Minister Lawrence recounts breast cancer diagnosis

Minister Volda Lawrence (left) and a staffer during the role-play.

As a breast cancer survivor, Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence promises to push for the purchase of a mammography machine in the next budget so women can have free routine screening.

Lawrence who was diagnosed with stage one of the disease last March said she does not want other women to experience what she passed through.

She told a gathering of mainly students of St. Rose’s High and Christ Church Secondary last Friday that it was her faith in God and strong support from family, along with treatment, that helped her to overcome the monster.

Minister Volda Lawrence and Dr. Syed Ghazi, (third and second from right) posing with members of the Diamond-Grove Lions Club.

At the event titled ‘A Discourse,’ organized by the Diamond-Grove Lions Club in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health, she pointed out that they would not have known she had breast cancer, as the disease does not show.

She stressed that screening is important to help women know their status and get treated early. She is aware that many cannot afford the tests.

During her presentation she took a break and engaged a staffer from her ministry in a role-play. It dealt with encouraging a relative to seek professional help and to discontinue the use of bush medicine. The event was held in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness month.

She told Stabroek News after that her diagnosis was quite coincidental. At the time she was on an invited tour of a facility in Ireland called ‘Women’s Breast Check.’

During the tour it was suggested that she go through the process as a patient. The minister said she would usually have regular screening, so she was not prepared for the results she received.

Devastated, she asked for an excuse and went to a private place and prayed. “I said Lord if this is your will, let this pass from me, if not I just lean to your wishes,” she said.

She encouraged women to start their self-breast examinations and other screenings while noting that not everyone would have the same strength as she had to cope with the disease.

According to her, she underwent chemotherapy and right after, she went on with her usual duties. The last thing she wanted, she said, was pity from others.

The facility in Ireland, started by breast cancer survivors, provides free services for women and runs through volunteerism. It also provides free accommodation and meals to patients from outlying areas.

She toured the facility with the aim of having the services replicated in Guyana. Minister Lawrence said she would “sit with a few people next year to come up with a plan to replicate that [facility] because our women deserve it.”

In his remarks, Dr. Syed Ghazi, Outreach Director of the Cancer Institute of Guyana (CIG) said “cancer can hit you when you least expect.”

He reiterated: “Screening is important because it catches cancer even before you recognize the signs.”

Stressing the slogan of the CIG: ‘Early Detection Saves Lives,’ he said, “cancer is curable.”

He said too that with increased awareness, the CIG had a decline from 79 patients in 2017 to 57 this year.

Dr. Carl Niamatali, in a brief message, encouraged everyone to start thinking about prevention and start making lifestyle changes. This he said involves eating right and avoiding the use of alcohol and tobacco.

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