She is young, pretty and intelligent. She won the coveted crown of the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria in 2000. Today, Dr. Matilda Kerry is the founder and president of the George Kerry Life Foundation which caters for women, giving them awareness about their health, especially cervical cancer. She has decided to use her voice to speak to women about cervical cancer and its awareness. She speaks to us about her reign, foundation and style.
You won the coveted crown of the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria in 2000. How was it during and after your reign?
During the reign, it was always very interesting, you do a lot of travelling, learn a lot, meet a lot of people, you are an ambassador for your country so it is a very exciting period. And then afterwards, of course, you have to branch off and start doing your own thing. I went back to school, graduated as a doctor and I am using my voice to speak to women about cervical cancer and its awareness.
What is your level of involvement in this silent women killer called cervical cancer?
Well, what I run is cervical cancer awareness for early cervical cancer changes. Cervical cancer is one of the cancers that can be prevented if it is detected early and treated. So we offer that awareness, the screening and we offer the treatment under the auspices of George Kerry Life Foundation. Cervical cancer does not cause noticeable symptoms in the early stages; this is why a cervical smear test is so important. Symptoms usually do not appear until abnormal cervical cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissues.
Who are your partners?
Well, we don’t have any major partner right now but we have had some programmes with Access Bank, Lagos State Government and Ikeja Local Government Council. These are partners that are coming up a little bit at a time.
Through which means do you create this awareness because many Nigerian women seem to know little or nothing about cervical cancer?
The truth about it is that cervical cancer is a huge problem and awareness is something that requires a lot of funding because you need to do the radio, television, you need to do bill board, all these things cost a lot of money. So, because we are limited with funds we try and use every opportunity we have like events like this. I always make sure I talk about cervical cancer because I know the message will get out there. We also have our awareness month which is January, we do a huge awareness all around the place and we make sure women are informed. We are trying to partner with Lagos State Advertising Agency (LASAA). They have given us two billboards to project cervical cancer awareness messages. So, I believe that a little bit at a time we are going to get a lot of awareness out there.
Are there major cases you have handled?
Definitely, any time we go out to screen, we usually find one out of 10 women who need management for some form of cervical abnormality. So, yes there are cases we have handled. The problem is that it is silent and women don’t know it is going on until they check. Once we find out that a woman has the changes, we offer her the treatment and she is fine. We just need more awareness. We need the media to be behind us and we just need major funding to get this awareness all over Nigeria.
At what stage is the ailment critical in a woman?
Medically, we call that stage the CIN 3 stage carcinoma in situ which means that it is already a cancer but the woman is not aware of it. So, if we catch her at that stage, we can still save her life. But once it has gone into invasive cancer that means it has spread, then, the possibilities of saving her life have become very limited.
What advice do you have for women?
Get screened for cervical cancer. Go for your pap smear test and go for your VIA. It is a test that you should do just once a year. And it is so cheap, if you consider all the shoes, bags and dresses that you buy then it is nothing. A smear test is designed to detect changes in the cells of the cervix before they develop into a cancer. The smear test is a very simple test and though it may be uncomfortable it is not painful. Make that commitment and go for screening just once a year. Then pass on the message to your daughters so that it becomes something that they are used to as they are growing up.
How much does the test cost?
It is a range but depending on the type of test. But all the test available are very good and they cost between N1,000 and N10, 000, which is basically nothing, once a year.
At what age should a woman screen for cervical cancer?
We advise that women should start their screening three years after first sexual intercourse. This is because the virus which causes cervical cancer is sexually transmitted. So you should start your screening three years after your first sexual contact.
Being an ex-beauty queen, how has it helped in your medical profession?
It has been wonderful. People are always a bit confused about the combination of putting a beauty queen and a doctor together. But it is a perfect blend really, and it goes very well together because now I find out that women are more open with me and they are more interested in what I am doing, especially when they hear that I am an ex-beauty queen and even the men as well. They warm up to me immediately and they see me as someone they can relate with. People are very stiff and very uncomfortable around doctors but once I bring in that fun and that interesting side of me which was an ex-beauty queen, they are more open and more relaxed with me. So, it has worked well together.
As an ex-beauty queen, what is style to you?
Style basically is the expression of your personality. So for me it can be different things. I can be cocky at times, I can feel very fashionable, and I can feel very sophisticated. It is just the way you express yourself, that is what style means to me.
How would you rate the beauty pageants of these days?
It has developed in a certain way because there are so many different types and kinds of pageants now that are coming up. But I would love to see a little bit more investments going into beauty pageants and I would love to see an improvement with the way the shows are being projected. The quality has seemed to go down a little bit but not too much. So I would like to see a little bit more financial and professional investment in our beauty pageants industry.
Do you intend to start your own beauty pageant in the future?
I am not going to be holding any beauty pageant. I might host one and I might be involved in the planning of one but I am not starting any beauty pageant.
What is that fashion clothing you cannot do without?
I think in my closet, it will be my little black dress. I don’t have just one little black dress. I have several of them. They are perfect for your evening outing and evening events. I don’t really like a lot of hassles when it comes to dressing up and when going out.
Could you describe yourself in three words?
I would say determined, beautiful and intelligent
Philosophy of life
Do something for people to remember you for, never be selfish and make sure whatever you do, you are impacting on other peoples lives.
How do you relax?
I love swimming and I enjoy travelling.
What is your best colour?
I love red. I have always loved it as a child and it has been my best colour.
Favourite signature perfume
I don’t have a particular fragrance that I love but tonight I am wearing Marry Me by Lavin. It is a new fragrance, it just came out and I love it.
What kind of shoes do you love to wear?
I love anything with stiletto heel because they accentuate your figure as a woman and you just seem to look very classy if you have the right pair of stiletto heels on.
What kind of clothing will you not be caught wearing at any time or any place?
I think that will be dungarees, I just hate dungarees. So you can’t catch me dead in dungarees.
How do you like your make-up?
I like it pretty light and natural. But then, I always do it so it suits the event. But usually, I have very natural make-up on or no make-up at all. But there are some days I just don’t want to put make-up on.
How do you see the dress sense of Nigerian women?
Nigerian women are very stylish. They are the most stylish in the world if you ask me. We love fashion and we do fashion right. Nigerian women are so beautiful. I am not just saying it because I am a Nigerian woman but generally if you ask any one, Nigerian women are at the top when it comes to fashion.