When in 1997, Mrs. Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu was diagnosed with breast cancer, it must have triggered a panic. Often a death sentence in developing climes like Nigeria and other nations of Africa, breast cancer has been responsible for the death of not less than 50,000 women annually on the continent according to the American Cancer Society.
Globally, there are not less than 1.38 million new cases of the disease annually, and it accounts for over 458,000 deaths according to World Health Organisation (WHO)
But in the case of the Ondo State First Lady, cancer had messed with the wrong person. A fighter, Mrs. Akeredolu underwent treatment and survived. Ever since, neither her nor breast cancer has rested. She has since dedicated her life to fighting the disease by creating awareness and assisting those affected by it through her organisation, Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN), which she formed six months after her cancer battle in 1997.
The First Lady may have only achieved national prominence with BRECAN upon her husband, Rotimi Akeredolu taking office as Ondo governor in 2016, but for years, beginning from 1997, largely unsung, she has, through the organisation, helped in no small way, to raise breast cancer awareness, not just in Nigeria, but across the globe, and for which she has won laurels, including of course, her latest Outstanding Community Service Award by Business Hallmark.
BRECAN, with a presence in 173 countries, and membership strength of nearly 2000, and growing, has been a global voice in the fight against cancer.
Despite the weight of her responsibilities as a carrier fish farmer and consultant through her firm, Aquatek Farms Ventures, Ibadan and indeed her new job as First Lady, she has not relented in her campaigns. No rest, she says, until there is enough awareness for everyone because, “the call to beat cancer is a call we must all put resources together to accomplish.”
She admits, however, that, “It’s been a very rough road fighting against breast cancer in the country because our healthcare system is inadequate. It therefore, requires everybody’s effort to to put the government on its toes.”
Relentless, nonetheless, fortnight ago, Mrs. Akeredolu was in the Rwandan capital, Kigali as part of activities to mark this year’s WHO breast cancer awareness month, an event that takes place every October. It was at the instance of Breast Cancer Initiative of East Africa, set up by a fellow survivor, Philippa Kibugu-Decuir.
There, she called on other survivors to up their games in helping to raise awareness, because according to her, “awareness is the entry point to surviving breast cancer.”
She called on women to be “breast-aware” by regularly carrying out breast self-examination (BSE), while regretting that at the time she was diagnosed, survivors were nowhere to be found as a result of the stigma associated with the disease which, she pointed out, left women diagnosed during that time in the dark, not knowing who to talk to.
“Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t hear anything from anybody about surviving breast cancer, so you are faced with not knowing who to talk to or if anyone had ever had such an experience,” she said.
“That was my own situation until I got to the hospital and I realised that women who were undergoing same experience were many, but they were not talking.
“Right there at the hospital, I decided that I wasn’t going to be part of that silence and I expect every survivor in Africa not to be silent about it, rather raise awareness like Philippa is doing today.”
Upon her return to Nigeria, Mrs. Akeredolu coordinated “Jog For Life” campaign in Akure, the Ondo capital and Owerri, Imo State as part of her continuing effort to raise awareness.
For her her unrelenting activism, the Ondo First Lady will, expectedly, on November 10 in Lagos, join other outstanding Nigerians who have made positive impact on society to receive Outstanding Community Service Award on the occasion of Business Hallmark Newspaper’s People of the Year Award.
Mrs Akeredolu: a profile
An aquaculturist, Akeredolu was born in 1953 to the family of Chief BUB and Nneoma Dora Anyanwu, in Emeabiam, Owerri-West, in Imo State.
She attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where she obtained a bachelor of science degree in zoology in 1977. She also holds a master of science degree in fisheries, major in aquaculture, from the University of the Philippines Visayas in Iloilo City.
Mrs. Akeredolu began her career as a fisheries expert while working with the Federal Department of Fisheries. She retired in 2005 to focus on her career as a commercial fish farmer with Aquatek Farms Ventures.
She is married to Rotimi Akeredolu, (SAN), with whom she has four children and three grandchildren.