An award-winning and well-respected Royal Cayman Islands Police officer who helped lead the battle for alternate cancer treatment options in the islands has died.
Mark Luke passed away Wednesday after a long battle with intestinal cancer.
Mr. Luke, a decorated senior constable with the RCIPS Marine Unit, won the deputy governor’s award in May 2013 for his service.
The trained rescue swimmer received the award after risking his life jumping off Pedro Bluff in Bodden Town to save two distressed swimmers. He was later credited with saving their lives, but refused to take a financial reward offered by one of the swimmers.
“[Mr. Luke] recommended that the [reward] money be sent to the police commissioner to be put in a welfare fund,” Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said at the time.
“He was a gentleman through and through,” said former Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush on Thursday. “You could always count on his mild and confident manner in any circumstance, on land or at sea.
“He was a great Caymanian and a fine police officer. He will be missed.”
Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said Mr. Luke served the RCIPS with loyalty and dedication since 1990 and is “fondly remembered” by his colleages and friends.
“Mark bravely fought his illness and maintained high spirits until his passing,” Mr. Byrne said Thursday. “Mark has left a vibrant and lasting impression in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. In the days leading to his passing, Mark received a steady stream of visitors from the RCIPS where stories and memories were shared.
“The RCIPS in the weeks ahead will hold a commemorative celebration in memory of Mark at the Joint Marine Unit Base. The celebration will be a fine and dignified tribute to Mark and his work with the RCIPS.”
Mr. Luke’s diagnosis with an incurable form of cancer came in 2015, and by 2016, he was running out of options while undergoing chemotherapy. He told the Cayman Compass in August 2016 his doctor advised him to seek the alternate treatment of cannabis oil for the intestinal cancer.
“If there is a chance it could help me, then I have to give it a try,” Mr. Luke told the Compass during a 2016 interview.
Mr. Luke and Cayman Islands resident Dennie Warren, Jr. led both public and behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts to convince the government to accept cannabis oil as a potential treatment for cancer. Mr. Warren said he found out Mr. Luke had been diagnosed while in Miami in 2015.
“I was in the Miami airport, taking my wife [Lydia, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2015] to hospital,” Mr. Warren said. “I ran into [Mark] at the airport and he told me he had an incident where he had collapsed and was taken to hospital. After that, I started communicating more with him and got to know him better.”
Mr. Warren said the news of Mr. Luke’s passing Wednesday was “deeply felt.”
“He fought really hard, he wanted to live,” Mr. Warren said. “He was really excited about family and his kids. He would always say how important his kids were to him … he made time for them. He was just a simple guy trying to make a difference in a very challenging world.”
Although Mr. Warren’s wife and now Mr. Luke are now gone, the government did pass legislation enabling the prescription of cannabis oil for medical uses in 2016.
The treatment remains controversial and there is still no definitive medical proof that it works, but Premier Alden McLaughlin said at the time the legislation was introduced that it was worth a try.
“Government is persuaded that it is better to favor hope and compassion over fear,” the premier said.