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Meet:Cancer Survivor and Advocate Osarere Idiagbonya Debbie

Debbie with former Nig First lady Turai Yar Adua
Debbie with former Nig First lady Turai Yar Adua

This courageous lady first came to public consciousness a few years ago while in the deadly and enthralling throes of breast cancer. Her plight and most importantly her gentle but courageous mien seemed to have struck a chord in most Nigerians as everybody rose to support her across religious, social and even gender demographics from the common Nigerian on the street to Nigerian first lady amongst several celebrities and eminent Nigerians who have formed an enduring friendship with her up until this moment. In spite of all she has been through in the course of 3 years, her personal health battles, losing loved one a continuous invasive and exhaustive chemotherapy amongst unseen battles, she has always maintained this stoic emotional response to anything life has thrown at her. For a young lady to have gone through all that she has yet not only exude  a confidently positive demeanour but still contend and come out of the other side looking at feeling and acting with a much better and happier zest for life and living truly deserves credit, rather than let this debilitating illness define her and her existence, she has flipped the script on it by using it as a spring board to impart her infectious hope, motivation and inspiration unto others by sharing her experience as a cancer survivor and also volunteer on several speaking tours even while still engaged with clearing off the last and final vestiges of the cancer cells. In a quest to delve deep and unearth what sincerely motivates and inspires this truly remarkable lady, the core of what propels her we searched her out and interview her concerning a wide range of issues from the mundane to the pertinent. She reveals a lot regarding her in-depth perspectives on cancer treatment and innovations, religion, her personality, family and her aspirations and hopes for the future.

Please read and enjoy this thoroughly fun, emotive and inspiring interview from a truly awe inspiring and cerebral lady….

HibeOnline: Thanks so much for granting us an interview, for the benefit of readers kindly state your full name?

Debbie: Osarere Debora Idiagbonya

HibeOnline: Before we delve into the main questions, generally speaking how do you feel health wise these days?

Debbie: I Feel Well and I know I’m getting to be perfect by GOD’s grace

HibeOnline: Talk us through how you initially discovered you had the big C, the symptoms etc

Debbie: Wao!!! This is going to be a long story, but I would try my best to make it short.  I discovered a big lump in my left breast when I did my self-breast examination in the bathroom just as I’m supposed to and I headed to a cancer institute in Ojuelegba for further check-up. The nurse examined both my breasts and cervix and she wrote in the clinic paper “advice for sonography”

My heart almost jumped out of body but then I went home and I told my mom about the test and she said I should do whatever it written in paper. Next morning i had the sonography done at Ojuelegba Scanning Center, Ojuelegba, Lagos and it was said that Left Breast Mass is Fibro adenoma, FNAC advised on the scan report. 

On 3rd June, 2011 i went for the FNAC (Fine Niddle Aspiration For cytology) at Me Cure Health Care Limited at Debo Industries Compound, Oshodi Industries scheme, Lagos, Nigeria.as advised by the sonographer.The FNAC said BREAST LUMP: C2- BENGN, FNAC LEFT AXILLARY LYMPH NODE : NEGATIVE FOR MALIGNANT CELLS..

So I was happy it was nothing serious but I still went for surgery to have the lump removed.  Just few months after I had my first lumpectomy, I noticed a very big lump slightly above the sight of the first one… did same medical test before I went for second surgery.  But this time my doctor said he wanted to know why it keeps coming back so he advised I do Histology test., which I did on 21st of Nov,2011 but i never showed his the result until I started feeling uncomfortable with my health in July 2012. And he said it was already a full grown stage4 invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer.

HibeOnlline: Having heard some people say they blamed their parents, some said they blamed God others were just in denial who did you lash out at, talk us through your feelings initially?

Debbie: I don’t blame anyone for anything. One thing people going through what im passing through should know is  “We don’t choose to have cancer, it just happened. Cancer is not respecter of any damn being; cancer doesn’t care if you’re old, young, poor, rich, beautiful or ugly. So I don’t blame my parents let alone blaming my GOD. Another thing is, my family doesn’t have history of cancer; I’m just one out of 4 ladies that would have cancer sporadically

There are three types of ways people come to have this deadly disease in life

  1. Hereditary (family especially mothers
  2. Science (weather, chemicals)
  3. Sporadic

I’m part of the people that just have it sporadically.. Thanks

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HibeOnline: what was the response of your friends and non-family members?

Debbie: it was overwhelming. I didn’t believe people could actually stand up for me.

HibeOnline: how much of a toll did it take out on your immediate family and were there times they complained or showed that they were frustrated especially when you had to raise funds in a country with almost zero social welfare?

Debbie: wao, I lost my dad the next day I told him I have cancer. He died on my birthday.

But the rest were composed, we stood together and my sister worked with people around me to discuss how to source for funds. The rest of my siblings were super composed because we had to deal with loss of our father also discuss his burial arrangement. I tell you, it was God. We couldn’t have dealt with situation without HIM.

HibeOnline: Even though it was only the first but important hurdle what were you doing, your response to the news that you had required funds and would be on your way to the US?

Debbie:I wasn’t doing anything than praying for miracle which eventual happened

HibeOnline: While alone in that hospital going through successive treatments and course of drug taking, a battle no one could share with you, as you sat there apart from God what or who were sources of inspiration and motivation, what kept you going?

Debbie: back in Nigeria my family and friends were but I didn’t tell them cos they all thought I was inspiring them too they were all saying Debbie! You’re so strong and you’re inspiring us but, deep inside of me, my friends were actually the ones inspiring me with words of encouragement.

In USA, lots of cancers survivors I mean old people that fought for years even decades to be free.

HibeOnline: How has this experience changed or shaped your perception of life generally?

Debbie: I will say it’s been one heck of experience but GOD’s been faithful and gracious.

HibeOnline: How important are the following to you family, religion, Patriotism?

Debbie: GOD first, Family next and patriotism follows

HibeOnline: what personality traits or opportunities would you say you developed during that fight which has in turn helped you out in other areas of your life?

Debbie: easy does it kind of traits.

HibeOnline: Considering the health challenges prior there are so many things you would have missed out on doing, sports, parties and stuff, what did you do to celebrate after you got the all clear?

Debbie: when I was cleared of breast and bone cancer I offered thanks at church. But I’m still fighting another type of cancer which I won’t publicise. I’m sorry

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HibeOnline: What do you get up to these days to keep busy and how has life been in the states compared to Nigeria?

Debbie: No place like home. No matter how much you’ve been favoured in a foreign land, one would still miss home. I can’t work according to my oncologist for now, I haven’t had my breast reconstruction done just because of my chemo treating for the same cancer I told you I’m battling.. Once I’m cleared of that cancer, I would do my breast reconstruction and head back home.

HibeOnline: what are the misconceptions or challenges that people suffering cancer get in your experience that you would like to correct in the view of people generally?

Debbie: “people thinking it’s contagious, people thinking once you have cancer, you’re dead, people thinking it’ your fault, people thinking there’s something you’re not doing right or your parents offended some immortal people”

HibeOnline: what are the recent advances in treatment of Cancer you have seen here which can help cancer sufferers especially in Africa?

Debbie: God lots of advance let’s start from the hospital set up.. In the USA there is a diff building for cancer. Your chemotherapist isn’t your oncologist neither is your radiation oncologist is same as your surgical oncologist, and there’s a primary care doctor patient consult in case there is any misunderstanding. There is a team that is involved in a cancer patient treatment here in the usa, and they all attend what they called tumour board meeting to discuss a patient’s treatment if one isn’t working for the patient. Patient won’t be treated by just a doctor hell no. your chemotherapist is the one that would discuss the actually drug for the cancer with the rest of the team.

HibeOnline: Apart from God, what extra do you think you had which helped you survive the battle considering most including my mum succumbed to the battle?

Debbie: Faith. The bible said if thou have faith that is as small as mustard seed, thou can say to mountain be moved. My sister tells me my faith has kept her on move to never give up. She even said I’m one of my kinds she’s seen because anytime doctors give me bad news about my health, I always smile and act like it’s meant to happen.

HibeOnline: what do you miss most about Nigeria and have your family been to visit or are around you?

Debbie: I miss my home, my family and my life as a Nigerian. My elder sister is here with me.

HibeOnline: since you have been in the states have you made friends and acquaintances?

Debbie: I have made hundreds of friends because I attend cancer events, summit, meetings a lot and done free stuffs for cancer organizations. I’m also a volunteer for cancer outreach event.

Hibeonline: now we need to grill you on lighter issues, first for the benefit of those guys who are looking at this lady looking like a runway model and considering stepping to her, Kindly state if you are single in a relationship?

Debbie: Oh My Goodness (laughs) I’m Single

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HibeOnline: How do you relax or have a nice time?

Debbie: I work on my laptop most time because there’s always a program to prep for as fighter/survivor speaker. And i read books sometime n I press my phone to keep up with social networks

HibeOnline: what is your favourite continental and African food?

Debbie: chai (laughs) I’m local like that o (covers face). I love dodo and egg, pounded and efo elegusi with assorted meats. My continental food (thinks) do I have one?  Oh I love chipotle and Spanish pizza.

HibeOnline: Your favourite holiday destination in the world?

Debbie: Paris and Greece

Hibeonline: celebrity crush Nigerian and foreign?

Debbie: I don’t crush on people that might never notice me or don’t even know I exist but I admire their works.

HibeOnline: Have you met anyone famous and what experience so far would you say was mind blowing and has stood out for you?

Debbie: yes!  I met the mayor of Maryland State in a cancer event; she even presented gifts to cancer fighters. I was so happy. I met former first lady of my country Nigeria her Excellency Hajiya Turai yara’dua. We had breakfast together at the African Women Cancer Awareness Association breakfast event in Washington. She do call to check up on me

HibeOnline: Any plans to go into modelling and which other project or initiative do you have in the pipeline that we should be looking out for?

Debbie: I’d rather not talk about it. But trust me, you would see it when it start

HibeOnline: Name 5 people who have been awesome and phenomenal in their support, motivation in all that you have been through or done over the years?


  1. Mrs Ify Nwabukwo president for African Women Cancer Awareness Association (usa)
  2. Mrs Juliet Aguwa President for Courage to dare
  3. My Church both back home and usa
  4. My family and friends God I can’t mention their names the list will too long
  5. Nigerians at large

HibeOnline: 5 years from now what would you have hoped to do, achieve?

Debbie: to reduce the death rate of cancer.

HibeOnline: Any last/concluding words from you?

Debbie: my advice to families of people going through this tough journey. Pls show them the very best love you can, remember love is the first cure. And to cancer fighters like me don’t give up on God because HE will never give up on you.

          Always say this ‘cancer will never define me’

A quote by Debbie we gleaned from her Intagram account which best defines her in our estimation “What cancer cannot do to Osarere Idiagbonya Debbie.it cannot cripple.it cannot shatter hope. Corrode faith. Eat away peace. Destroy confidence.it cannot kill friendship. Shut out memories. Silence courage.it cannot invade the soul, it cannot quench the spirit. I am a fighter that doesn’t give up….Debbie 2014









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