Weeks shy of her sixtieth birthday, Ena Persaud was diagnosed with breast cancer and almost three years and a double mastectomy later she is a tower of strength and a woman who is not shy about sharing here experience as she believes that the more women and men talk about cancer more persons would be motivated to take the necessary precautions.
“It can happen to anyone…cancer does not see face, it does not see rich or poor anybody can get it and I am not ashamed. If anybody come and ask me I would tell them,” Persaud told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview.
With this month being designated breast cancer awareness month, Persaud hopes that her experience can offer someone hope, or push someone to have a mammogram done.
Persaud and her husband, Looknauth Persaud, are owners of King’s Jewellery World and she pointed out that regular doctors’ check-ups were not a struggle for her as they might be for the woman yet she was still diagnosed with cancer.
“That is to show that cancer has no face, nobody can escape. You just have to eat right and try to keep a healthy diet and go and get pap smears and mammograms and the men must do checkups too,” she related.
It was a regular check-up, although she did admit that she had not done one for some years, that eventually saw Persaud being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
She remembers the day she learnt that she had cancer and right there and then resolved to fight it. But it was the constant support of her children and husband—more so her husband who became her primary care giver—and other family members that helped her to brave the difficult days.
Persaud she never kept her diagnosis “a secret” and she was open enough to ask advice and was open to talking. “It is just nobody never really approached me to talk about it,” she said.
“I have nothing to hide, it is something that happen and we can’t control it. It could happen to anybody… so I was never was secretive about it and I don’t think anybody should be, because you could give an experience and it could help others.”
Even though Persaud now says it could have happened to anyone, she admits that three years ago she would have never believed it would have happened to her since according to her “we try to live a little bit healthy and had regular doctor check-ups.”
She was planning her sixtieth birthday party when she was diagnosed and it was just a “regular decision” to have a full medical done. The last time she had done a pap smear and monogram was about six years prior and she decided since she was going to the US to have it done.
Initially, it was just a “little spot” and she was even advised that “it could be anything but it could be nothing” so much so that she had even suggested having the follow-up test later.
“I say do back? No, I have been checking all this time and I don’t feel no way different. I don’t see no sign anything. I went to my doctor and I say maybe when I come back I would do it and she said ‘No! No way, they say to go back and do a test you have to’ and I said oh she holler on me I would do it,” Persaud said.
“I was not scared or anything but they said you have to do a biopsy, it could be something more but it could be nothing…it was on the right breast and that was the only one that had it.”
She had the biopsy done and returned to Guyana before the results were known as she was in the middle of planning her sixtieth birthday party.
Persaud was in Barbados where she had gone to celebrate a friend’s birthday and was out with her husband and a friend when she received the news. She had just turned on her cellular phone and saw messages from her sister-in-law and son informing her that she needs to get in contact with them. When she called her sister-in-law, she was informed that she needed to make contact with her doctor.
“We were out and my husband was just about to take a drink and by then after hearing that the doctor want me to call I said maybe is something and I tell him to call… He called her and I could see something was wrong when his face got serious. My doctor is just a plain straightforward person…, she don’t beat around the bush and she said, ‘Where are you?’ he said ‘Barbados’ and she said ‘What you doing in Barbados don’t you know your wife has cancer?’”
He was shocked, she saw it in his facial expression but Persaud said she did not take the news “as if it was the end of the world or burst down in tears.”
They immediately returned to their hotel and a flight was booked for Persaud to fly to the US.
“I take it so easy as if it was nothing happen, which is me because you know bringing up my kids and they fall down I would not go and run and pick them I would say these are things that would happen and you have it and I know it [the cancer] was something that could happen to anybody.”
‘Only time I cried’
In New York, Persaud she told the doctor she would have all the necessary tests done but she would return to Guyana to celebrate her birthday.
The first test she did was the MRI and when she received the results she cried.
“That was the only time I cried, when the results came out… because it showed that it was in the other side too,” Persaud shared adding that she had already decided that she would have done a mastectomy and it struck her that she would have to have it done twice.
She returned home and celebrated her birthday as “normal and I didn’t tell anybody as yet because I didn’t want anybody to feel sorry for me but just enjoy the party.”
She returned to the US within a week where she was offered counselling before the double mastectomy, but she declined as according to her she was strong and she knew what she wanted.
The operation was done on September 30 and she informed the plastic surgeon that she wanted the implants to be done almost immediately as she did not want to undergo another surgery.
Upon her release, her husband became her primary caregiver and refused the offer of a nurse and Persaud said this made her more comfortable as she was not keen on a stranger taking care of her.
“He would cook and ensure that I got my stuff in my bed… he did everything for me and provided all I needed. All I had to do is just get up, take a shower and go back in my bed,” Persaud recalled in a very sentimental tone almost close to tears.
She pointed out that the caring of one’s family is needed as much as the medical treatment that is administered and she received that from her husband, three sons and other relatives.
After the surgery, Persaud said, there was a lot of pain and she had to be prescribed oxycodone, which helped her.
When asked if she cried a lot, Persaud with a quick shake of the head, said, “No I didn’t cry, I made three kids and I didn’t even cry.
“But it is very painful I feel like if somebody take this table [pointing to the table we were seated at which was quite heavy] and put it on your stomach, that is how you feel all the time. And even now you still feel that heaviness there, you can’t feel normal, it is not painful now but the heaviness is still there and when I do a lot of stuff I would feel some pain.”
Following the surgeries Persaud endured almost a year of chemotherapy a process that was also painful, but even though she lost all of her hair she did not allow it to affect her as she knew her life was being saved “and as you could see, I have my hair back and I never had thick hair.” The only action she took was to cut her hair very short after it started to fall out, to ensure that large chunks of hair did not fall out.
Persaud is still being monitored and visits her doctor every six weeks but from all indications she is fighting woman and one who has not allowed the cancer to define her.
Over the years, she has seen some friends in the same fight and some have lost the battle including a close friend who was considered the “healthiest guy you know of and within six months after he was diagnosed he was dead.” He had cancer of the stomach.
“I would say to people if you have cancer don’t keep a secret and hide it, it is something that could happen to anyone. I never feel out of the way talking about it. I would advise anybody to take care; whatever checks you can do, do it and find out. And age doesn’t make a difference, any age you could get cancer,” she advised.
She believes that the more persons share, others would become sensitized and take the necessary steps. “I had a lot of friends who use to come and visit me and I never say I don’t want to see them; they come and comfort me and I feel happy and I don’t think it is something to hide.
The mother of three sons and grandmother of seven said that while she does “feel a way sometimes” when she looks at her body in the mirror, she usually says “that is just life and when I think about it, many are out there who are worse.”