I Was Scared To Do Cancer Surgery In Nigeria After Visiting Uniabuja Hospital, Says FCT Resident

 Idris Lawson, an Abuja resident, spoke to THE WHISTLER about how he discovered he had a cancerous tumour and his search for cure which took him to Germany for surgery.


 Discovery Of Tumour

I had been having some funny neck pains for quite some time, so on this particular day, I observed it was severe and unusual.  It came with some numbness on my left hand with some tingling. I had complained to a nurse at my office a couple of times so on this day I was told to just proceed to do an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). I did the MRI at LifeBridge Medical Diagnostics Center, Garki Abuja, a few days later. During the MRI session, they scanned the upper part of my body, inclusive of the top portion of the spine and the brain. The session lasted about 20mins.  It was my first time doing an MRI and it felt quite anxious having to lie down and get strapped and pushed in a confined tube-like machine.

Anyway, after the session, I was drawn out and told they had to inject a contrast dye into my veins to be able to see something more clearly. Thus, I had to repeat the session. At this point, they did not give me any details. I asked for any side effects when I had “dye” but I was told it wasn’t a big deal and it would be removed from my system naturally in a few days. When this second session was completed, I was told a detailed report would be ready by the evening or by the next morning. When I saw the result it indicated there was something unusual and perhaps big around my neck, which wasn’t meant to be there. It was something around the thyroid or so. It was at this point I knew something was wrong, and that’s how I got to know about the tumor.

The Fear Of Cancer

 Before now, I had never really had any very close family or even very close friends having any form of cancer. Recently though, I had a few people at my organization who have had a cancer diagnosis. And in fact, about 3 had died within the past two years due to cancer-related illnesses. These recent cases came to mind immediately and gave me some scare. From that evening, I sincerely started looking at life differently. I have always been a healthy and physically fit person and during my last medical review, the doctor had told me to keep it up. So this discovery made me think again and again that there are indeed things in this life you absolutely have no control over. They just happen and shake the core of your being.


We met a consultant who outrightly said whatever was at the throat/thyroid had to be removed/cut off before the neck matter could be resolved. So the new discovery had to be sorted out before the thing that was causing the tingling in the limbs could be resolved. My nurse and some family advised that we got a second consultant’s opinion before defining a way forward. I saw another consultant at a different hospital entirely and he gave a similar interpretation and advice to the first.

At this point, the issue of malignancy of the tumor or not had now come up. I inquired from the doctor about how we do the biopsy of the tumor. It was then I was made to understand it wasn’t a “sharp sharp, quick quick” process. I was told I would need to have a biopsy and it will be about 7 days after taking a sample off my body before I could get a result.

I Was Scared At Uniabuja Teaching Hospital Gwagwalada

I had privately gone to see a consultant around Gwagalada and I had also checked in (just to see things around) at the University of Abuja teaching Hospital Gwagwalada. When I visited the Hospital and some wards, I honestly began to get scared. I was frightened about the poor state of infrastructure.

Uniabuja Teaching Hospital Scare


Honestly, I was not initially worried after the scan and when I had seen the first consultant. But it was the experience at Gwagwalada Hospital that got me scared. I went into one of the wards and saw how unkempt it was. I saw people sleeping on the floor, like families sleeping on the floor. The environment was just unkempt. What got me scared the most was the way they presented getting the result of the biopsy, someone had to wait for 7 days and I heard the result could have deficiencies and I might need to redo it. More so, I was very aware of the consequences of having poor health care around poor infrastructure. So I didn’t want to gamble with my life.

For instance, I’ve had a friend who was involved in an accident, I don’t want to mention the name of the hospital, but it’s a very big hospital in Abuja. He went there to get fixed up and they did a poor surgery on him. He was in severe pain weeks after. He eventually went to Europe to correct the surgery and within two weeks, he was walking already. By the fourth week, he could run, and go to the gym for light exercise.

 Meanwhile back home, here, they were loading him with medication, and his situation did not improve. To correct the impression, I am not a grumbler and please I have very high regard for our medical practitioners. We indeed have very good doctors in Nigeria but equipment and funding I know are one of their biggest challenges. When I spoke to the two consultants here, I had no doubt they were competent, but I could also see they had their challenges with the infrastructure at our hospitals.

We need serious government commitment towards the health sector and also need a way to get philanthropists to help out. It’s not a joke. I usually do not fall ill and I am not so conversant with the hospital environment. But this experience shook me a bit.

Family, Friends Worried

I didn’t mention it to the closest people around me because this was close to Christmas/New Year. Initially, I was meant to travel and spend time with family but I couldn’t because I didn’t want to break such sad news in a season of merry. It was a cancer issue here, so I was scared of spoiling anybody’s good time. I made up my mind that I would keep the information away from some people, then for my family, I’ll mention it just a week before the surgery. So technically, close friends and family didn’t know what was wrong. I was full of life and doing things normally. When I eventually broke the news to them, everyone was worried and scared.


Cancer Surgery In Germany

I had the surgery in Europe, precisely at the  HELIOS Klinikum Wuppertal, in Germany. I had gone to the hospital twice to do some tests. For those tests, they’ll tell you if the tumor is cancerous or not. After the two different tests and scans that I did, they said they couldn’t rule out cancer yet. This got me more worried, but I was sort of ready to just handle things. It was not a time to feign emotional strength but when I thought of the pain a negative situation would bring to my loved ones, it made me weak. I had already felt their sadness, fears, and worries when I first mentioned my health situation before the surgery, but for some reason, I thought it right to keep a very positive mind and outlook. And luckily, God gave me the strength.

Idris Lawson just immediately after the surgery was conducted

I Wrote My Will

I did another MRI two days before the surgery and the doctor saw me afterward, to outline the surgery process and exactly what they were going to be doing. There were going to be two specialists–a neurologist and an endocrinologist. On the day of the surgery, in the early hours of the morning, I wrote and updated my wishes, like a will. I also wrote more things in it and passworded them in a pdf document, then gave the nurse who was with me. I told the nurse who had the password and who to give the document to if anything unplanned happened.  I  wished myself luck but was ready to take the outcome in good fate even if I went into oblivion or came out of surgery and was told I had a poor cancer situation.

Successful Surgery

 I recall an interesting part before I went in for the surgery, they said while I was in the theatre, they were going to do a biopsy test again for the tumor and I’ll get the result in less than 12 minutes and it would be like 98 percent accurate. This would help them know if they’re going to cut a bigger portion off or not. Once I woke up after the surgery, the first thing the doctor told me was “great! It’s not cancerous!” They further cut the tissue into smaller pieces just to double-check and do another detailed test and the result was ready a few weeks afterward and they said all was ok.

Idris Lawson after the succesfu; surgery in Europe

 When I finished the surgery, they only gave me painkillers, and that’s all. They put some in my drip the night after the surgery when I complained of pains. They only gave me pain killers for just a few days unlike in Nigeria where you get loaded with a basket of drugs after surgery. Then for the dressing of the wound, the part on my neck they cut was so small and neatly done, I spent like 3 extra days at the hospital just for them to monitor me. Afterward, I was told not to travel for another two weeks and not to do anything strenuous. All I had to do for the wound area/stitch was to replace the plaster used to cover it.

Expensive Surgery

The surgery costs quite some money. The bill alone was over 7 million for the 2 surgeries. This is less than the cost of flight tickets, hotel accommodation, and other expenses. .

German Health Services Impressive

 I understand they have one of the best health services in Europe. I would rate them very very high but you should also understand that some hospitals have departments with specialties where there are better compared to others. Also, you’ll get better customer care as a foreign patient in some places more than others. Overall, they are very organized. I was concerned about language, which indeed was a challenge while interacting with people lower in the non-professional field. However, all the specialists, doctors, and others that I came across spoke good English, even though you’ll know it’s not their normal day-to-day language. Also, most documents were in German but you’ll have someone to interpret while they provide an English version for the very important things. An interesting part of my experience was how much they went into detail (pre and post-surgery) to explain the procedures. From the anesthetic specialist to the endocrinologist to the neuro specialist. I found this very impressive. They showed me images, gave me pamphlets to read, and answered all my questions. I was indeed convinced I was in safe hands.


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