You & Your Family
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 02:30
By Nicole Shirley
Antigua St. John's - Her glowing face, radiant smile, healthy hair and flawless skin tone give no indication she’s had a bout with cancer. But, not only was Breast Friends president Eunetta Bird attacked by the dreaded illness; she fought against it and won. She is a breast cancer survivor.
The very resilient woman who heads the support group has been steering the ‘vessel’ since July 2010; with the association being in existence for as long as she’s been a victor over the big ‘C’, 14 years.
She encourages persons to be part of breast friends male and female alike, adding that according to global statistics, one in every eight woman is affected by breast cancer and one in every hundred man.
Although she has much on her proverbial plate, being a wife, mother and one who occupies the very demanding post of Acting Assistant Secretary at the Public Works Department, Eunetta is on an aggressive breast cancer awareness drive and willingly shares how she defeated the disease; with the hope of educating and enlightening the populace on the subject.
In 1999 she discovered a lump in one of her breasts. When she went to see her doctor a mammogram was ordered which produced a negative result. It was said to be a fiber-cystic condition which was non-cancerous. This sigh of relief would however turn to one for much concern just 12 months later when she was forced back to her doctor’s office as a result of a lump under her arm; which she initially thought was an allergic reaction to the deodorant she was using. However, after switching to another product, two weeks later, the growth was still there.
The second trip to her doctor, a biopsy was done and it showed that not only did Eunetta have cancer of the breast but it had spread to her underarm. Had this procedure been carried out earlier this could have limited the spread to the breast.
The news was no doubt shocking. The unwelcomed ‘stranger’ triggered tears, worrying took its toll and the thought of death was not at all easy to deal with. However, Bird describes herself as a fighter who refused to ‘fret’ forever over any situation.
Next she would have to contend with treatment; which in its entirety was taken care of in England. This included a 21-day six-cycle course of chemotherapy which ran for six months, and radiation treatment which is responsible for eliminating the residual cells after surgery. The latter left her very tired, whilst the former came with the expected traumatic hair loss.
The Breast Friends president said it was a very rough time for her being separated from her family for one year. During that period she missed some special occasions, including one of her children passing the common entrance examination and moving on to secondary school.
Eunetta who is a born again Christian, is very careful to credit God for her survival. She tells of how she would pray every time chemotherapy was administered to her and was also mindful of the fact that the wisdom of the doctors comes from God.
Bird described the support from her family during her illness as overwhelming and laughingly added, “I had no idea they loved me so much.”
The very aware woman encourages women who find lumps in their breasts to exhaust all the options. She said, “Do not stop at a mammogram since that exercise is not 100 percent accurate. Chest examination and blood tests should be included in the routine checks.”
She pointed out that many women are afraid to hear about the disease, adding some would even hide it from their families if they discover that the disease has invaded their bodies. She mentioned one aged woman who was guilty of this, saying her daughter only became aware of her mother’s condition because unpleasant liquid started oozing from the older woman’s arm.
Bird said there are treatments today that can cause persons to lead a long healthy and pain free life. She said although there might be fear initially, some comfort should be taken knowing that the necessary medical checks can yield pleasant results.
Bird said after doing a family tree trace she found she was the first to be diagnosed with the disease. She has thereby concluded that Cancer is an illness that can affect anyone. She said those with it in their family line are at a higher risk (of getting the disease).
The passionate voice is very concerned about the length of time some patients must wait to be treated; especially when they have to go overseas. After doing chemo sometimes they are forced to wait five months, leaving them to suffer the risk of the disease spreading.
Eunetta tells of one such case.” There was a woman who had only a relatively small lump when she started chemo. By the time she was ready to travel to Trinidad for radiation treatment, she had what looked like a third breast under her arm, a huge swelling over her left breast and an area threatening to burst open on her breast.”
There is no radiation treatment plant in Antigua so persons have to travel overseas, mainly to Trinidad and the Bahamas
Bird said Breast Friends which has a membership of approximately 50 has grown over the years with the support of several co-operate citizens.
“We have received help from many individuals and organizations for which we are grateful. When we just started, letters were sent to several banks and the response has been overwhelming.
The group is primarily one which offers emotional help to those affected by the disease, but owing to the help from the community at large, Breasts Friends has been able to assist cancer patients in ‘small’ ways financially.
She added that their campaign in the fight against breast cancer is yielding results; and this was demonstrated in the number of persons who participated in the breasts screening exercises recently; especially those of the Spanish community.
Bird concluded by suggesting that although one’s diet does not totally keep cancer at bay, one rich in fruits and vegetables is encouraged. Whole grains should be chosen and exercise should form part of one’s daily routine.