Damage done to the roadway at Haleland Park by flood waters (Trinidad Guardian) Afternoon rains in West Trinidad yesterday brought landslides in Carenage and flooding in Diego Martin and Marava...
Trinidad motorists marooned on highway by flooding
The scene on the Uriah Butler Highway yesterday. (Trinidad Guardian) With the Caroni River still overflowing its banks, hundreds of motorists either trying to get to north or south Trinidad ...
The following is a press release by Dr. Camille Samuel, Vice President of student affairs provided the following release. Given the continued adverse weather conditions throughout Trinidad and the for...
DAYS of heavy rainfall and strong winds led to several houses in the Moruga and Princes Town areas being affected as several families had to run out their homes as the structures collapsed. There were ...
National disaster declared in Trinidad after catastrophic flooding
Residents of Kelly Village waited on their rooftop as the floods rose. (Trinidad Express) Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has declared that the flooding nightmare that has left thousands marooned is a ...
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Oct 20, CMC — The Trinidad and Tobago Government Saturday said teams were working to rescue people trapped by floods and landslides caused by heavy rains here over the past 48 ...
Residents of Kelly Village waited on their rooftop as the floods rose. (TRINIDAD EXPRESS) There has been a catastrophic level of flooding across many communities in Trinidad overnight. Families are be...
Jammin Still Hoping To Give His Backers In Trinidad A Grey Stakes Thrill
Jammin Still, a two-year-old son of Take Charge Indy, will look to build off an impressive career bow, this time in Sunday's Grade 3, $125,000 Grey Stakes, at Woodbine in Canada. Owned by Derek Chin a...
ON October 10, we recognised World Mental Health Day; a time dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues and the importance of recognition and prompt treatment of those affected. This year, the specific theme emphasised was that of young people and mental health in a changing world.
This is indeed a fitting and important topic, as it has been noted by the World Health Organization that up to 40 per cent of all mental illness begins during adolescence. This means that four of every ten teenagers in our country will at some point in their youth experience the symptoms of anxiety, depression, attention-deficit, alcohol and drug use or any other mental health concern during their developmental years. This is a stark reality. In our island and country, we are still grappling with the resources to manage young people living with mental illness, and much of this is due to delays in recognising the signs and referring for treatment.
Recognising mental illness in teens
It is not uncommon for parents to wonder whether their teen’s mood swings, sour faces and unpredictable attitudes are due to behaviours of a “normal teenager” or due to mental illness, drug use or other difficulties. Normal teenagers are often moody due to the hormonal and physical changes that happen during puberty. However, when mental illness is involved, it may be difficult to differentiate “normal teenage behaviour” from the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other emotional difficulties without the assessment and support of a mental health specialist.
Often as adults, we compare our teen’s behaviour to that of our own at that age. This can be particularly worrying for many parents due to the changes in social norms of today. Teens these days are engaging in sex, drugs and alcohol at a much earlier age.
Young people have increased and constant connection with each other and strangers through social media and the internet, both in the palms of their hands all day, every day. As a result, they are exposed to the good, the bad and the scary and often do not have the developmental ability to consistently make good decisions and separate the glossy but fake images of social media from real life. This prompts many to make irresponsible decisions when trying to follow the actions of social media “celebrities” who they look up to. Here are some things that you may observe in your teen that will help to decipher the difference between mental illness and normal teenage behaviour.
• Decrease in enjoyment and time spent with friends and family
• Significant decline in school performance
• Strong resistance to attending school or absenteeism
• Problems with memory, attention or concentration
• Significant changes in energy levels, eating or sleeping patterns
• Physical symptoms (stomach pains, headaches, back pains)
• Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anxiety and frequent crying
• Frequent aggression, disobedience or verbal abuse
• Excessive neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
• Substance abuse
• Dangerous or illegal thrill-seeking behaviour
• Is overly suspicious of others or paranoid
• Seeing or hearing things that others do not
If any teenager or young person in your life is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, or if you are simply concerned about their mental health and well-being, seek an assessment by a medical practitioner or mental health expert.
The importance of building mental resilience
There is a growing recognition of the importance of helping young people build mental resilience, from the earliest ages, in order to cope with the challenges of today’s world. Evidence is growing that promoting and protecting adolescent health leads to short and long-term advantages to adolescent success and also to the wider community and society at large.
Healthy and thriving adolescents become capable and functioning adults who are then able to make greater contributions to the workforce, their families and communities and society as a whole.
This is but one reason that we in TT must invest in the mental well-being and resilience of our young people, as it is them who will lead the future.
Teaching young people the skills of managing stress, coping with disappointment, time management, volunteerism, conflict resolution and communication will go a long way in assisting their overall development. These intangible but vital abilities are what separate those who can manage the ups and downs of life, from those who capitulate and are simply unable to function.
While the development of a mental illness is definitely not as straightforward as a simple formula, it has been clearly demonstrated that the skills of mental resilience are protective for young people, and as such should be a focus of parents, teachers, community leaders and mentors island-wide.
Prevention begins with better understanding
Much can be done to help build mental resilience from early childhood to help prevent mental distress and illness among adolescents and young adults. These skills also equip young people to manage and recover from mental illness should they develop. Prevention begins with being aware and understanding the early warning signs and symptoms of mental illness. Parents and teachers can help build life skills for adolescents to help them cope with everyday challenges at home and at school. Psychosocial support should be provided in schools and other community settings by health workers trained to enable them to detect and manage mental health disorders.
Investment by government and the collaboration of the social, health and education sectors in comprehensive, integrated, evidence-based programmes for the mental health of young people is essential. This investment should be linked to programmes to raise awareness among adolescents and young adults of ways to look after their mental health and to help peers, parents and teachers know how to support their friends, children and students.
Start the conversation
It is never easy to start a conversation with a young person, or indeed anyone about mental illness. Difficult but necessary. Following are some tips to help start the discussion
• Speak in a calm voice and stay neutral
• Say what you mean and be prepared to listen attentively
• Try not to interrupt and allow the young person to speak freely
• Avoid sarcasm, threats, using humour or downplaying the emotions of the young person
• Do not make attacks or be demeaning
• Deal with the now, not the past
• Do not try to get the last word
• If things get too heated, or emotional be prepared to take a break and come back to the discussion later
• Parents: Remember what it was like to be a teen
As a community we should continue beyond the day of recognition to keep our awareness of youth mental health in our changing world high on the agenda. The first steps will always include vigilance, communication and open acceptance of young people when problems arise. With these skills in hand we are better prepared to refer them on to the specialist services they require.
THE Coco Dance Festival unfolds its tenth edition with a packed programme of contemporary dance, dance-offs, films, workshops, masterclasses and auditions for elite US dance schools.
The festival, which runs from October 26-28, will host its mainstage events at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s with other events taking place at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (Napa), the Carnival Institute and Grundlos Kollektiv, in Port of Spain.
[caption id="attachment_733978" align="alignnone" width="1024"] UTT dancers performing Forgotten voices - The Pain of Being Orphaned, choreography by Avril Noel.[/caption]
An artistic and historical look at the carnival dance traditions of New Orleans will be presented by visiting dance artist Greer Mundy, hosted by the Carnival Institute on Friday at 5 pm, at the Carnival Institute, Jerningham Avenue, Belmont.
Admission is free. Mundy will also perform at the dance Festival at Queen’s Hall, on Saturday.
The presentation and performance are based on Mundy’s book, Black Dance in Louisiana - Guardian of a Culture, and will provide commentary on where and how black dance traditions were retained and reformulated for sacred and secular purposes by enslaved Africans and their descendants in Louisiana, with each tradition articulating the social and political thought of the era.
Coco Dance schedule:
October 22 - 25:
Creation in Motion Touring Ensemble for Young Audiences (CIM TEYA!) from Texas State University will work with primary schools, using dance and technology to teach students science, math, literature and engineering concepts.
5 pm: Black Dance in Louisiana
5.30 pm: Happy hour, pre-show drinks at Queen’s Hall.
6.30 pm: Dance showcase/main stage performances, Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s.
10 am-1 pm: Auditions, Florida State University, School of Dance, Napa. Auditions are free, but pre-registration is strongly recommended. For more info: dance.fsu.edu/programs-2/auditions/trinidad-auditions/
3 pm: Dance de Coco Dance-Off finals, at Queen’s Hall with eight finalists.
7.30 pm: Dance showcase/main stage performances, Queen’s Hall
9 am: Auditions and masterclasses, Joffrey Ballet School, Queen’s Hall, for Joffrey’s 2019 Summer Intensives. Registration for ballet is at 9 am and for jazz and contemporary at 10.30 am, with auditions immediately after registration.
“MADAM Speaker, we propose to remove the age eligibility for the disability grant under the Public Assistance Act Chap 32:03 to allow disabled children under the age of 18 to access the grant. Currently, 1,024 disabled and special needs children receive grants of $800 under the Special Child Grant and $1,150 under the Public Assistance Grant. I propose to cease payments under these two outdated grants and to bring these recipients under the disability grant with an increased monthly grant of $1,500. This measure … will take effect on January 1, 2019.” This was stated by the Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert in his 2018 Budget presentation.
These words were more or less parroted by the Minister of Social Development and Family Services Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn, in her contribution to the Fiscal 2018/2019 National Budget Debate, where she also stated, “This proposed measure would apply to persons currently in receipt of either grants and to all new applicants, and would allow for parents or caregivers who apply on behalf of children with a disability, to be exempted from means testing associated with the public assistance and special child grants and for such children to be paid TT$1,500 monthly.”
The message given is that children who are currently getting the special child’s grant and the public assistance grants will now get more money from January 1, 2019, under the disability grant. However, in reality, many of these children have already stopped receiving the special child’s grant and the public assistance grants and parents are unsure as to the steps towards accessing the disability grant.
In a recent meeting with Vijay Gangapersad, deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, it was clear that officials in the ministry were either in denial or clueless that the grants had already been cut for some children with special needs. It took one hour and phone calls to two parents who explained their situations before Gangapersad was willing to accept that grants were already being cut and that some parents had failed the means tests.
One mother, Elizabeth, informed him via telephone that her grant was cut since April, with no contact from the ministry. When she visited the ministry she was told that they will look into it and get back to her. When she went back to the ministry to check up again, she was told she will not receive the grant because she lives with her parents and both of them were pensioners and therefore the household income was above that stipulated by the means test.
What is even more disturbing than the denial and defensive stance adopted by the ministry is the fact that the “restructuring process” itself is not very clear. Imbert announced that the special needs child can access the disability grants from January 1, 2019. However, Gangapersad admitted that there is a “transition period.” He stated, “I am certain that there would be some administrative arrangements... the budget hasn’t been passed as yet...there is a budget debate, there are now measures we have to put in place, there are some administrative details that we have to go about before we communicate with the population.”
The only assurance that Gangapersad could give was that there is a possibility that parents might continue getting money in January. He did note, however, “All of these children who are on public assistance which is means tested will be afforded assistance under the special child grant. In cases where the public assistance has to be stopped because of the means test, the instructions have already been given by the ministry that such children will be provided with assistance under the special child grant from now on.”
When asked what happens in the case of Elizabeth from now until the end of the year, he said she would get the special child grant immediately. He said parents whose grants have been cut need to go back to their ministry’s offices to find out about getting the special child’s grant and when the budget is passed in both the Lower and Upper house, the ministry will communicate to public on the next step forward.
So effectively, the ministry has already cut some grants completely; those who are receiving the public assistance grant of $1,150 will have that cut and they might get the Special child’s grant of $800 (less money) and parents just have to wait and see when they can access the disability grant.
IN A concerted effort to provide support and assistance to citizens who have suffered in parts of Trinidad and Tobago due to the disastrous flooding over the past couple days, a group of former national footballers and sporting enthusiasts have joined together to host a fundraiser for flood victims.
“Dennis Lawrence and Friends”, led by the current national men’s team coach and ex-TT defender, will be staging a charity football match this Friday, at a venue to be announced.
“We’ve decided to come together for the cause because it’s hit home and touched a lot of us,” said Lawrence. “It is unimaginable to see our own people having to go through this kind of experience that they’ve had to over the past two days.”
He continued, “People are stranded, they are suffering and they need us now, We will use the power of sport and football to make our contribution.”
Lawrence noted, “What we’ve done is gotten a group of former national players from the Strike Squad (era) come right up, including a few of my teammates from the 2006 (World Cup) squad to come together to put on the game and we have a few local personalities and celebrities who have come on board as well. And whoever else is interested in being part of this drive and can offer assistance, you are all welcomed at this time.”
According to the 44-year-old, "You don’t need to be a footballer, contributions of any kind will be accepted because it’s all going to the victims.”
All proceeds from the event will go towards flood victims.
Teelucksingh wins North Zonal Cricketer of the Year
DANE Teelucksingh of Police Sports Club won the Cricketer of the Year 2017, when the 2017/2018 North Zonal Council TT Cricket Board Awards was held at Fatima College, on Saturday night.
Teelucksingh was given the nod as 2017 Cricketer of the Year ahead of Joel Seitaram, Kevin Williams, Kenroy Williams and Marlon Phillips.
Teelucksingh snatched three five-wicket hauls for the season. He also took 10 wickets in a match on two occasions, grabbing 10 for 53 against Harvard and 12/60 versus Sweet Revenge.
Awards were handed out for five-wicket hauls, 10-wicket hauls, century makers and the top teams in the various competitions. Among those who attended the event were chairman of the North Zonal Council Winston Sobers, vice-chairman Andrew Hirst and veteran journalist Tony Fraser, who delivered the feature address.
Fraser spoke to the audience about doing their part in changing the current administration of Cricket West Indies.
FIVE CRICKETERS OF THE YEAR 2017 – Joel Seitaram, Dane Teelucksingh, Kevin Williams, Kenroy Williams, Marlon Phillips
CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 2017 – Dane Teelucksingh
Rishi Mannah - 165 not out Savannah Boys vs Invincible
Riaff Ali - 108 retired Savannah Boys vs Invincible
Marlon Phillips - 151 Barataria Ball Players vs Glenora
Kenroy Williams - 174 Glenora vs Barataria Ball Players
Shone De Souza - 109 not out Sweet Revenge vs Savannah Boys
FIVE WICKET HAULS –
Ryan Jones - 9/50 Police vs Glenora
Rodwell Williams - 7/32 Glenora vs Sweet Revenge
Jamel Jones - 5/43 Fatima vs Carenage
Riaff Ali - 6/48 Savannah Boys vs Sweet Revenge
Joel Seitaram - 6/58 Sweet Revenge vs Savannah Boys
Marlon Phillips - 6/36 Barataria Ball Players vs Harvard
Kristoff St John - 5/43 Barataria Ball Players vs Sweet Revenge
Vaughn Brown - 5/40 Barataria Ball Players vs Sweet Revenge
Luke Latiff - 6/9 Sweet Revenge vs Barataria Ball Players
Kamiru Clarke - 6/39 Harvard vs Glenora
Amando Phillips - 5/35 Harvard vs Glenora
Haroun Hosein - 9/50 Sweet Revenge vs Barataria, 5/40 Sweet Revenge vs Police
Amir Khan - 8/26 Police vs Barataria Ball Players, 7/83 Police vs Savannah Boys, 6/43 Police vs Ebony
Dane Teelucksingh - 9/78 Police vs Glenora, 8/20 Police vs Invincible, 8/94 Police vs Savannah Boys
10 WICKETS IN MATCH –
Vaughn Brown - 11/72 Barataria Ball Players vs Ebony
Dane Teelucksingh - 10/53 Police vs Harvard, 12/60 Police vs Sweet Revenge
40-OVER COMPETITION –
Losing Semifinalists - Sweet Revenge, Savannah Boys
Joint Winners - Harvard, Police
T20 COMPETITION –
Losing Semifinalists - Glenora, Ebony
Runners Up - Savannah Boys
Winner - Sweet Revenge
DIVISION ONE –
Third - North Coast United
Second - Paragon
Winners - Carenage United
SENIOR DIVISION –
Third - Savannah Boys
Second - Sweet Revenge
Winners - Police
SENIOR DIVISION RESERVE –
Joint Winners - Glenora, Police
DIVISION ONE 40-OVER –
Losing Semifinalists - St Mary’s Old Boys, North Coast United
In March of 2015 Candice Pierre-Sooklal had to make a decision that was a matter of life or death. She chose life for her unborn baby.
Pierre-Sooklal told WMN that shortly before receiving a diagnosis of Stage 2 breast cancer, she had felt a lump in her left breast and had it surgically removed and sent for testing. When the result came back she was advised it was malignant. She had another lumpectomy done in December 2014 and was scheduled to begin chemotherapy and radiation treatment some weeks later.
“In March of 2015, I hadn’t started treatment yet and found out I was five weeks pregnant. It complicated the situation and I was advised to terminate the pregnancy because my life was more important. I decided to keep my baby and told them God will take care of us.”
But even with faith as strong as hers it was still an uphill battle. “Hearing that you have cancer is not something you want to hear. I cried a lot and was confused. I was sad at times, but in the midst of it all I pulled myself together to trust God to bring me through this. God always has a purpose and my pregnancy gave me more inspiration to fight. I had to live for my baby and for my other daughter, Christina, who was three at the time.”
She went through her pregnancy without any treatment but had to undergo a minor surgical procedure so the doctors could ensure that everything was okay with the baby. “They couldn’t risk major surgery during pregnancy because I would have had to go under anaesthetic for too long a period. I was about five months pregnant then.”
[caption id="attachment_733812" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Candice Pierre-Sooklal, her husband Godwin and their children, Christina and Faith. Photos courtesy Candice Pierre Sooklal[/caption]
On October 25, 2015, the same day of her 31st birthday, Pierre-Sooklal delivered a baby girl. “I had no complications during the pregnancy. The doctors induced labour a month early and I had a natural birth. She was healthy and I was okay. It was the best birthday gift ever. We named her Faith Destiny Sooklal.”
One week later, the Human Resources clerk at the Caura hospital began chemotherapy, which went on for 12 weeks. However, a CT scan later revealed that the cancer had returned. "The doctors told me that because of my age my hormones were very active. That was part of the problems why it came back.”
In August of 2016 she decided on a mastectomy. “They did reconstructive surgery right away,” using a TRAM flap procedure. TRAM stands for transverse rectus abdominis, a muscle found in the lower abdomen between the waist and pubic bone. A flap of this skin, fat, and all or part of the underlying six pack muscle are used to reconstruct the breast. “After healing I did more cycles of chemo. When completed that I continued with hormone therapy to block the hormones from reproducing.”
But the cancer was as stubborn as they come. At the close of 2017, a CT scan revealed another lump, this time under her left arm. “They could not simply remove it because it was resting too close to the main artery under my arm.” So, it was back to chemotherapy for 12 weeks to shrink the tumour. “I completed chemotherapy in March, and in May of 2018 I had my fifth cancer-related surgery to remove the tumour. An axillary lymph node clearance,” also known as a lymph node dissection or a lymphadenectomy that involves the removal of all the lymph nodes and possible tumour containing tissue from the armpit. “I recovered for approximately two months and started radiation treatment in August. Twenty-five sessions in my arm and breast area.”
But the perilous journey is still not over for her. Pierre-Sooklal is now waiting for a CT scan to determine if the radiation treatment has helped to get rid of the malignant cells that had remained. “I am still continuing with the hormonal therapy. I’m taking more meds now to block hormones.”
And as strong as she is, she told WMN had it not been for her support network and her faith in God she may not have held up as well as she did. “Coping with chemo, being sick. Not flat in bed sick, but tired and fatigued all the time. Dealing with hair loss was horrible. I felt so unattractive. My husband, Godwin, used to inspire me by telling me I’m still beautiful. My parents and in laws are wonderful and made things easier for me. Thank God for that.”
Pierre-Sooklal said at the time of her diagnosis Christina was too young to understand what was happening so she did not burden her with it. “She had seen me in hospital and sick. My being away from home so frequently affected her and she told my mom she was sad I had to be in the hospital all the time. I just explained that it was just for a period of time. When she was five I started to explain what was happening. As time goes by and she gets older I will continue to talk to her about it. I think she is handling it well. I try to make things as normal as possible for them. Faith is still young but as she gets older I will explain to her.”
She is a member of two support groups that she said, “unfortunately keeps growing in numbers.” Enhancing All Real Survivors (EARS) Foundation and the Sangre Grande Oncology Support Group at the hospital. “I really want to commend and applaud the staff at the Sangre Grande hospital for the good work they do. For the past four years I have been taken care of in the best way. I call them the Oncology Angels.”
She uses her Facebook page, Faith Fight-Candice Pierre Sooklal to encourage men and women to get tested and screened. “Especially the men, don’t let your ego prevent you from getting tested. Be brave, pray and get tested.”
Salima Khan-Mohammed speaks about how having to face breast cancer saved her life.
Even when she was first given her diagnosis, 61-year-old Salima Khan-Mohammed said it still "did not hit' her. It took the changes to her body to fully realise that she was actually battling breast cancer.
The Freeport, Chaguanas resident was 56 when she discovered a lump in her left breast. On September 3, 2013, after having a mammogram and biopsy done, the results came back malignant and so began Khan-Mohammed's courageous journey.
Doctors recommended a mastectomy and one month later, she had the surgical procedure done privately. Lymph nodes were also removed from the surrounding areas.
She was then referred to an oncologist, who planned out her care and tested to see if she would be receptive to hormone treatment.
Khan-Mohammed was also referred to clinic to have both chemotherapy and radiation treatments administered.
"I had eight cycles of chemo and 15 radiation therapy treatments at the San Fernando oncology unit. It was only when the effects of those treatments took its toll on my body that I really realised the enormity of what I was living with. I was washing my hair one day and it started to fall out in chunks. I lost all my eyelash and eyebrow hairs, all over my body I had become hairless," she recalled.
To adapt to losing her hair and determined to remain positive, Khan-Mohammed simply cut off the rest of her shoulder length hair. Her nails became discoloured and dark but she was determined to educate herself on the disease and spent hours on the computer doing research.
What Khan-Mohammed said she still could not understand was society's insensitivity about offering hope, rather than discouragement.
[caption id="attachment_733805" align="alignnone" width="683"] Removing her left breast made Salima Khan-Mohammed feel like she had a handicap–until she realised it had saved her life.[/caption]
"I couldn't see the sense in telling a cancer survivor or patient about the death of others. I remember it happening to me, a friend found out and told me they had a friend who died. Everyone needs to see that even revealing that can be discouraging to someone fighting to live."
Khan-Mohammed said she lost weight and the removal of her breast felt "weird" at first.
She said she will always be grateful to her husband, who would wait hours outside the clinic doors as she was administered chemo. He never showed her any reservations following her mastectomy, even when initially she felt as if she had been left handicapped.
"Your breast is part of your body, for a woman, looking at it first. The space left. I felt, how to describe it, like a handicap. I was kind of ashamed at first, of not having two breasts. Then I realised how thankful I should be just because the doctors was able to get it all in time. Now I am used to it. It tells me that I fought and God won."
She also credits her victory to supportive medical staff, following instructions of her doctors and opting not to accept "home remedies" from other patients or well-wishers.
Khan-Mohammed said she did make some drastic changes to her eating habits, namely deciding not to eat meat and focused instead on vegetables and fruits.
"Even if you want to consider the advice of others in taking other medicine, consult your doctors first. I listened to mine. You never can tell if something you might take might hinder the meds given by your doctors. I followed instructions and I am alive today."
Khan-Mohammed said she only strayed from this philosophy when it came to treating mouth sores she developed due to the chemo. She recalled her mother feeding her puréed five finger fruit and dhal soup, only up until they cured. She drank lemon water to assist her digestive system, but stuck to her doctors’ recommendations and prescribed drugs only.
"This disease changed my outlook in life somewhat, as it made me get closer to Allah, delve deeper into my religion. I prayed even more than the times we ought to pray and it didn't feel forced or desperate, it felt natural."
Her support system, she added, was strengthened through messages of encouragement sent through texts and social media, by family and friends.
She was also inspired through the efforts of breast cancer survivor Marcia Miranda's radio programme. She battled insomnia by reading inspirational novels sent to her by one of her cousins.
Initially, she said, she had to visit the oncology centre once a month since surgery and recuperation.
Khan-Mohammed said now she is cancer free and is only required to visit the oncology centre twice a year. She is also required to do a mammogram annually.
"I think stress is a big factor in developing cancer. Sometimes this can come from so many angles in your life. Lifestyle and eating habits are also important to look at. Everything in moderation."
Khan-Mohammed advises patients to always try to keep positive, surround themselves with happy thoughts, laugh a lot and look at lots of comedy movies.
Cheryl Perez: Fighting cancer brings a recognition of how fleeting life is
When she found out she had breast cancer, Cheryl Perez thought it was a death sentence. Now, the 66-year-old has turned the experience into an inspiration to herself and others.
Perez discovered a “seed” in one of her breasts in May 2008 while she was showering at the gym after exercising. Since it was not painful, she ignored it but it bothered her every time she showered and felt it.
About two weeks later, she mentioned the lump to a co-worker who insisted she have it checked. The co-worker then mentioned it to her supervisor who gave her some time off to visit the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society.
There, the doctor performed a manual breast exam and an ultrasound. He then performed a fine needle aspiration on the lump and sent the tissue to be tested. However, he warned her that he was 95 per cent sure that it was cancerous, and he was right.
Several days later, a good friend, a biochemist, saw her lab results even before they were handed over to the Cancer Society. That day, he went to her home to give her the news.
She told Newsday she had just got home from work and she noticed her friend, her son, and her brother on her porch, and she immediately knew something was wrong. “I panicked because my daughter lived in Toronto, and I looked at my son and thought. ‘I’m going to die.’ Because growing up in my time, when you hear cancer it meant death. I don’t remember hearing about chemotherapy and radiation and all that. The next step is death.”
He informed her she had carcinomas cells, which meant she had cancer. She recalled that she just smiled, put on a brave face and told them it was okay, that she was not going to die. “It was a very emotional time because my first thought was that I was going to die and leave my two kids. But I played brave and we talked but that night in my room alone, I cried rivers. Nobody ever knew I cried.”
A few days later she got a call from the Cancer Society informing her that she had cancer. With that official news, she told the rest of her relatives, some of whom lived abroad, and her coworkers. “I waited because, first of all I think I was embarrassed because everybody knows me going to the gym and doing yoga, so how could I get cancer? Then I didn’t want that sympathy, which I eventually got anyway.”
Perez decided to do a lumpectomy at a private institution.
Before that, however, she had to do a lot of running around for various tests which revealed she had Stage 1A breast cancer. Fortunately the cancer was contained, it had not spread and in the end the lump and 23 lymph nodes were removed.
She said she did not have the money for the surgery but she was blessed with friends and family who got together and covered the cost. However, as she was being wheeled into surgery, the anaesthesiologist confronted her, demanding to know if she had paid his fees, which she had. She was shocked and upset by his timing and demeanour and almost changed her mind about going through with the surgery, concerned that he might purposely harm her.
Thankfully all went well. She subsequently did chemotherapy, which she said was the only part of the journey she dreaded as she had long dreadlocks and knew her hair would fall off. Perez did go bald, but was grateful that she was not sick after her treatments.
She had four sessions of chemo, one every two weeks at one and a half to two hours per session, and felt well enough to drive herself back to the office and continue working after each treatment. There was only one day that she felt weak and lost her sense of taste. The month of radiation though, had more of an effect. She said she always felt very tired afterwards and now had brittle bones because of the treatments.
She recalled, after her last session of chemo, she was so excited she decided to pay a surprise visit some friends in Tobago. She cashed her paycheck and was walking along a track to her home to pack for her trip when she was grabbed by the neck and robbed by two men. She tried to appeal to their better nature, telling them she was a cancer patient and asking them to please leave her with her medication. Unfortunately they took everything, but after the threats and the fear she was just happy they did not kill her. Even that did not stop her though, and the next day she was on her way to Tobago.
Perez said she felt blessed with her family and her ten best friends who supported her through it all and treated her as normal. That was important to her as she felt the scorn of some co-workers while other associates made unpleasant remarks. She especially thanked her children, Omar Rocke and Neketia Perez, for their ongoing support on her cancer journey.
Since then she has lost three friends to cancer. Neketia was also diagnosed with cervical cancer just two years after she was, but thankfully she too is in remission. Despite her difficulties, she is determined to continue doing the things she did before she was diagnosed, even if it will not be as frequently or not as much. Therefore she continued with her three passions – prayer, exercise, and entertainment which for her includes, shopping, cooking for friends, and having people over to her home. However, because of her bones, she has had to slow down a bit. She has since picked up aqua aerobics, even becoming certified as an instructor.
Perez said she has a bubbly personality and loves to see people happy, and that desire has increased since her remission. “I think I live a life with more love. Talking to people, helping where I can – it may not be financially but to go visit, help them dress up... I think I’m even more adventurous. I take more chances because I recognise and appreciate how fleeting life is.”
Post-surgery recovery was “hell” for Sherma Joseph. But the Stage 2 breast cancer survivor said at the end of it all she has learnt to put thing in perspective. “The original Sherma is back with no worries! Now I use the experience of my journey to educate other people about cancer.”
Joseph lost her mother three weeks after she (her mother) was diagnosed with cervical cancer in July of 2015. Not very longer after, Joseph said she used to feel “something running across her right breast” and decided to see a doctor. “When it was time for the results the doctor said he wanted to see me. My friend, Judy went with me. He said ‘I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you have cancer. The good news is that it was detected early’.”
She went on to have a double mastectomy. “I told them to take them out! And I did reconstruction surgery at the same time. It was quite a journey, but I took it in stride.” She said her post-surgery experience was unforgettably painful. “I was sore. There were times when I had to sit up to sleep. And don’t talk about when I had to band my breast to 'train' the implants. It's a foreign thing in your body. Sometimes you lie down and it's all up under your neck. Oh my God lady, it wasn’t easy. People make it sound so easy. You do the surgery, get rid of the cancer and that is it. I was sore. It was a journey, but I pressed on with a positive. What is to be will be.”
The 54-year-old said she did not undergo chemotherapy nor radiation treatment. “What were we going to radiate? The silicone implants? One of my friends reminded me that I had spoken it into being. Before the surgery I had said I was not going to have to do chemo or radiation. This whole cancer thing is a mindset yes. Once you have a positive attitude I think it helps you to be able to recover faster.”
Joseph, a domestic worker, ensures she gets her regular checkups, scans and bloodwork. And her lifestyle changes have been minimal. “I’ve never smoked nor drank. And now I just eat and drink everything in moderation. That is the key.” She said last Christmas her children were shocked to see her take a small drink of ponche de crème. “I told them ‘you all okay yes. It's Christmas. Live, laugh and love'. I enjoy life to the fullest and I’m not going to let cancer keep me back because you never know the day when your Master is going to call you. Why fuss?”
She believes she has an obligation to be a mentor to “sisters” who have become victims of cancer and to encourage them on their journey. “I remember after my surgery a man at the hospital asked me to talk to his wife because she was afraid to do her surgery. I walked into the room and asked, ‘Who is Nicole?” When she responded I lifted my clothes and showed her my scar and told her ‘I did both of them so I could live!’ People have different experiences. You just have to know how to talk to people about it.”
Joseph’s children were adults when she was diagnosed, and although they were concerned, she asked that they just be her support. Her employer, she said, has also been very supportive, as well as the members of her support group Enhancing All Real Survivors. “The group meets every first Saturday of the month and we really support each other. Unfortunately we have lost a lot of sisters.”
Joseph, unashamed of her scars, unbuttoned her shirt and showed WMN the price she had to pay to save her life, before leaving for her appointment to have her hair sisterlocked.
That was the question Helen Hosein-Mulloon, 49, asked herself when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2009.
She asked herself and her husband, Adrian Mulloon, that question many times over the years because, in addition to being a cancer survivor, she has Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Helen explained that she was diagnosed with MS in 2007 after she fell in her office on Ash Wednesday. Although she had some trouble walking before, she had only recently started using a cane because of muscle deterioration due to MS.
In her case, MS was a blessing and a curse. Because she had MS and was on weekly intramuscular injections, her doctor insisted on a variety of medical tests every six months.
In 2009, on one of the visits, a lump was found on one of her breasts. She was sent to do surgery to have it removed to be tested but the doctor told her not to worry, that it was just fatty tissue.
When she went for her results, because she was not concerned, she took her eight-year-old daughter with her to the doctor. “So I took my daughter, left her playing in the waiting room and the doctor says, ‘You have cancer.’ I almost passed out. My husband was at work offshore, so I told them to call him immediately because he needs to come home. And I did not know what to do.”
Hosein-Mulloon said she was shocked, afraid, and could not believe she had cancer in addition to MS. She said the doctor told her there was no rush for treatment which, at that point, she considered refusing.
She explained that her mother, who was not a smoker, died of lung cancer in 2006 after undergoing herbal therapies rather than chemo and radiation. “She didn’t suffer. My mom died happy. She said she lived, she saw her children grow up, she was sure she wasn’t getting any more grandchildren, she had a husband who adored her, and I wanted to do the same.”
However, he suggested that when her daughter turned 18, they remove her breasts and her womb as a preventative measure against breast and cervical cancer. Bringing her back to reality, she recalled that her eight-year-old was in the next room waiting for her, and she and her 13-year-old son were the reason Hosein-Mulloon decided to undergo chemotherapy.
Therefore, she called her cousin who worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland and he demanded she go there to be thoroughly checked over and treated. She did so and in September 2009 she had a second surgery during which they removed more cells and tested her lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread. It had not.
It was then determined she had Triple-Negative, Stage 2A breast cancer and it was very aggressive.
At once she stopped the injections for MS, because one of the side effects was that they could cause cancer. Since then, her muscle condition has deteriorated to the point where she now must use a wheelchair to get around.
“Believe it or not, after cancer I had three really good years because chemotherapy does the same thing the MS injections do: they suppress the immune system. MS is where the immune system attacks the nervous system so everything was good.”
She wanted to have some good memories with her family. They toured Europe, climbed the Tower of Pisa, and went on a cruise. “When I finished chemo I told my husband, ‘I don’t know how many more great years I’m going to have so we are going to take all the insurance money and go to Europe with the children.’ And we did that.”
She said travelling was always an important part of their lives and she still tries to do so as often as she could. “When you have a challenge it’s to fight it. I knew chemo would kill a lot of things and I refused to let it kill my spirit.”
And it did kill a lot.
Hosein-Mulloon recalled her return to TT and her 20 weeks of chemo. “It was dark. Sometimes I got home at night and I didn’t even want to be there. A lot of it I can’t remember and what I remember I don’t like.”
Since she was well premedicated, she did not get nausea. However, she lost her hair, lost weight, and had a loss of depth perception so she fell a few times. She said she tried to work as much as she could and would only take three days off after a session because she wanted to stay active and keep doing the things she loved.
However, she said she will not do chemotherapy again, now that her children are older, and they do not need her as much as they did back then.
Then she did radiation treatment, which had some complications.
Cancer did not just affect her physically, but her relationships as well. She told WMN when she was first diagnosed, some close family members were there for her all the time while others were not.
She said one particular friend was extremely supportive, looking after her children, visiting often, and carrying her to chemo. Other friends, however, kept her at arm’s length, texting and calling but never visiting.
She was angry at the time because she needed the support of the friends she loved. It took her years to understand that some people simply could not see someone they love suffer, and she eventually forgave them.
In addition, although not going into any details, she said she had a lot of negative reactions to her illnesses from some co-workers and associates. “I think that makes some people angry, that you have a challenge and you overcome it and the little challenges they have, they dig deep and hold on to them.”
Despite her numerous obstacles, Hosein-Mulloon, who is the current president of the MS Society, said she still appreciates the important things in life.
“My life has many good things. I have a husband, who I still adore 20 years later. I have two wonderful children who never did drugs, ran away with anyone, or did anything alarmingly bad. They were normal, typical children who had a higher sense of responsibility because of my illnesses and the things they had to do for me.”
She said having to stay in a wheelchair does not make her unhappy even though she can no longer do some of the things she loves, but having cancer after having MS made her face her mortality, especially after a chemo session. “I did it already with MS, but MS can’t kill you, cancer can.”
She decided she would let everyone know how she feels whenever she feels it. She also refuses to let opportunities pass her by. She said her hope is to leave a legacy with her children -- to know life is meant to be lived, to not take it for granted, to love others, and to leave people remembering them in a positive way.
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