There are many events which are blessings in disguise, but until we ponder about them in retrospect, we never get to understand how fortunate we have been and still are.
It was unexpected being invited by the MD of Chion Family Medical Centre, Mende- Lagos for a birthday celebration on a particular Sunday that I’d scheduled to go hang out with some buddies. But the venue tweaked my sense of adventure – Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), and a particular Jewish edict kept ringing in my ears “These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world, but whose principal remain intact for him in the world to come, they are…acts of kindness…visiting the sick…”
All the sick people I’d ever visited were folks known to me or acquaintances of someone close. Also, I’ve been to birthday bashes held at resorts, lounges and numerous fun venues, but a hospital? That was something deep and I sure wasn’t going to miss such an occasion.
It was Sunday afternoon and the rain wasn’t falling (apologies Maroon 5) and I, some staff of Chion Family Medical Centre and other guests were gathered at the premises of Niola Cancer Care Foundation at Maryland, Lagos. I was feeling like some super hero alongside the guests all geared up in orange Asó Èbi crested with some vital hash tags on colorectal cancer, a logo of the celebrants foundation, a symbol depicting ‘love sharing’ in front and ‘celebrating with the victors’ at the back. After partaking of some refreshments, our convoy headed out to LUTH.
AT THE VENUE
We met other guests at LUTH and were joined by others who came from different parts of Lagos state. The arrival of veteran Nollywood star, Keppy Ekpenyong Bassey with his wife charged up the atmosphere and he lightened up everyone’s mood with some good natured jokes. Imagine the surprise of the LUTH security personnel who thought we were trying to stage a protest only to find out the celebrant had permission from management to celebrate her birthday with the patients at designated wards.
And then the celebrations began.
Not with blaring music nor wanton dancing, but a procession of gift carrying messengers of hope led by the celebrant, clad in orange and moving from bed to bed in the designated male, female and children wards, offering prayers, words of encouragement, empathy and presents in hampers to the patients.
A FEW REALITIES
Seeing the celebrant, her friends in the medical sector, her colleagues in her foundation, some cancer survivors, the nurses at LUTH and other guests all absorbed in the moment of sharing love with the patients, and the appreciation in the eyes of the patients who even with their relatives around, were grateful for the company of empathic strangers, I couldn’t help feeling like a super villain after we left the first ward. A few guests sneaked out to weep and I understood how they felt.
The aged, middle aged, and youths in the adult wards showed me what true strength was. Their courage and perseverance revealed an inner dimension of human willpower unknown to me. Rooms were shared by people of different tribes and beliefs and there was visible absence of common prejudices among patients or their relatives. All were united in spirit through shared experience.
AT THE ONCOLOGY WARD FOR CHILDREN
Getting to the Children ward of LUTH’s Oncology section, I was deeply humbled by the realities seen.
The atmosphere was a mixture of love, despair, purity and hope. I saw cherubs smiling and finding joy in every moment irrespective of the health challenges burdening their frail bodies. I could feel mothers drawing strength from each other as they watched over their sleeping children. I remember the delight of one of the kids whose request for a group photo was granted. This was a child undergoing treatment for retinoblastoma, yet his spirit was untainted by any form of pessimism. His delight radiated innocence in its purest form. It was beautiful and awe inspiring.
I understood how ungrateful I’d been amidst the myriad blessings of Providence and wished at that moment I was a prophet, a genie or even a Voodoo priest. I would have granted the wishes of all the mothers in that ward. It was the first time I’ve ever felt holiness in a place. Each room in that ward had more sanctity than all the religious places I’ve visited or worshipped in. It was Father’s Day in particular, but I got golden insights about the depth of mother’s love and children’s strength. These children were definitely victors worth celebrating.
All forms of ill-health and medical conditions are not something to be wished for, not even on an enemy. Observing the impressive turnout of guests to this unique birthday celebration, I realized that only those who have gone through any such harrowing experience themselves or had a loved one affected can truly understand the mindset of others in similar situations. They thus know how priceless any form of support from family, friends and even strangers can be. Their passion fuelled by experience, becomes the driving force that propels the general populace towards many worthy causes.
Many people with firsthand experience from such trying episodes become lost in themselves, shutting everyone else out. Others are only too grateful to forget, while a few turn their experience into a rallying point to enlighten the society as well as lend support to others in similar situations.
Having lost a loved one to colorectal cancer, the celebrant, Madam Eniola Akintunde Salu is among the few that refuse to allow sad experiences to weigh them down. Her organization, Niola Cancer Care Foundation is playing an important part in the fight against cancer fatality through regular public enlightenment campaigns on colorectal cancer and cancer patient support initiatives.
Her message is clear and simple:
- A diagnosis of cancer (Colorectal or other forms) is not a death sentence.
- Regular screening is key to early detection
- Early detection of cancer is very important to timely medical attention which increases survival rate.
Thus she has partnered with some medical facilities for easy screening, consultancy and treatment.
The presence of some cancer survivors at her birthday bore witness to the truth of her message. The participation of some doctors and nurses from within and outside LUTH also shows that they believe and support the ideology that drives her foundation and appreciate all her efforts.
To Madam Eniola Akintunde-Salu, this stranger says “thank you for hosting me to a soul shaking and terrific birthday celebration.” Hearty cheers and many worthy milestones ahead to celebrate. May you continue to be empowered to bring succour to those in need and may your awareness campaigns enlighten millions to take action against cancer all over Nigeria and beyond.
To Dr. O. Jonah Eze and the staff of Chion Family Medical Centre, I am grateful Sir for the invite. May you all continue to grow in expertise and successfully save lives in accordance with the demands of your profession.
The presence of Keppy Ekpenyong Bassey was a thrill to the mature patients, nurses and visitors within LUTH and many couldn’t hide their delight. It is quite rare to get a visit from a Nollywood star of his calibre, most especially when one is on a sickbed. I’m not sure there are many stars like him supporting worthy causes here in Nigeria. Do keep up the good works Sir.
The guests were simply amazing. They selflessly blended with the patients in so short a time. Their conduct exceeded my expectations. This gathering of different folks celebrating a special lady, on a special day, in a special way, and at a special place with special people was sure to create special memories. I am grateful for the rich experience.
The Management of LUTH made this possible by approving the visit. More power to you all.
What can I say about the patients in the various wards? The words on the back of our shirts “Celebrating with the Victors” aptly captured the essence of the day. As part-celebrants (for the day was about them), their welcoming us even in the face of their own trials shows them all to be victors. For Aliyah, Christina and all the other children in the Oncology ward as well as their mothers, this adaptation of a Hebrew prayer is for you:
Heal us, O L-rd, and we will be healed; save us and we will be saved; for You are our praise. Grant complete cure and healing to all our ailments; (May it be your will L-rd, our G-d and G-d of our forbears, that You send complete healing from heaven. Healing of soul and healing of body to all those who are ill) For You, Almighty King, are a faithful and merciful healer…