Sixth-form student hopes to beat cancer, pursue dream career
Launtia Cuff, Gleaner Writer
MALVERN, St Elizabeth:JUST ONE week after achieving 12 ones in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations, Tremain Thompson was diagnosed with stage three nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a cancer which originates in the uppermost region of the throat behind the nose.
Tremain, who is now 17 years old and is a lower sixth-form student at Munro College in St Elizabeth, said he first noticed that something was wrong in the weeks leading up to his CSEC exams.
"Around Easter last year, while I was at a camp at school, I started having swelling on the left side of my neck. After around two weeks or so, it came with pain. The swelling at the time wasn't enormous, but during exam time - May - it developed," he said.
Before his exams started, Tremain's mother, Mavis Thompson, said she took him to a doctor, who believed it was just soft-tissue swelling. She said the doctor gave him antibiotics for the swelling and told them to note if the swelling went down. He also gave them a letter referring them for further tests.
Following his exams, preliminary tests were run without the issue being identified. Tremain and his mother were referred to Cornwall Regional Hospital's Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic.
After completing more tests, a mass was discovered behind his nose. Blood tests and a needle biopsy were done to determine what had caused the mass. The tests proved inconclusive and Tremain had a biopsy done of the tissue behind the nose.
The results showed that the tumour was malignant. Tremain said having just received his exam results the week before, he was so happy that not even the news that he had cancer could get him down.
"I didn't have a reaction to the news. A week before that I had learned that I had got 12 ones for CXC, so my mind was not on anything. So when I was in the doctor's office, it was a week after the results, and he said that the tumour was malignant, it wasn't anything much to me," he said.
His mother, however, did not react as well as he did to the news. Thompson said she went from screaming for joy because of her son's achievement one week earlier to crying the next week when she heard the diagnosis.
"I cried! I cried! I cried! I lose all the weight now. I cried! I cried! I cried! He was being strong 'cause he said to me, 'Mommy, this is not a death sentence.' I think he deals with it better than me," she said.
In September 2012, Tremain started the first phase of chemotherapy. This was also his first term of lower sixth form at Munro College.
compromised immune system
His chemotherapy routine involved three separate treatment cycles each lasting three days. Between each cycle, he would have a break from the treatment. During this time, Tremain would be back at school.
He said he returned to school as he was feeling well enough. He would sometimes have to wear a mask as the doctor had warned him against infections as chemotherapy compromised the immune system.
This, his form teacher and biology teacher, Maxine McFarlane, said, did not deter Tremain from his schoolwork as he still made the effort to be present for his classes despite his condition.
"I remember one day, I suppose it was a really bad day for him, I looked at him. We were in the class, and I said, 'Tremain, you're not feeling well,' and I said, 'Stay in my [office], put your head down.' He had nothing to lie down on cause he didn't want to go to the nurse; I suppose it was too far from class. So I opened the door so he could hear me, and he sat down inside my office. I think that's the only time I've seen him really not being able to get through the day, but he was here the next day. He really pushes himself," she said.
For his second phase of treatment, Tremain had to undergo seven weeks of radiotherapy in two cycles. The first cycle lasted for five weeks, after which he was given a one-week break. He then went back for a second cycle, which lasted for two weeks. Each of these cycles involved treatment for five days each week.
His mother said the situation has not only been an emotional challenge for her, but a financial one as well. Not only did she have to find the money to cover travel expenses, but she had to purchase some of the medication for his treatment as the hospital did not have one of them.
As a result of the seven weeks of radiotherapy, Tremain missed the entire first half of his second term of lower sixth form.
Despite all of this, his form teacher said although she had noticed some areas where he had fallen behind, based on a recent mock exam, Tremain is still performing at a higher level than most of his sixth-form colleagues.
This can be attributed to Tremain's dedication to his studies. While at the hospital, he used the opportunity to teach himself the topics that were listed in the syllabus so that when he finally got the opportunity to return to school, he would not be far behind the other students.
"I don't believe in putting things off because you are having a challenge. I want to do things like everything is okay with me. I didn't want to spend a lot of time doing something that I could have finished before when I could have taken the extra time to do something else," Tremain said.
Tremain dreams of becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon or a forensic scientist and would like to receive a scholarship to study overseas. He said he would not allow the cancer to prevent him from achieving this dream, and he would continue to work hard regardless of the obstacles.
He is expected to complete another phase of chemotherapy, but first has to return to the doctor on March 18 to confirm whether he will need to further treatment.