From reluctance to resilience: Ruth Adjorlolo’s battle with breast cancer
When you meet Ms. Ruth Adjorlolo, you'll quickly notice her vibrant personality and her ability to connect with people of all ages.
She was eagerly anticipating a lively and fulfilling retirement until she faced some unexpected challenges.
Unlike many other women who routinely undergo breast cancer screenings, Auntie Ruth, as she prefers to be called, had never considered such screenings. These screenings are often organised by healthcare facilities, corporations, churches and various organisations during October.
Auntie Ruth's rationale for not undergoing breast cancer screening was that no one in her family had ever been diagnosed with breast cancer, so she didn't see the necessity of it. However, her perspective changed early in the year when she tragically lost a close friend to breast cancer.
"I attended my friend's funeral in January 2023, but I had no idea about the cause of her passing until her brother informed me that she had succumbed to breast cancer. After hearing about the immense struggles my friend endured before her passing, I became deeply concerned. The issue of breast cancer began to weigh heavily on my mind, prompting me to decide to undergo a breast screening for the first time," she shared with The Mirror.
Following the funeral, Auntie Ruth reached out to a doctor friend at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital to schedule a screening. She recounted: "The doctor inquired if I had experienced any breast pain, noticed any lumps, or had any discharge. I responded in the negative, as I didn't have any of these symptoms. My sole intention was to have a breast screening, given that I had never done one."
On January 26, 2023, Auntie Ruth visited Korle Bu for her physical breast examination. During the examination, the doctor detected some lumps and recommended that she undergo a computed tomography (CT) scan for further evaluation.
"The results of the CT scan were quite alarming, and the doctor advised me to consult with another friend of his who specialised in oncology, which involves the treatment of cancer patients. Subsequently, I headed to the Ghana Sweden Cancer Centre (GSCC) near Community Eight in Accra," she said.
At the GSCC, she met with Dr Adusa, who recommended another CT scan at the centre. Unfortunately, the new images confirmed the findings from Korle Bu, and the results indicated that she was at stage four of breast cancer.
"I returned to Korle Bu for a biopsy, received the results within two days, and brought them to Dr Adusa. He confirmed that the lumps were cancerous, consisting of three beneath the breast, a large one above, and a small one in the armpit. When I learned of my condition, tears welled up, and I felt as if my world was crumbling," she shared.
When asked why she felt her world was falling apart, she explained that she had heard numerous myths and misconceptions about breast cancer and cancer in general, which had been somewhat frightening.
"The doctor informed me that the affected breast would need to be removed, but I insisted that he perform the procedure immediately. However, he explained that a more aggressive approach was required and recommended chemotherapy," she recalled."
Regarding chemotherapy, Auntie Ruth explained that her doctor clarified that chemotherapy involves the use of specific medications that target and eliminate rapidly dividing cells.
Before starting chemotherapy, she underwent a blood test to assess her blood levels. If her blood count was low, chemotherapy couldn't proceed immediately.
She described the chemotherapy as intensive, involving the administration of approximately four different medications. The first day of chemotherapy went relatively well for her.
"I didn't experience any immediate side effects after the chemo, which left me wondering why I had heard so many unsettling stories about it. However, on the following day, I woke up, and my hair had fallen out on my pillow. I was quite alarmed and contacted the doctor, who advised me to visit a barber to have my hair cropped, explaining that it was a side effect of the chemo."
Auntie Ruth mentioned that three days after her first chemotherapy session, she began to feel weak and feverish. She elaborated on the nature of chemotherapy, saying, "Chemo is a drug treatment that employs powerful chemicals to target and destroy fast-growing cells in the body. Consequently, it affects both healthy and cancerous cells. I also experienced additional side effects such as my fingernails turning black, darkening of my veins, and my teeth feeling like they were melting like chewed gum, which was very distressing."
Despite not being Catholic, she felt a strong need to connect with a higher power for healing and mercy. Therefore, she visited a grotto to pray.
As for the surgery, it took place three weeks after the chemotherapy, on June 26, 2023. Both breasts were removed, even though only one was affected by cancer. According to her, she “was prescribed potent painkillers afterwards, so I didn't experience much pain. However, on the second day after the surgery, I went to the washroom and began vomiting. Unfortunately, the tubes connected to the breast area came off, resulting in bleeding. I shouted for help, and a nurse promptly assisted, cleaning me up and placing an oxygen mask on me."
The following day, the doctors assessed her condition and informed her that she needed to undergo a second surgery due to the presence of a blood clot. The wounds from these surgeries took about a month to heal, and she was subsequently advised to undergo radiotherapy.
Describing her radiotherapy experience, Auntie Ruth characterised it as another challenging phase of her journey. She explained that radiotherapy felt like being inside a microwave, where she had to undergo daily procedures. She endured the treatment, which typically lasted between 15 and 20 minutes, but the pain intensified in the afternoon, making it challenging to find some rest. She likened the pain to feeling as though hot water had been poured on her skin but remained determined to persevere.
Auntie Ruth revealed that the doctors were impressed with her recovery progress and praised her for faithfully following their medical advice.
According to her, some individuals, after seeking treatment at cancer centres, turn to alternative treatments such as church or herbal remedies, often worsening their conditions.
Concerning her diet, Auntie Ruth, who used to enjoy her beer and humorously referred to it as "1931", eliminated alcohol from her diet. She now focuses on consuming plenty of water and grains and enjoys blending leafy green vegetables with cucumbers.
She acknowledged that her taste had been affected, making some foods taste bland. However, she is gradually recovering each day, and expressed gratitude to God and her supportive family and friends, especially her cousin and her husband, for their unwavering support.
As for her background, Auntie Ruth is a veteran journalist who began her career at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) in 1979. She retired four years ago as the Online Editor. She initially worked at the Gram Library, which is one of the largest archival collections in housing gramophone records, cassettes and CDs.
In her early days, she assisted disc jockeys (DJs) who borrowed records for airplay and was responsible for data entry. At the end of the month, the library would provide reports to the Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA) for copyright purposes. She also played a role in maintaining the records to ensure their good condition.
After some time at GBC, she worked at Choice FM, a private radio station, where she managed their library. Eventually, she returned to GBC and continued working there until her retirement in 2019.
Family and education
She was born in Keta, in the Volta Region, to the late Johnny Victor Kwame Adjorlolo, popularly known as JVK, and Matilda Ewurafua Johnson from Cape Coast. Her mother was a midwife, and this profession led to a somewhat nomadic childhood.
She began her early education at Star Preparatory School in Kumasi, Ashanti Region, but relocated to Keta in 1967. There, she continued her schooling at the AME Zion School in the Volta Region. However, an incident in which she was beaten by a fellow student led her mother to transfer her to the Keta EP Primary School.
Later, she sat for the Common Entrance Examination and gained admission to Mfantsiman Girls' Secondary School. However, she was asked to pause her education and learn sewing due to financial challenges stemming from her mother's retirement.
Eventually, luck was on her side when Mr Sosthy D. Zorkpo, the headmaster of Anlo Secondary School, admitted her, along with other bright, needy students, in 1974. She pursued her sewing skills during her vacation breaks, developing a profession in sewing.
After completing her Ordinary Level in 1979, her elder sister, who was a nurse at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, was involved in an accident and she was asked to take care of her.
Subsequently, a friend of her sister, who worked at GBC, asked if she wanted a vacation job at GBC and she agreed. While working at GBC, she privately studied and took various courses in computer skills.
Later, she pursued a degree in Communication Studies at the African University College of Communication (AUCC) in Accra in 2004. Despite being one of the older students, she seamlessly integrated with her younger peers.
Auntie Ruth, who has a passion for fashion, had a stint as a model for the renowned Ghanaian designer Saint Osei, who was also the father of Reggie Rockstone, the grandpapa of Hiplife.
She recounted how her modelling career began when Saint Osei spotted her while she was walking on Oxford Street at Osu in Accra and approached her.
He encouraged her to become a model, and she ended up modelling for him and Lady Butterfly while continuing to work for GBC.
Auntie Ruth has two biological children, Patrick and Matilda, and an adopted daughter named Rita. Her elder brother is Kofi Adjorlolo, a distinguished actor, producer and former GBC presenter.
She shared valuable life lessons, emphasising the importance of maintaining hope during difficult times and not letting it wane. She stressed the significance of taking control of one's life, especially when faced with a serious illness like cancer.
Auntie Ruth highlighted the financial burden of cancer treatment and appealed to the government to establish funds to support cancer patients and survivors.
She expressed profound gratitude to God for guiding her through her journey and thanked Ibrahim Mahama, Kwesi Nketia, ANSECO 1979 Year Group AIJC, AUCC 2004 to 2006 Year Group, Ghana Journalists Association, Larry Jiagge, Mr Alphonse Agbenyega, Beckley and his wife, Judith Adjorlolo Beckley; Rev. Jerry Adjorlolo and his family and a host of well-wishers for their support and encouragements.