Leading voice on Cancer in the same gender loving community passes

Sadly on May 13 sister Rowena who spoke openly of her struggles with breast cancer passed in a medical institution after a brief struggle with treatment via chemotherapy, you may remember or have seen the post on this blog on her courses and the photos she provided while raising the awareness of breast cancer in the lesbian community.

In June 2011 she had granted permission for the photos and her story to be carried exclusive on GLBTQ Jamaica, here is an excerpt:

(WARNING – some photos contained may be unsettling)

On the evening of October 19, 2011 at the Couture Oasis’s Open Mic Open Soul Wednesday night discussions series we were asked to invoke the presence of a Jamaican same gender loving breast cancer survivor who from the moment she opened her presentation had all wondering if she was really going through this struggle and complications with this awful disease. The picture of doom and gloom mixed with uncertainty and doubt as often marketed with cancer victims of all sorts was clearly missing from this vibrant soul. Her resilience had audience members in awe and deep appreciation and other stories from the transfixed persons came flying out as well at some points leaving many in the small air conditioned room teary eyed.

row cancer2
Breast after the surgery

Day 2 of draining

Day  1 of draining

“Judy” as I shall call her for purposes of this post is in her late twenties or early thirties from as early as 2010 said she started to notice strange things happening with her right breast and especially at or around the nipple. There were leakages at some points with what appeared to be water and blood as the residue from it and this she thought was maybe she had scratched her nipple area. After seeing this for some time she decided to have a check up done but doing the tests including a mammogram nothing was found , she had repeated tests over time but still there was neither any lumps or any blots on her X-Ray results to indicate there was trouble or via self examination the few times she attempted them. It was not until a new doctor she consulted went further than just the breast itself and focused also by her underarm to her lymph-nodes and realised that her nodes had overgrown onto her breast tissue, it was then she was finally diagnosed on November 26, 2010 after repeated calls from the doctor’s office up to her due checkup date that she had Breast carcinoma, For solid tumors, stages I-IV are actually defined in terms of a more detailed staging system called the “TNM” system.

N classifies the amount of regional lymph node involvement. It is important to understand that only the lymph nodes draining the area of the primary tumor are considered in this classification. Involvement of distant lymph nodes is considered to be metastatic disease. The definition of just which lymph nodes are regional depends on the type of cancer. N0 means no lymph node involvement while N4 means extensive involvement. In general more extensive involvement means some combination of more nodes involved, greater enlargement of the involved nodes, and more distant (But still regional) node involvement. M: Metastasis M is either M0 if there are no metastases or M1 if there are metastases.

As with the other system, the exact definitions for T and N are different for each different kind of cancer. As you can see, the TNM system is more precise than the I through IV system and certainly has a lot more categories. The two systems are actually related. The I through IV groupings are actually defined using the TNM system. For example, stage II non-small cell lung cancer means a T1 or T2 primary tumor with N1 lymph node involvement, and no metastases (M0).  She was kind to provide me with some photos of the courses of treatment she underwent. (photos published with permission)

One other issue she faced was her own constant movements during some of her sessions as this can auger negatively for any patient and can lead to punctured or damaged skin that may itch or get infected if not properly monitored. She now does her Herceptin treatment every three weeks and has subsidized the costs through insurance and other state healthcare benefits under the National Health Fund and some help from Jamaica Reach to Recovery. Treatment can run in the millions literally locally as her initial run was budgeted for over $2M. Her type of cancer as you may have gleaned is rare as her family history does not have many persons who have or had the disease, she was alone on this front. Four other members of the audience expressed their own stories of losing loved ones and are presently under pain from some sort of cancer, but mostly that of the breast, clearly there are issues of closure for some persons with cancer of any sort. Judy’s case however is a testament to survival and proof that strong will and determination can help to overcome the odds, her sister who was present in the discussion paid testament to that as she said she sometimes draws strength from Judy even though it is Judy who is ailing and she still wonders how does she do it?. Applause rang from the audience and commendations as to how she dealt with the whole ordeal and for openly sharing the information the audience ended the session which was followed by the floor opened to poetry.

See the previous post HERE

Rest in Peace Rowena, her service is slated for June 7th.

Peace and tolerance

H

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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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