Sacha Walters-Gregory, Staff Reporter
Breast cancer is still the leading cause of death for women in Jamaica, and the Jamaica Cancer Society and Jamaica Reach to Recovery are on a mission to eradicate the burden of the disease on Jamaican women and their families.
"It is believed that one in every 23 women will contract breast cancer in their lifetime," said Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson at the annual Keeping Abreast luncheon, hosted by the Jamaica Cancer Society and Jamaica Reach to Recovery last Tuesday at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel.
"My ministry is pushing for greater awareness and support," said Ferguson, also noting in his brief presentation that $170 million are spent annually to treat non-communicable diseases, within which cancers fall.
"In Jamaica, 56 per cent of deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases," said Ferguson who also emphasised his commitment to the cause and intention to leave a positive mark.
"Breast cancer remains the leading cause of death among women in Jamaica and indeed has become a global problem," said chairman, of the Jamaica Cancer Society Earl Jarrett, but he noted there is hope.
"We are learning a lot more. The science is there and there are so many discoveries. We have now learnt that breast cancer is not just one disease but possibly four diseases. So it provides an opportunity for treatment," said Jarrett.
He noted that over the years, sponsors have rallied around the society, especially in support for the annual luncheon, the major fund-raising event for the Jamaica Cancer Society and Jamaica Reach to Recovery.
However, Jarrett noted that they hope to improve detection with the use of digital mammography technology.
"Bank of Nova Scotia took the head with fund-raising for our first mobile mammography machine which enables us to reach many persons across the region, and again, I can't stop thanking them for that," he said. However, the society wants to improve their in-house equipment.
"This year, we want to upgrade our old mammography machine," said Jarrett of the present machine which was funded through past luncheons over 20 years ago. He said this was the first mammography machine in a public space in Jamaica.
"We want to move into the digital stage by getting a digital mammography machine. It's going to cost about $30 million," said Jarrett adding, "and we want to work with you to establish a centre of excellence for breast cancer screening in the Caribbean." He invited guests to join the Cancer Society to help fund the society's work.
"I invite you all to become fully- fledged members of the Cancer Society by investing $1,000 per year as a member."
Guest speaker Dr Jennifer Mamby-Alexander, founder and CEO Hair Loss Clinic of Jamaica and Surgipath and Cytology Lab Services shared her inspiring story of perseverance and choices with the audience.
Dr Mamby-Alexander, is a 26-year survivor of breast cancer, who subsequently authored two books, one being A Practical Guide to Coping with Cancer, has had her story featured in the Flair.
"It doesn't matter if you're highly spiritual, deeply religious or a non-believer because when you are told the words, you have cancer, those words bring your life to a screeching halt, suspend your existence and eradicate your raison d'etre," said Dr Mamby-Alexander. "Even Jesus was reported to have said before his inevitable crucifiction, 'take this cup away from me'," she said.
She emphasised that despite her struggles with misdiagnosis, which led to late detection of the disease and the recurrence of the disease, Alexander said she always believed she had choices once she had life.
She told cancer patients that although some friends and family may suddenly look at you as one given a death sentence, it's necessary to choose to get rid of those toxic people.
"They look at you now as a cancer victim, expecting you to be cancer-riddled, emaciated and dying, and to add insult to injury they tell you stories of persons they know who were only given months to live, who suffered and died as cancer sucked the skin and flesh off their bones, that forced their loved ones to have a closed casket at their funerals," she said. But Dr Mamby-Alexander emphasised the choice to have hope.
"I am happy to be here today to present to the world a picture of hope, encouragement, success, beauty and a good life after a diagnosis with cancer."