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Monday, June 05, 2006

Cancer Society honours survivors

By Ruel Johnson

SURVIVORS: Mrs. Mitzy Campbell, left, with other Guyanese cancer survivors. (Delano Williams photo)

AT A brief but touching ceremony at the Cara Lodge hotel on Quamina Street, Georgetown on Saturday, the Guyana Cancer Society paid tribute to those in Guyana who have survived cancer in its various forms.

Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) Guyana Representative, Dr. Bernadette Theodore-Gandi stated that Guyanese cancer survivors possess a special courage and strength in that they survive within a health care system that does not have the optimum facilities for their survival.

She said that – in addition to treatment – internal strength, support and encouragement from loved ones as well as other survivors have been shown to clearly increase the chances of survival for cancer patients although there has been no scientific evident to support the phenomenon.

She stated that stories of survival also act as a support for and give hope to people suffering from cancer but most survival stories come from developed countries which possess far better facilities for dealing with cancer.

The PAHO Rep. said that a book loaned to her by PAHO Administrator Mr. Keith Burrowes, entitled ‘Our words shall live on’, gave a voice to cancer survivors in Guyana.

PAHO Representative Dr. Bernadette Theodore-Gandi, right, formally hands over a copy of “Our words will live on”
a book of cancer survival stories written by Dr. Janice Imhoff, to Mrs. Mitzy Campbell, President of the Guyana Cancer Society.
(Delano Williams photo)

Written by Dr Janice Imhoff, the book tells the stories of several survivors of various forms of cancer in Guyana from their personal perspectives. PAHO has purchased a number of copies of Imhoff’s book to be distributed to members of the Guyana Cancer Society as well as cancer survivors.

President of the Guyana Cancer Society, Ms. Mitzy Campbell stated, in her brief presentation, that for survivors of cancer, every breath taken is like winning the lottery.

A cancer survivor, she said, is any person who has fought the disease and is still living, even those whose cancers remain.

Herself a cancer survivor and founder of the Guyana Cancer Survivors Group, Campbell stated that whenever a survivor succumbs to the disease, the sense of fear and loss is devastating to those who are living with the disease. She acknowledged the invaluable work of Ms. Rosemarie Sealey, a member of the group who passed away recently.

Saturday’s audience was given the privilege of hearing five real testimonials of surviving cancer from close relatives as well as some survivors themselves.

Ms. Linda Tanner, grandmother of five-year-old Kemo Tanner, spoke about the discovery of a tumour on one of her grandson’s kidneys when he was just a few months old. After two years of chemotherapy, Kemo is today a healthy and otherwise normal young five-year old.

Ms Lynette Cunha spoke on behalf of her elderly mother, Ms. Doris Carr, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, and fought off the disease with help from relatives and the Guyana Cancer Society; unfortunately the cancer has recently returned and Carr is again undergoing treatment.

Mr. Winston Benn spoke of his own struggle with cancer – twice in the past five years – and how he came to become involved in the Cancer Society’s work because of it.

Cervical cancer survivor, Ms. Annette Kendall urged women to take pap smears to avoid the trauma of treatment that she went through, since the disease is more treatable the earlier it is detected.

The audience was particularly moved by the testimonial of Mrs. Farida Khan, of Uitvlugt, West Coast Demerara, who discovered that she had cancer only in August of last year. A tearful Khan said that she has so far had five chemotherapy sessions, and her ongoing treatment has only been possible through the intervention of the society.

Cancer Society member Ms. Vanda Radzik, who introduced the survivors, congratulated them on the courage it took to both survive and to speak about it openly. She stated that while she herself was not a cancer survivor, she nevertheless knew the effects of the disease since her father succumbed to brain cancer during the mid-1980s.

In arguably the most heartfelt and touching moment of an evening defined by its poignancy, the society paid tribute to its Patron, Mrs. Hilda Cox-Bullen – wife of the United States Ambassador to Guyana, Mr. Roland Bullen.

Former executive member of the society, Ms. Lorna McPherson, recalled for the audience how Mrs. Cox-Bullen actually contacted the society to find out how she could help. McPherson stated that although Cox-Bullen has been in the position for roughly about a year only – having taken over from former patron, Mrs. Janet Jagan – it has been a year marked by vibrancy, dedication and a deep, no-nonsense involvement with the cause.

It was a teary Cox-Bullen who addressed the audience, saying that while it has been a real joy for her to be part of the association, it has also been very, very depressing for a number of reasons. The chief of these, Cox-Bullen stated, was the health system in Guyana vis a vis the level of treatment available for people living with cancer.

She stated that there needed to be a lot more public awareness of cancer and the significant work the Cancer Society itself was doing. She, however, also warned that the society must ensure that new blood must keep being injected into the organisation and that those involved must show a proven dedication to the cause, or make space for others who can be more committed.

With her husband’s tenure here almost over, Cox-Bullen has little time left time in Guyana and so will no longer be Patron.

Guyana Chronicle

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