Nothing kills a child’s dream like the daily burden of checking in and out of hospitals seeking cure for an ailment that they don’t deserve. Statistics show that 43 children are diagnosed with cancer on a daily basis and 12 percent of these children do not survive.
In these parts, cancer in children is mostly not speedily detected as parents are either given to self medication or prone to seek spiritual help when consistent health issues arise. When eventually detected, many parents are unable to afford dedicated medical services for these children.
In this interview with YNaija’s Impact365, we learn about The Dorcas Cancer Foundation, one of the very few NGOs dedicated towards raising awareness for child cancer in Nigeria.
Tell us more about The Dorcas Cancer Foundation
TDCF is a non-profit organisation that was set up in memory of Dorcas Adepitan (May 29th, 2003 – July 13th, 2015). Since we began, we have expended all our efforts on funding diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of children living with a cancer diagnosis in Nigeria.
We also engage in activities to raise awareness, such as our recent Instagram challenge called #SingSeptember where members of the public sing a nursery rhyme in support of child cancer and win some fantastic prizes.
In addition, just last weekend, we launched our Childhood Cancer Handbook Series, a series that was started to help spread awareness and answer the common questions that parents, family members and health professionals have about childhood cancer.
What inspired the decision to set up a NGO that tends to childhood cancer?
Dorcas was a little girl who lost her battle against Osteosarcoma, a bone cancer. During the course of the illness, I became close to her and her mother and found them both to be very loving, and strong.
What struck a chord was the fact that the parent had done the right thing; her daughter was ill and she took her to a doctor. However, despite being in the care of a qualified professional, the diagnosis was still missed for a long time.
In addition, children’s cancers have an excellent prognosis when diagnosed early, even better than adult cancers. Children are also very vulnerable. They are totally dependent on the decisions and finances of the family they find themselves in. A child that is ill, wants to get better, but cannot take himself to a doctor if the parents insist on a traditional healer, or even just wishful thinking.
How many Nigerian children are currently battling cancer? What are the statistics?
Those statistics are hard to come by. The few numbers that are available are mostly drawn from hospital-based data. Community data is as yet inadequate regarding childhood cancers in Nigeria.
Childhood cancer is curable if detected early enough, what are the signs parents need to look out for in their kids?
It is important to know that there are many different types of childhood cancer.
The first step is for parents to understand that a sick child should be seen by a certified healthcare provider – a medical doctor. Look for signs that the child is not improving with the treatment that has been provided, and demand a referral to a specialist i.e. a Pediatrician.
Some signs to look for are also weight loss, fevers that cannot be explained, a white discoloration of the pupil (dark part) of the eye, any lump in any part of the body (lymph node), swelling of the abdomen, pain in a bone or joint; repeated infections and illnesses.
Are the medical facilities in Nigeria equipped enough to treat these child patients and how do you help save them?
Many teaching, federal and state hospitals are equipped (to a certain extent) to treat cancer. They certainly have excellent specialists and manpower; if not necessarily the state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.
With respect to children, the specialists are there but more effort needs to be directed into setting up dedicated child cancer units nationwide; a project we are currently working on in collaboration with some agencies.
Does the Nigerian government, at federal and state levels, contribute in any way towards awareness and treatment of child cancer patients?
As I always say, the government is doing what they can do at this point, and we look forward to them being able to do more. However, the government cannot do everything.
At the end of the day, change always begins with the individual units of every system, you and I.
What are the major challenges TDCF faces in its work?
There are many challenges, expected and unexpected. Stigma, superstition, and cultural beliefs are a major challenge. Despite TDCF offering help; some families will reject medical care and take their child to a traditional healer, or a church or some other place.
Funding is another major challenge. Cancer treatment is expensive and can cost anywhere from 1 to 4 million or more in one child. Many Nigerians cannot afford this, and we cannot do our work without our partners.
How do you raise funds to assist your beneficiaries?
We have been blessed to have partners who have believed in our vision and risen to our mission. We also have many individual donations of small amounts. You would be surprised to know that every tiny bit adds up and counts to help these children.
Which is the most touching experience of a child cancer survivor you’ve witnessed so far?
I think it would have to be Inioluwa. A 3-year old (soon to be 4) Wilm’s tumor survivor. She is such an interesting little girl. She is so strong and will hardly ever cry. Even in situations where you expect her to be scared, she just remains cool, you can see the fear in her eyes, but she won’t even cry. When she gets comfortable around you, she is a chatterbox.
There is also Emmanuel, a 4-year old Wilm’s tumour survivor. He is so playful and naughty, and yet so sweet at the same time. He always cheers up the entire office whenever he comes around.
February 15 is International Childhood Cancer Day and it’s five months away, what is TDCF planning for that week?
TDCF is working on a number of projects that we hope to launch before or to coincide with the day.
We are actively right now working to collaborate with stores across the country to put our merchandise on sale in support for children with cancer. It’s called the Children Are Gold Program, and you get to buy a mug, notebook, pen, T-shirt, etc. in support of children with cancer. The merchandise will also be available for delivery from our website.
We also hope by then to have our Dorcas Units (small, dedicated Pediatric cancer units for children) up and running in federal and state hospitals across Lagos state.
We are working towards supporting and maintaining Pediatric Tumour Boards in teaching hospitals in Nigeria
We also hope to release the next volume in our Handbook Series to coincide with the day.