Della on ethnicity and cancer

Della leans over the balcony of her flat. She is wearing a cream dress and facing away from the camera.

Della was born in London but is from Nigeria. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2010 and was shocked because she didn’t know many black people who had been affected by cancer. Since then, Della has been educating people in Nigeria about what it means to have cancer and that people do survive it. She is now looking to set up her own support group in Nigeria.

'I was completely ignorant about cancer.'

In my head I was thinking, well, maybe they got it wrong. You know, we don’t do cancer. It’s not for black people. It’s white people … I was completely ignorant about cancer. I see Kylie Minogue, I see Andrew Lloyd Webber, I see all these white people with cancer. That’s just how it is. I’ve never seen a TV advert with a black person on it. And in Nigeria we hardly talk about it. They do have it but it’s not something you come out and openly talk about.

I think people in Nigeria just need to be educated about cancer and say, look, it does exist. It can be treated. And, you know, there is life after cancer. That’s how I see it. In Nigeria, everyone thinks people who have cancer just die from it.

Charmaine was the best thing that happened to me during my diagnosis. Her support meant I wasn’t in it alone because normally, in my culture, there is no support. My friends and family didn’t want to talk about it. They didn’t even know how to talk about it. Nobody came to see me at home.

Charmaine encouraged me to join a support group. There aren’t any support groups in Nigeria so it’s not something I’m used to. But after I’d had a taste, I wanted to find a support group for Africans, to meet people in my position.

'I even tell people to call Macmillan and ask for these books.'

I couldn’t find one in my area, so I got a grant from Macmillan to start my own. One day a week I try to do DDS African Cancer Support work, like going out to visit people with cancer and talking to them, helping them fill in forms and just giving advice.

Now I take things back to Nigeria with me – you know, Macmillan leaflets, booklets, and other things just to raise awareness. Like awareness of support groups and why they’re good. Sometimes I even tell people to call Macmillan and ask for these books. So I’m just raising awareness and telling people about what helped me.

When I go to Nigeria in October I’ve been invited to come and talk about diet, healthy eating and a survivor’s story, really - my story. So that people can say they’ve seen someone who's survived cancer. And I’m taking some leaflets with the Macmillan logo on them and all the things that talk about diet and life after cancer. Those are some booklets I read myself.

Now I really want to start a support group in Nigeria.