New Worldwide Breast Cancer Advisor Dr. Ebele Mbanugo: Running for a Cure in Africa
I will never forget the summer of 2007. I was pregnant with my first child and my older sister was planning her wedding. However, our preoccupation with our major life changes came to a halt when in June 2007; my mother came to my sister and I to tell us she had found a lump in her breast. We were immediately paralyzed with fear because earlier that month, two of our aunts had just been diagnosed with cancer as well: one aunt with breast cancer and the other aunt with colon cancer. We were perplexed, why now? Why all three of them? Even though we were confused and scared, we tried to remain optimistic, brush it off like my mom’s case would be different, but quietly, we knew it was breast cancer.
My older sister, the ‘Doer’ in the family, wasted no time and made an appointment for my mom to be screened. In the end, she was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer. I remember walking into the waiting room with my mother on the day she was diagnosed. She, always such a pillar of strength for us, looked small and afraid because she knew what the doctor was going to say. When they did give us the news, she broke down at the doctor’s office and then immediately shifted her anger to my sister and me. She was mad that we made her aware of the cancer. She wanted to, in her words, “Just not wake up one day.” The doctor corrected her and said, “If you are going to have any cancer, this is the one to have. We found it early and we can treat it.” Six weeks of chemotherapy and then radiation, was a struggle, but visually she emerged from her treatment unscathed.
It was not until December of 2008 that I was able to understand the magnitude of what happened to my family and how truly fortunate we were. My aunt, who had been diagnosed with colon cancer in the same month my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, had taken a turn for the worse. Her cancer had spread and after trying to treat it for the past year, the doctor told her son that he should take his mother home so she could spend her last Christmas among family. My aunt passed away on January 18, 2009.
I started to think, what if the doctors had told my brothers and sisters and me to take my mother home so she could spend her last Christmas at home? I shuddered at the thought and quickly erased it from my mind. I then decided that when I returned to the States I was going to write a check to the Susan G. Komen Foundation to show how truly grateful I was, because they helped with my mom’s treatment, but a voice inside me said, “It is not always about writing a check, sometimes you have to get your hands a little dirty”. I then decided that I would organize a Run, much like the Race for the Cure put on by SGK, in Lagos, Nigeria.
I decided, in my mind that I would give the proceeds from the Run to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, but that same voice said to me, “How are you going to raise money in Nigeria for the U.S. , when there are so many people that desperately need help right here”. It was then that I decided to start a breast cancer awareness run in 2009 in Lagos, Nigeria. This awareness run has grown into Run For a Cure Africa. Each year we had with our mother was a blessing. In the end, her cancer came back and metastasized to the brain. She fought long and hard and went home to rest on January 8, 2016. But she lives on in this organization.