Hadiza Bello Yero's life nearly came to an end in 2014 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
When she couldn't receive better treatment at the Federal Medical Centre, Jalingo, she flew to Abuja to undergo a surgery. A consultant doctor at the National Hospital, Abuja gave her counsel to go and finish the treatment abroad.
As she was desperate to get treated, she heeded the doctor's words and journeyed down to Dubai where she underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which are all forms of cancer treatment.
“It was in Dubai where I finally got treated and I kept traveling there for proper check-ups and by 2016, I was declared free from cancer,” Yero said.
While in Dubai, she was inspired by the words of a healthcare professional who suggested that she should come up with a facility in her country that will aid the victims of cancer who don't have the resources to seek treatment abroad.
After their conversation, Yero felt the need to actualize the idea and since there was no comprehensive cancer treatment centre in Taraba State, she thought of building one.
“I had a horrible experience while undergoing treatment and I don’t want anybody to have a similar experience or even die of cancer in the state. So that's why I conceived the idea to structure a world-class cancer treatment centre here in Taraba,” she recounted.
In 2018, these experiences coupled with her passion for supporting local communities led her to initiate the Fhamas Cancer Foundation, a non-profit organization determined to eliminate cancer within rural and urban communities of Taraba State.
The foundation began its operation in February 2020 through sensitization campaigns.
Sensitising rural communities
Through collaborations with other non-profit organizations, the foundation launched numerous campaigns to educate rural people about cancer and how they can be treated.
“Many people don't understand what cancer is. The victims of cancer diseases are told not to visit hospitals and shun away from injections. So through these campaigns, we try to make them aware of what cancer diseases are and understand that they can get treatment at the hospital,” said Jamilu Yayawa, the head of the foundation.
With a team of cancer specialists, lab scientists, and environmental technologists, the foundation has carried out effective campaigns across Jalingo, Zing, Yorro, Kau, Ardo-kola, and Gassol Local Government Areas of Taraba State.
In the field, clinical breast examinations are being conducted for women. When a problem is noticed in the breasts, the victims would be transported to the foundation's diagnostic centre in Jalingo for proper screening through modern scanning machines.
“For cervical cancer, the screening costs N7,000. If the results show negative, we give them a one-shot vaccine and antibiotics which also cost N25,000. We also counsel them on preventive measures,” Yayawa admitted.
When the results are positive, the victims are then referred to treatment centres across the country where they can get all the forms of treatment. Before this intervention, there was no cancer diagnostic centre in Taraba State.
At the diagnostic wing of the foundation, modern machines are installed for carrying out screenings of the disease. However, the wing serves as a sustainability plan for the foundation.
“We provide cheaper services compared to other places. It's the little profit we generate there that we use to fund our campaigns. Because we realized that educating people about earlier prevention is paramount in eliminating the disease, Yayawa explained to Prime Progress.
While at the Federal Medical Centre, Jabi, Gardasil and Cervarix vaccines are available for N60,000 and N30,000, respectively.
Also, at the Nisa Premier Hospital, Abuja, Gardasil costs N55,000.
Prevalence of cancer
Yayawa admitted that cancer is the uncontrollable development of abnormal cells spreading through the human body parts. The most common types of cancer include breast and prostate cancer.
“The disease tends to move from where it started to other parts of the body either through the blood vessels or the limb vessels,” he said.
Data from the National Cancer Control Plan shows that there are 72,000 deaths recorded in Nigeria every year due to cancer, with an estimate of 102,000 new cases.
Yayawa also shared that there is no genuine cause for cancer. Another study revealed that the majority or over 95% of cervical cancer is caused by the Human papillomavirus or HPV.
As for the other cancers, there is no single cause of them. “We only have attributing or predisposing factors like physical, chemical, biological, and lifestyle. Sometimes, it can be a genetic or environmental factor,” said Yayawa.
In taking early preventive measures, the foundation encouraged the rural communities to eat healthy foods and maintain a balanced diet. They are also counselled to engage in daily physical exercise and use sanitized water systems for both drinking and cooking.
In communities where there are no sanitized water systems, the foundation makes efforts to provide them with borehole facilities.
Yayawa told Prime Progress that they cautioned people with fair skin to avoid regular walks in the sun.
“Cancer diseases are only curable in their early stages of 1 and 2 but in stage 3 and 4, they are not not curable. When it passes the early stages, the victims can only receive palliative treatment. That is where we help the victim to stop feeling pain and bleeding since we can't cure the disease at that stage. So we advise people to come early for diagnosis after our awareness campaigns,” Yayawa expressed.
It is impactful
Over the years, the foundation has helped people get treated and become cancer-free. However, some victims are still receiving treatment and sadly, some have died along the process. But Yero confidently said that their services have been impactful as people from neighboring states also come for screenings and counselling.
During an awareness campaign in Lankaviri in February 2023, the foundation met Maman Hafsat's son and later diagnosed him with cancer.
After the screenings, they invested efforts by connecting the family to hospitals across northeast Nigeria that made the son's treatment possible.
“My son was struggling with this problem but we didn't even know that it was cancer until they came for the campaign. After he was diagnosed with cancer, I lost hope because I used to hear that it was deadly. I appreciate them for giving my son the chance to live again,” Maman Hafsat said happily.
The foundation runs self-funded projects and is lacking effective collaborations with other organizations working towards health issues and community development.
According to Yayawa, some rural communities aren't accessible due to bad roads and low budgets.
The solution is also surrounded by challenges that include the lack and cost of modern facilities for treatment and there are a few healthcare professionals specialized in oncology, the study of cancer, in Taraba State.
“In the whole of Taraba State, we don't have a consultant oncologist. I'm among the only three oncologist nurses in the state who have the license to practice,” Yayawa highlighted.
Despite the challenges, Yero hopes to have a comprehensive cancer treatment centre where people will not only be diagnosed but also have access to all three forms of treatment.
“I have secured five hectares of land in the Bakin Dutse community where I'm planning to build the centre soon,” Yero said.
With her educational background in Architecture, Yero had already designed the structure and dreamed that the intervention would live to see the daylight and benefit even people beyond the boundaries of Taraba.