Principal alerts children to threat of cancer

CHILDREN are never too young to learn. That’s what the principal of St Joseph’s Infant School underscored when she invited a breast cancer survivor to enlighten the infants last Friday.

The day was dubbed Pink Day, with students wearing T-shirts displaying the various types of cancers that have been vile in their attack on the human body.

The Jamaica Cancer Society (JCS) says breast cancer is a “leading cause of death amongst Jamaican women”, with an incidence rate of 66.9 per cent per 100,000 Jamaican women.

St Joseph’s principal, Rose-Marie Clarke told the Jamaica Observer that the topic was timely and necessary for the young children.

“You have children with cancer. We have had, at our school already, children with cancer so we want children to understand what it is. Some already know, because they have family members with cancer and it is a painful experience, so we are sensitising them,” she said in an interview last Friday on the school compound.

Pink ribbons and balloons were hanging from ceilings and plastered against walls at the school on Duke Street in Kingston. The pink ribbons are synonymous with breast cancer awareness, particularly in October which is celebrated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer.

“We are saying to them, ‘If you see somebody with cancer and they are ill and they are sad, we can offer that support.’ And also, we are telling them that sometimes those people look different. They lose their hair… some persons lose limbs. And so we want them to understand that even if that happens, God loves me,” Clarke continued.

Breast cancer survivor 32-year-old San-jal Richards was invited to share her journey with the children. In a song-enhanced description Richards broke down cancer to captivate them by comparing cells to “bad guys” who enter the body and “beat up” good cells.

Cancer is a disease caused when cells divide uncontrollably and spread into surrounding tissues.

Richards also used children from the school to represent both good and bad cells. She had six children who were referred to as the good guys form a circle, and then invited another six who were called the bad guys.

That second group (bad guys) were told to enter through the spaces in the good circle, which represented cells spreading into surrounding tissues.

Afterwards, the good guys were “defeated” and were sitting on the floor, while the bad guys were left standing, representing the cancer causing harm.

It was at this point that Richards informed the children that she fell ill and had to seek medical intervention — chemotherapy.

“Touch your hair; my tall long hair was shaved off. Touch your eyebrows; my eyebrows were done. Touch your eyelash; my eyelashes were gone. I almost looked like a boy,” Richards told the infants.

After her treatment Richards said she was “better and stronger”; this she depicted through a reversal of positions with the children. The children, a part of the team of good guys who were sitting on the floor, were asked to stand, and the bad guys were asked to be seated.

Further, Clarke told the Sunday Observer that St Joseph’s is also trying to show the children that cancer isn’t terminal.

“We are saying that you can survive; and here is an example of somebody who had cancer, did what she needed to do, and she survived. So the message is, ‘Yes, you can get sick, but we must understand that there is always the solution. You can survive with treatment.’ We are also saying, ‘If you get sick, talk to mommy.’ There’s always help outside, and you’re never too young to learn.”

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