‘Get tested, please’

Breast cancer survivors have encouraged women to get tested every year as early detection can save lives. At the same time, they assured their peers that diagnosis doesn’t mean the end of life as they know it.

“Cancer is not a death sentence, and everything will be fine once you’re willing to fight. So don’t be afraid to go to the doctor if you think something is off with your body. Is not cancer kill people, is stress,” Shelly-Ann Brown Bailey told the audience during a breast cancer awareness forum held by Sandals Foundation at Shiloh Apostolic Church in Stewart Town, St Mary, recently.

Brown-Bailey said she was diagnosed in 2012 after discovering a lump in her breast while taking a shower.

“The day after I found the lump I went straight to the health centre and it (the lump) was the size of a five dollar coin. By the time I did the mammogram and brought back the report to the doctor, which was like a couple days later, it was the size of a tennis ball. I said that just to show you how fast the cancer grows,” she related.

“It was a hard time, but I told myself it is not the end of the world, so I went ahead and did what I was told and trust in God. I also had a lot of support from the [Jamaica] Cancer Society, friends, family, and trust me, it went a long way,” she said.

“So don’t be afraid to go to the doctor. It makes sense to get your mammogram done now because the early detection is important,” she added.

Trica Smith, who also survived breast cancer, said that she now finds solace in speaking about her experience.

“Every time I get the opportunity to tell somebody about my journey, it makes me feel good because I could very well be saving a life. God has given me a voice to speak up and assist others. I also don’t ever want anyone to think it is a burden when the doctor’s report comes back and you find out that you have cancer. It is not to kill you but make you stronger and you are not alone. So please, take your mammograms because cancer has no age limit,” Smith said.

A mammography is X-ray imaging of the breasts used to find lesions or abnormalities that are not yet detectable by physical examination. The aim of mammography is to detect cancer early, before any symptoms appear.

Janice Johnson-Campbell has been cancer free for six years. She spoke of the importance of having a support system, especially that of her doctor, during what has been described as a most difficult journey.

“I couldn’t have done it without support. During my time I was connected to people who were an integral part of my journey and they helped me along the way. My doctor was also a very special person and we made it through. So I can tell you that cancer is not a death sentence, as my other survivors mentioned,” she said.

“I also prayed; never stop, and I said, ‘God, you promise me life and not death’,” Johnson-Campbell said, then assured her audience, “You are not the only person going through it, so don’t worry, all will be fine.”

Dr Tania Hamilton, senior medical officer at St Ann’s Bay Hospital, who was the guest speaker at the forum, told the audience that breast cancer remains the leading cancer among women in Jamaica.

She advised people to seek medical attention once they see signs of breast cancer.

“We want to be able to detect cancer in an early stage before it’s too late because that way we can fight it to the full extent. You can’t do this alone, and so we doctors and health-care workers are here for you. So please, get your mammograms done every year,” she pleaded.

“Dealing with cancer is something I’m passionate about. My father had colon cancer and he passed, but I believe that if we had detected it early, he could have been saved. So my fight against cancer is honouring my dad by doing my best to save others,” she said.

During the forum Sandals Foundation, which emphasises the importance of making health a priority, donated a total of 100 mammogram kits valued at $500,000 to the Jamaica Cancer Society.

This will allow 100 women in St Ann and St Mary who wouldn’t be able to afford the $5,000 procedure to know their status.

“We believe that health care is important and access to health care is also important. So we are happy to be giving 100 women access to get their mammograms done and I’m sure these will save some lives,” said the foundation’s Operations Director Karen Zacca.

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