Coping with cancer is undoubtedly a stressful experience for any individual so afflicted.
But the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) Cancer Support Group in St. James has, for several years, been helping many persons stricken with the disease to cope emotionally and spiritually in their everyday life.
Since its establishment in 2004, the group has been providing a safe space for cancer patients to share their experiences and emotional challenges while engendering a sense of belonging and normality.
The members meet regularly at the CRH with the group’s Chaplin, Rev. Melvorn Stewart, and group Chair, Dr. Juanette Jordon.
On Thursday, February 4, which was commemorated as World Cancer Day under the theme ‘I Am and I Will’, the group and its volunteers organized a public awareness campaign at the hospital.
That engagement saw patients in the Oncology Department receiving educational material on cancer and participating in a devotional exercise.
This was followed by the handover of gifts, inclusive of face masks that were made by members of the group.
“Special masks were made for the occasion. The masks had different logos and [colours] because different colours represent different types of cancers, and the clients in oncology received masks free of cost,” Dr. Jordon shared.
She told JIS News that the group also met with patients, during which the members encouraged them to join in the fight against cancer, which is among the leading causes of death among Jamaicans.
“Go early and have [yourself] checked out because cancer does not have to be a death sentence,” Dr. Jordon emphasised.
She added that “we have been preaching health and wellness and trying to get some of the fear and taboos out of things such as the prostate examination, because some of the men do not like the rectal examination”.
Over the years, the support group and its partners, the National Health Fund (NHF) and Jamaica Cancer Society, have successfully organised a number of free screenings to check for prostate and cervical cancer, and other forms of the disease.
In 2019, more than 400 men in St. James were screened for prostate cancer and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) infection.
“[We are] just generally encouraging people to look after their bodies and health. People who are diagnosed with cancer are sometimes very fearful and go through a lot of emotional trauma. So the group is involved in giving support and encouragement along the way with these patients,” Dr. Jordon indicated.
She cited examples of women who have been afflicted by breast cancer being reluctant to come forward and seek support.
“So the group is involved in encouraging them along the way so that they will come forward. I know of members of the group who have actually accompanied patients to go visit the doctor to have different examinations done, to ensure that they have it done,” she added.
Dr. Jordon noted that this has led to many survivors who, through the group, have shared their experiences in a bid to motivate others to come forward and seek help.
One such cancer survivor is Shanelle Hamilton, who in April 2018 was diagnosed with metastatic cancer at age 22.
For Ms. Hamilton, the group was a welcome proverbial lifeline, as the members stood by her and her family, offering support.
She told JIS News that this enabled her to muster the courage to confront her health issue, adding that within five months of her diagnosis, she completed chemotherapy.
Ms. Hamilton advised that subsequent tests have, so far, shown no recurrence of the disease, adding that this has given her the peace of mind to focus on her son’s development and her career as a life insurance broker.
“They really care for their patients as much as they can. In my case, I had to stay in the hospital for four days at a time. So if you do your part, they will help you along and do their part as well,” she indicated.
Ms. Hamilton acknowledged that not everybody has the benefit of the type of support the group offers.
“[Support is] really important. So I would recommend them to anybody, even those persons who just want to know about [cancer],” she said.
Another survivor, Pauline Parkins, has been a member and volunteer of the group for more than 10 years.
Ms. Parkins, who is a breast cancer survivor for 16 years, was introduced to the group by a friend, and soon became an active member.
She was instrumental in the distribution of the masks, which she assisted on making, on World Cancer Day and has been afforded the opportunity to share her journey and offer emotional support to others, particularly those with cancer.
“I get the opportunity to go on the ward at the hospital to minister to others who have just been diagnosed or are going through surgery or treatment, as some of them are frustrated and afraid,” Ms. Parkins said.
She told JIS News that on one occasion, while speaking with a patient, “you could see the facial expression and body language as if to say ‘you can continue talk, you don’t understand’.
“When I said to her – ‘I have been there [and] done that’ – she looked up, smiled and gave me a big hug. So what I was sharing with her was not lip service… . It was from an experience,” she added.
Ms. Parkins encourages cancer patients seeking emotional support and guidance to join the Cornwall Regional Hospital’s Cancer Support Group because “cancer is not a death sentence… . You can make it”.