“I was not prepared for it but I knew that something was wrong and then the doctor broke the news and I started to reach out to my aunts and other people. But you know what? I did not think I was going to die. I did not have those thoughts, because the doctor told me it was at the early stage and I know I just had to get treatment,” she said quietly.
Fifty-eight-year-old Clair Chappell is a 10-year breast cancer survivor and wanted to share her journey as in her words it is “nothing to be ashamed of.
“It was November 12th 2008. I remember the date like it was yesterday. I remember I wake up and I feel my left-side breast like biting and I start checking and when I check by the nipple part I feel a lump. The next day, I went to the doctor and he told me I have to do a mammogram and ultrasound.
“When I took back the test results, he tell me that the lump is cancerous and I have to do more test,” she said calmly.
“I did the tests and when I go back, he tell me that I have to remove the breast and I had to do it almost immediately.”
She went silent for a while and I asked how she felt when she got the news.
“It was so devastating like I can’t really explain this feeling. But as they told me I have to do it I decided to do it.
“I told my two aunts and they told me that let me remove it as the doctor told me. I have two sons and I told them. And my eldest son said, ‘mommy if you have to do it, do it if you want to live.’ And so, I did the operation at the Woodlands Hospital. Dr Wallace Lee did it and I must say the doctors at the hospital were very nice. I must compliment them for what they did,” she continued.
“And it is like 10 years now I have been without my left breast. December will make 10 years since my breast was removed.
“And after the breast was removed, I did four cycles of chemotherapy. Well that was really devastating.” As she said these words she showed the first signs of emotion.
“The treatment was so bad my stomach would be upset all the time and I would vomit. Sometimes I would get blackout. Nothing couldn’t stay down, just water and I did it for four months. And oh my gosh like in the second cycle I did think I woulda pass away because of how I use to feel. But the nurses at the Georgetown Hospital were very nice. They use to help me a lot, they would counsel me and tell me not to give up.
“I use to go for treatment alone but I use to do it. It was during the second cycle that my hair start to fall off. And let me tell you I felt it more than when my breast cut off. I feel more for my hair,” she said with a small laugh.
“I had long, curly, thick hair and all fell off. I use to have to wear a wig. When I finish the cycles, like a month after, I see it start growing back and oh gosh I was so happy. Every day I use to look at the mirror because I just want my hair to grow back,” she said smiling.
She now has a full head of hair but keeps it short.
“I see other people go through it, you know, the cancer treatment and like I tell myself I am not alone. I see people doing worse than me and I told myself I could survive it. Right now, I does tell myself I don’t have it. I don’t claim it. I know that I am a survivor, but I don’t like hear the word cancer,” she shared.
“When I found out I had cancer I left my job because of the stress and I wanted to take care of myself. I never worked back. I had a little saving and my family like my aunts and so on they support me a lot and my two sons. I live with my two sons,” she said.
“I does open up to people. I does tell them it is not something to keep inside. You have to talk about it. I am not ashamed. I does tell people, I does ask them you all notice anything and then I would tell them. And they would say, ‘if you didn’t tell me I would not have known’ and I would say well I have to tell you because if I didn’t how would you know,” she said, laughing again.
I was cheered by the fact that our conversation was punctuated by laughter. She shared her story but ensured that the atmosphere was not a sad one. I believe she made every effort to ensure that her story was not a sad one but rather one of hope.
“Now I pass my days normal. I don’t really think about it. Most times I would go to church, I would go different places and do my house chores and so on.
“I would like to say to other women when they discover that they have that, they should not think it is the end of the world and it is not something to keep a secret. There are people out there to help you and advise you. I know a lot of people who have it and they don’t really share their experience and I would share with them and tell them to do what they have to do and not to give up,” she said.
“I want to also tell people, tell women, to check themselves and as soon as they notice anything go to the doctor and ask questions and they would be able to tell them what to do and don’t give up just keep doing what you need to do.”
I asked her if she ever questioned why she had to endure such an experience.
“I never ask that question like why it happen to me. I never use to like stress over it. I would just focus on getting better, do the right thing, eat the right thing. I wanted to live. I didn’t want to die. We all know we have to die one day but I didn’t want to go in that way,” she answered.
“Right now I am able to spend time with my grandchildren. I does tell myself I never have that [cancer]. I don’t get that kind of feelings that I am sick. I would get up and do what I do. I am always doing things for myself.
“I think sometimes is not the sickness does carry you but is when you stress over the sickness. That does bring depression when you sit and mope over your condition. I never use to cry, sometimes you might get emotional but I never would let anybody see when I going through this period,” she said.
I asked her if I could use her name and portrait.
“Yes. I don’t mind if you carry my name because I am not ashamed. Now most people who didn’t know they would know but I don’t mind,” she answered.
Our conversation ended and she left. I was inspired by her and I felt happy and I actually enjoyed writing this piece. There is hope.
October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness month and the Guyana Cancer Foundation led by Bibi Hassan has been trying to ensure there is sensitisation about this form of cancer.
The foundation has free screening for prostate cancer at the Woodlands Hospital and free mammograms and sonograms at the Cancer Institute for 200 women. Almost 100 women have already had these done; there is still space for over 100 women. You can call Bibi Hassan on 618-2085 for more information. Hassan said the service is available for low income, under insured and medically underserved men and women. She expressed concern that during outreaches women are referred for follow-up tests but many times they do not turn up. This is a challenge her foundation is hard pressed to address as there is no funding to provide transportation for women to travel to get themselves screened.
But call up Hassan and go get yourself screened. Early detection helps save lives.