Prioritize the local response to cancer

Dear Editor,

Cancer is now a devastating scourge on the Guyanese house. And still it is almost like a stealth illness. I hear with regret of Dr. Luncheon’s affliction; and there is the sharp poignancy on the passing of parliamentarians and, just a few days ago, a very senior public servant. It is a sickness that knows no boundaries, yields to no restraints, respects no person. Yet, in this nation, cancer might as well be non-existent, other than for the victims and the traumatized survivors.

The Honourable Minister of Health did identify cancer as the third leading cause of death locally; then there is silence, despite the toll of fallen and falling citizens, including some very prominent ones. I understand that resources are limited, but I believe that so much more can be done.

Think of this: there is a burn unit and an accident unit; there ought to be a cancer ward. There should be education of some of our newer medical people-and citizens, too-that proximity to chemotherapy does not lead to infertility; that cancer is not contagious and apprehensions about sharing bathroom facilities used by cancer patients are misplaced; that there is no miracle cure; that there is no known ‘bush’ or herbal preparation that has proven successful in the struggle against this dreaded disease. There is more.

Western medicine and herbs taken together is playing with fire; that quacks-persuasive and expensive-abound; and that specialist oncologists are desperately needed. Let there be a start somewhere, a little piece at a time.

Down in the trenches, within the towns and villages, there is a handful of dedicated individuals-mainly women-giving yeoman service in this area; but they need help, they need more hands, they need resources. I have seen the uncertainty, the fear, and the resignation of the suffering close-up, and no more so than amongst those who lack the resources to combat this sickness, those who cannot access certain treatments overseas, and even locally. It numbs and leaves hollowness; but one must soldier on to the next situation.

Editor, I have had experiences with cancer in my own inner circle. It was brutal and unforgiving, in spite of all the expertise, technology, and medicines available elsewhere. The process and finality scar for a lifetime. These stories are shared with the wounded, if only to bolster courage, mine included. Many times, it is all that is left –stoic courage and implacable faith in the face of unimaginable trauma.

Now I exhort, indeed I beg, those who oversee our health sector to prioritize the local response to this plague. Already there has been official recognition of the heavy presence of cancer in society, and the decimation inflicted. I say that the prioritization starts with education, continues with sustained interest and resources, and ends (or begins) with caring.

Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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