Oluwatoyin Adewumi is the owner of TamBo's Kitchen in Avon and runs a foundation that spreads awareness about cancer among the African immigrant population in the state and supports African cancer patients.
AVON — About three years ago Brockton resident Oluwatoyin Adewumi was preparing to open the restaurant she had dreamed of having, TamBo's Kitchen.
Instead, she was in the hospital getting a biopsy on lumps found in her breast. Within a week, doctors told her she had stage 3 cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes.
She was $70,000 in debt from her new business and now needed to face cancer.
"It was a case of 'We're going to do this and move forward,'" Adewumi said about her family's outlook after her diagnosis.We can deliver news just like this directly to your inbox. You can sign up for This Just In (a daily 7:30 p.m. newsletter with items we've posted that day), News Alerts (so you don't miss anything important) and more. It's customized to your preferences -- and it'll only take a few seconds.
Adewumi immigrated to America from Nigeria in 2000 to attend college. Later, she and her husband moved to Brockton in 2005 and built a life in the city. They have two teenagers, Tammi Lore and Bolu.
Right away, Adewumi wanted to make sure that her family wouldn't lose their house and that her two children would stay in school. She enlisted help from a close friend to run the restaurant and from another to help at home.
That allowed her to focus on treatment.
She went through eight cycles of chemotherapy. Surgery to remove one of her breasts and reconstruction. After that was 17 cycles of immunotherapy.
Coming to TamBo's Kitchen between treatments and recovery felt therapeutic. Food had always been a part of family gatherings and her Nigerian culture.
Adewumi finished her active treatment in August 2018 and is in remission. She takes medications to help prevent the cancer from returning.
"The future is bright," the 38-year-old said Tuesday at TamBo's Kitchen. "I'm alive and grateful."
Cooking was initially a side hustle while Adewumi worked in consulting and community development. Her husband encouraged her to pursue her dream.
Since her treatment, she has returned to the restaurant as head chef, serving up dishes like joloff rice, plantains, meat pies and fried dough called puff puffs.
Looking back, Adewumi remembers how other Africans and African immigrants responded when they learned she had the disease.
"I was a bit disturbed by the reactions to the diagnosis," she said.
There were assumptions people had, like that people who have cancer are close to death, Adewumi said. Some also tried to suggest treatments like witch medicine.
What she saw in the community were disparities in cancer awareness and treatment based on culture and religious beliefs.
These were in addition to other barriers, like access to health care and the cost of cancer treatment, Adewumi said.
Because of her experience, she launched the TamBo Foundation to spread awareness about cancer and support patients who are African immigrants living around the state. Adewumi serves as the foundation's executive director.
The foundation is statewide and works with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She hopes to establish relationships with other hospitals and cancer centers around Massachusetts.
Since TamBo Foundation launched last summer, its goal has been to reach out to the community. One way it has been able to do that was by releasing videos in African languages about what cancer is.
"Right now ignorance is a carcinogen on the continent and in the diasporatic community," Adewumi said.
The foundation also supports early detection efforts. People of African descent are diagnosed at later stages and have disproportionately low survival rates, according to information on TamBo Foundation's website.
Within the African population, there is shame about cancer and in asking for help and she wants to fill gaps and help strip that stigma.
Last year, the foundation helped a patient pay for a mastectomy.
It also provided satin bonnets featuring African patterns for 20 cancer patients. Adewumi remembered her scalp feeling like "pins and needles" when she lost her hair during treatment, so she thought the bonnets could help.
Looking ahead, she wants to see the foundation support more families, like by offering nutrition assistance and transportation to appointments.
"Yes cancer exists," Adewumi said. "You don't have to die from it."
Staff writer Mina Corpuz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @mlcorpuz