Each year on Feb. 4, people unite in the fight against cancer, rallying to save lives by raising awareness about the disease and lobbying governments and individuals to take action. This year, World Cancer Day ushers in a three-year campaign under the tagline of “We Can. I Can,” which aims to explore how everyone can do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer.
But the primary objective of World Cancer Day is, quite simply, to get as many people as possible talking about the disease.
To mark the day this year in the Cayman Islands, one event is striving to focus that discussion on a concept that is often forgotten, overlooked, or even doubted when the word “cancer” comes up in conversation: hope.
On Thursday evening, cancer patients, survivors and their families are invited to attend the “What does HOPE look like” art exhibition at the Chemotherapy Unit at the Cayman Islands Hospital.
The event was conceived by the Health Services Authority’s Lisa Parks and artist Avril Ward, organizer of the roving art exhibition which has been on display at several locations over the last few months, including in various wings of the hospital. Ms. Parks said she sees the event as a good opportunity not only to foster “great conversation” but also to create positive memories in place that’s used for treatments that can be both physically and emotionally painful.
“Events like this just enable people to get together and realize that they’re not alone, and that there is hope,” Chemotherapy Unit nurse Andrew Ward said. “I want people to realize that cancer is something that’s survivable and it’s just a disease, just like any other disease, and it shouldn’t have a stigma attached to it.”
It is a disease, however, that has an impact unlike any other, killing more people on a global scale than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
According to Health City medical oncologist Dr. Vineeta Binoy, about 8.2 million people die from cancer worldwide every year, and the total number of cancer cases is expected to double in the next 20 years.
Dr. Binoy said that while these statistics are “alarming,” there are many more treatment options today compared to even just a decade ago. She said there has been an “explosion” in cancer immunotherapies, new surgical techniques and radiation techniques and there’s a new drug that comes out almost every month.
“We have a new hope for patients with cancer,” Dr. Binoy said. “Cancer is not a death sentence any more. There are a lot of breakthroughs that can happen and have happened every day.”
The Cayman Islands Cancer Society is currently financially supporting 130 local patients, helping them to access treatment, according to the organization’s operations manager Jennifer Weber. She said that almost every day, a new patient walks into her office looking for assistance.
“When I started five years ago, the cancer society had 11 financial aid patients in a year,” Ms. Weber said. “Now my drawer is literally collapsing under the weight of the files.”
This increase should not alarm anyone, she said, but shows that the society’s early detection programs are working.
“We live in hope that if we keep working hard … that eventually we will reach a point where we don’t see the Stage 4 and metastatic cancers anymore, because everyone will have access to the care that they need, everyone will get cancer diagnosed early,” Ms. Weber said. “Then we can just focus on the prevention.”
More than a third of all cancers are preventable by reducing exposure to risk factors including tobacco, obesity, physical inactivity and sexually transmitted infections.
Early detection is also key to reducing the global cancer epidemic, and the implementation of screening programs and vaccines for cancer-causing diseases like HPV, all help to reduce the impact of disease.
Hope was also a key concept in Premier Alden McLaughlin’s message marking World Cancer Day. Mr. McLaughlin, who is also the minister of health, noted that while the outlook for those facing cancer has greatly improved in the last few decades, there are steps that every individual should take to reduce their risk of cancer. Such steps, he said, include eating healthy and exercise.
“Unlike our forefathers, we have become a sedentary society and as such cannot continue to eat the heavy starches and breadkind that is so ingrained in our diets,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
“Our forefathers worked the sea and the land. Most of us sit behind desks and the only physical activity we do is going from the office to the car.”
In addition to improving diets and exercising more, Mr. McLaughlin said that people in the Cayman Islands can avail themselves of “myriad cancer screenings available at our private and public hospitals and clinics.
“Fortunately, cancer is no longer a dirty word,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Today it is something we can talk about openly. Thank goodness the view that cancer cannot be cured and the fears that were once associated with the disease are changing. So today, remember the theme of World Cancer Day, ‘We can. I can.’ Because together we can learn how to prevent risks and hopefully one day find a cure.”