With 2014 being the 10th anniversary of Movember, the Cayman Islands Cancer Society is making available the personal stories of 10 cancer survivors in Cayman.
That’s 10 people who have all experienced the same heart-stopping diagnosis, faced the same fears and have coped and survived in their own way, drawing on faith, hope, support and charity. Their inspiring stories of strength bring hope that cancer does not always equal a death sentence.
For those who may be in their shoes in the future, increased awareness and early detection provide the best chance of beating the disease.
A nagging cough brought the Rev. Godfrey Meghoo to hospital, where lymph cancer was diagnosed. Traveling overseas at the time, when he received the news, his first thoughts were concern for his family. As a church minister and voluntary hospital chaplain at the time, he had already received training in counseling cancer patients and their families.
“I asked the church to pray for me,” Rev. Meghoo said, ahead of a 12-week chemotherapy program. He was away from home for almost four months while receiving treatment, and his family borrowed money from the government and the bank, which took many years to repay.
“My insurance paid only a small portion of the total bill, but many church friends and others contributed financially,” he said. “Our family from far and near, as well as my Christian faith, contributed to my survival 25 years ago. Trust in God, but also seek medical attention,” he said, adding that healing should be sought for both the body and the soul.
“I wish I knew about cancer before. I pray in good times, as well as in bad. Do not wait for a sickness or an Ivan [hurricane], to be kind to others.”
Lawren Fullerton was just a teenager when his cancer was diagnosed. A routine trip for a haircut revealed a lump on his head, which turned out to be non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He had been suffering from migraines and double vision for some time, but the connection between his symptoms and cancer had yet to be established.
Initially, Mr. Fullerton was understandably in complete denial over his condition and suffered from severe depression. During his treatment, he realized that he had to change his attitude and became more focused on life and remain positive.
He received treatment at Baptist Hospital for two-and-a-half years, during which time the cancer spread to his liver, stomach, right leg bone and lymphatic system. Fortunately, the spread of the disease was discovered early enough for successful intervention and treatment.
Mr. Fullerton wishes he knew more about the effect of the food he ate when he was younger, as this may have been linked with his cancer diagnosis. Now 29, he realizes that how his body works is fundamental in giving him the determination to face the challenges that life brings. “I would advise someone going through the same thing to find out everything you can about your cancer, remain positive and value the support from friends, family and colleagues.”
It is now becoming more widely understood that breast cancer can affect men as well as women. Osmond Mayhew knows this all too well, having first noticed his symptoms while taking a shower.
“While drying myself, I saw my towel bounce off my left nipple, which gave a very tender feeling. I ignored the symptoms for some time until I felt a lump in my breast and I noticed discharges flowing from my left nipple,” he said.
An ultrasound and biopsy soon revealed that Mr. Mayhew had cancer in his left breast.
“This was like a death sentence for me,” he said. “I had no money, no insurance. I was devastated and so was my family. In the midst of it all, I said to myself, ‘everything happens for a reason.’ My faith in God is one of the key things that kept me strong.”
He said he received divine inspiration, and his faith in God brought him positive thoughts. “This is when I proclaimed to myself, ‘I am going to live and not die.’ With this thought in my mind, I walked over to the Cancer Society, who provided me with the hope, counseling and financial support I needed.”
For Curtis Barnett, there were no obvious or noticeable symptoms that gave any indication of the presence of cancer. Through his annual checkups, an increase in PSA levels was detected, which indicated prostate cancer. As a realist, Mr. Barnett knew he had to do something about it in order to survive. “God gave me the faith and the will to do what I needed to do,” he said. “I listened to the urologist spell out the options, did some research and decided to have an operation with a surgeon that came highly recommended.”
Now in his fourth month of recuperating, he is back to normal in many ways. “I thank God that the cancer was evidently caught at a rather early stage, and I’m glad that I didn’t hesitate too long to have a prostatectomy,” he said.
“I’m much more conscious now of the importance of a good diet of greens, vegetables, fruits, fish, water, as well the need to eat more raw foods and less sugar. As I have always been active and engaged in fairly regular exercise, in addition to eating well and with a very low alcohol intake, I don’t know that I could have done much more to prevent prostate cancer.”
Kenroy Solomon knew something was wrong. He was having problems swallowing, and while it wasn’t painful, he just felt as though something was stuck in his throat and he couldn’t quite clear it. It turned out to be throat cancer.
“When I first heard the word cancer, I really didn’t worry whether I was going to get better or die. I just left it up to God,” he said. “My faith in God let me feel that it was out of my hands, and I knew I just had to wait for God to do what he wanted with me. I had surgery, chemo and radiation, no other changes to diet or lifestyle, but I prayed more.”
Mr. Solomon is quite candid about the damage to his body caused by 30 years of smoking. “I wish I hadn’t done that to myself, but I was young and felt like nothing bad would happen to me.”
Having lost his voice and the ability to speak, he lost all interest in making music. “I often felt depressed and alone and sometimes I still do, but I feel like my life is on the right track now. Life is different than it was before cancer, but in ways that are truly meaningful. It’s actually better.”
For cancer to be discovered, in many cases the investigation is in regard to unexplained changes in the body and the onset of certain symptoms. For George Jones, who is in his mid-40s, it was a gradual loss of weight which required extra holes to be punched in his belt, and his previously tight-fitting wedding band started to fall off of his finger.
Time stood still for Mr. Jones when he received his diagnosis of colon cancer, and the next steps were major surgery and major changes to his diet and lifestyle. Finances were a particular struggle for George and his family as he lost his job upon diagnosis. However, the Cayman Islands Cancer Society was able to provide some financial help.
“During my recovery period, I educated myself about natural and alternative treatment options and I cut out sugars, carbonated sodas, red meat and highly acidic food,” he said.
As a consequence of his major surgeries, his kidneys no longer function effectively and he is required to have dialysis treatment three times every week. Just recently he was added to the donor waiting list, which has an average three- to five-year wait for an organ from a deceased donor. If a living donor with the same blood type were to come forward, it would make a huge difference in Mr. Jones’s life. “My blood
type is the same as my attitude,” he said. “B positive!”
Lincoln Harris noticed some blood while urinating, and while the doctor diagnosed a case of kidney stones, the blood tests at the time revealed an abnormally high PSA reading. A biopsy soon revealed that there was cancer in his body.
“I stayed positive and I improved my eating habits, removing processed food from my diet. Instead of bacon, hot dogs and bologna, I started eating a lot more fruits and vegetables and eliminated a lot of sugary foods,” Mr. Harris said.
“Exercise is very important. When you are active, it takes your mind off of the circumstances. Besides, worrying can’t change anything. It can only lead to stress and instead of the cancer killing you, the stress could!”
He feels he was fortunate that his cancer was slow growing and less aggressive than it could have been. His positive outlook has also no doubt been a factor in his survival. “I think that cancer has actually made me stronger, and I appreciate life more. I know cancer is not going to kill me; I’m going to die of old age! My grandpa died at 97 and I always told him that I am going to live longer than he did. Cancer is just a word.”
Now in his late 50s, Luis Varona also experienced rapid weight loss, losing 30-40 pounds within a six-month period. “I was at a total loss and could never imagine that I would get prostate cancer,” Mr. Varona said. “I thought the world was ending, but God gave me strength and I was more worried about my wife and children than myself.”
He prepared for surgery in Miami, choosing the option of a radical prostatectomy. “I truly believe that having the support of friends and family and a belief in God helped me through my procedure,” he said. “Having the support of the [Cayman Islands Cancer Society] was important, and I could not have done this without their encouragement, love and financial support.”
If he could help others in the same life-or-death situation, he would tell them to keep close to God, get regular checkups from the doctor and watch the changes in your body. “The saying is true,” he said. “Once a man, twice a child. You really wonder if you will ever be the man you once were as your body changes.”
Javid Ali was an otherwise fit and healthy man. With good eating habits and no family history, he had no reason to suspect he would get kidney cancer. A sudden bout of sickness combined with lower back pain and a need to urinate in the mornings led to a scan, which revealed a 3.5-inch tumor on his kidney.
His laparoscopic kidney removal surgery was 10 years ago, and the greatest news was that the cancer had not spread to any other organ or part of the body, so chemotherapy was not required. “I think I dealt with the process of tackling cancer quite realistically, taking things one step at a time, compared to my family who were very shocked,” Javid said. “I feel blessed that the cancer was contained only within one organ.”
There was a three-month period between the diagnosis and the removal of his kidney. Mr. Ali continues to have regular checkups and X-rays to make sure the cancer has not returned. “I wear a medical tag everywhere I go, so that people who need to, know of my medical condition. The tag is a constant reminder of life and how important it is to embrace it, to do the things you want to and live life to the full.”
Chris Smith from the U.K. had been in Cayman for only six months when his routine doctor visit for two suspected hernias revealed something far more sinister. The mass discovered by ultrasound on his right kidney was confirmed by CT scan to be malignant, and he was scheduled for a partial nephrectomy just two days later in Texas.
The biopsy showed that Mr. Smith’s tumor was extremely aggressive, stage three on the scale of one to four. “My doctor told me that if I hadn’t found the tumor when I did and had waited for symptoms, then I might not have survived another 12 months,” he said.
He said he has been asked many times what it is like to be told that you have cancer. “Obviously, there is a huge shock, but in my case, my focus shifted to getting a precise diagnosis and planning to get the best treatment,” he said.
Like all the people in this article, Mr. Smith is living with the prospect of his cancer returning – a 50 percent chance in his case. But that has not stopped him doing his best to embrace life. Just 15 months after his surgery and only 10 months after getting his hernias tended to, he completed his first Ironman Triathlon.
This article was submitted by the Cayman Islands Cancer Society.