assist in her little way, Mafe has always been keen about using her skill and expertise to assist the various NGOs she volunteers for.
In a recent chat with Saturday Sun, Yemisi urged women to always go for screening and follow up on the results as early detection helps combat cervical cancer before it becomes deadly. Excerpts:
How did your journey of creating cervical cancer awareness start?
I met Dr Femi Olaleye of Optimal Cancer Care Foundation sometime in 2009 and was quite impressed by what he was doing. This made me decide to volunteer for his organization by assisting with their corporate communication.
What does Yemisi’s Friends do with regards to assisting women with cervical cancer?
Yemisi’s Friends and Yemisi’s Pals are Blackberry groups that came into existence as an avenue for my friends and I to come together and create awareness about early detection as a precautionary means of curbing cancer. Towards the end of last year, we came up with a project of screening women who might not be well informed to walk into a screening center. We kick started the first phase with market women by screening 300 market women in Lagos recently. We raised some money as a group and Optimal Care foundation supported us and made it happen. In the near future, we intend to do the same for Policewomen.
Is there a known cause for cervical cancer?
I am not a doctor but from what I have read and heard from Doctor, cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer can often be successfully treated when it’s found early. It can be easily detected at a very early stage through screening. A virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV causes cervical cancer. You can get HPV by having sexual contact with someone who has it. You can have HPV for years without knowing. It stays in your body and can lead to cervical cancer years after you were infected with it. This is why it is important for you to be screened at regular intervals. This screening can detect changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer. If you treat these cell changes, you may prevent cervical cancer.
In what ways can women take health precautions to guard against having cervical cancer?
Going for screening at regular intervals can be the greatest defenses for cervical cancer. The screening can detect cervical changes early before they turn into cancer. I read somewhere that women who have many sexual partners increase their risk for cervical cancer. They also are increasing their risk of developing HPV, a known cause for cervical cancer. Smoking cigarettes increases your risk of developing many cancers, including cervical cancer. Smoking combined with an HPV infection can actually accelerate cervical dysphasia. Your best bet is to kick the habit. Follow up on results of your screening tests, whatever your doctor has decided for you. If you have been treated for cervical dysplasia, you still need to follow up with tests or colposcopy. Dysplasia can return and when undetected, can turn into cervical cancer. Get the HPV vaccine as it prevents high-risk strains of HPV in women.
What has been the response towards creating awareness for this killer disease?
The response has been quite encouraging. Going to the markets, the women needed little or no push as they willingly came out enmasse to be screened. We started out with the intention of screening 300 women but along the line, we got support from a corporate organization that provided the fund for a market in their neighbourhood. We also got immense support from the First Lady of Lagos State. The media has also been so supportive in propagating the message. All these support from various quarters point to the fact that the awareness is gaining more ground.
What are your challenges?
The holy book says “money answers all things”, so the major stumbling block is money. I would have loved for all market women in Nigeria to be screened if the fund is available.
Do you personally know anyone who has suffered cervical cancer?
I don’t know anyone who has suffered cervical cancer but I can’t fold my arms and let cervical cancer cut down any woman even if I don’t know her personally. This is because I believe women play pivotal roles in keeping the society together. We are wives (lovers) mothers (life-builders), sisters (motivators), aunts (cheer-leaders), friends (confidants), and daughters (angelic treasures). Basically, we provide the support for building long-lasting legacies that stands the test of time, we are priceless.
What should every woman do to help spread the message of cervical cancer?
Every woman should watch out for the next woman and encourage each other to go for regular screening. If you and I decide to encourage our sisters, friends, family members, colleagues, clients, and every other woman we come in contact with, we would be saving more lives.
As this month is world cervical cancer awareness month, what do expect from Government and individuals alike regarding combating cervical cancer?
If a small Blackberry group can crystallize into offering free screening for market women, I believe every one of us should begin to look around us and ask ourselves what we can do with what God has blessed us with. Every individual and his or her friends on Blackberry, Face book, Skype, Linked In, and other social networks can come together to do something noble and worthwhile. The kind of support we got from Lagos State’s First Lady is a model worthy of emulation and I think every other First Lady across the federation can adopt it too.
What advice do you have for women suffering from cervical cancer?
I know it is usually treated through surgery, such as a hysterectomy and removal of pelvic lymph nodes with or without removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. With a hysterectomy, the woman won’t be able to have children. I will advise women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer to go the whole hog with the medical treatment but most importantly they need to hold on to God for strength to pull through because with Him all things are possible. Life is a battle; they should not cave in without giving it a good fight.
How best can friends and family members care for anyone diagnosed with CC?
Female friends and family members taking care of patients diagnosed with cervical cancer should not forget that screening is the best way to find cervical cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer. They need to make themselves available for regular screening as this almost always show these cell changes before they turn into cancer. It’s also important for them to follow up with their doctor after any abnormal result so they can treat abnormal cell changes. This may help prevent cervical cancer. They should also get the HPV vaccine.
I am reiterating all these because they need to be strong and healthy to take care of their sister and friend giving her all the emotional support and love. If the woman is married, the husband needs to be more loving and caring as well. Basically, she is at her lowest and being there for her matters most. Family and friends can also help by discussing with medical practitioners to link up with survivors who might come together and form support groups that serve as bastion of hope and encouragement for such women.
What is it we don’t know about you?
Oluwayemisi is a graduate of English from the University of Ilorin and an alumnus of Fate Foundation’s Aspiring Entrepreneurial Programme. I started my career as a Freelance Journalist with Herald Group of Newspapers in Ilorin. Over the years, I have gained experience in the Marketing Communications industry working with various PR and Advertising. Between 2005 and 2008, I wrote with a pseudonym for a national daily paper.
I am an associate member of various professional bodies such as Advertising Practitioner’s Council of Nigeria (APCON), Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), National Institute of Marketing in Nigeria (NIMN) and Women In Management and Business (WIMBIZ). Presently, I am serving as the Secretary General of Creative Entrepreneurs Association of Nigeria a body established to incorporate the Creative industries in Nigeria in line with the recommendations of the British Council, UNESCO and UNCTAD to help accelerate sectorial growth and development. I am always keen about using my skill and expertise to gain mileage through a well-coordinated communication strategy for the various NGOs I volunteer for.