She sat across from me, shaking. It was hard to decide whether it was because she was cold from the air-conditioner in the room, or fearful. I was unsure of my words and the silence between us was uncomfortable; her eyes remained plastered to the floor.
Fifty-four years old, she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer three months ago. She had agreed to speak to me at the cancer treatment centre but asked that her name not be published. I asked her why. “Me shame, me don’t want nobody know and me husband and suh wouldn’t want that,” she answered.
She had been helping with preparations for a wedding and it was shortly after, “… I see I bleeding plenty, but I say you know is the fatigue and not eating on time been making it happen,” she said softly.
“And me husband been a sick to. He get a attack of stroke so I seh when he feel better then I guh go to the doctor because the bleeding nah stop,” she continued.
I wanted to stop her and ask why she placed her husband’s health above hers, but I wanted her to continue; it had taken quite a while before she said anything.
“After he feel better, me went to the hospital but dem tell me that me gaffo come a Georgetown and me come and me had to tek the test at Woodlands Hospital. Me had to wait a lil bit, so me go home back and get somebody to collect it,” she said.
“When dem come and tell, me been a sit down and dem say is cancer,” as she said this, her eyes returned to the floor.
She did not speak for a while and I asked her how she felt when she got the news.
“Me cry and suh you know because is hard and dem tell me how is stage four,” she answered slowly.
“Me husband cry to and he tell me don’t cry how everything go be alright. I tell me children and me don’t know if dem tek on but you know dem shock and suh.
“After me get the news me travel back to Georgetown and dem tell me I gaffo do a surgery and then start the treatment. Dem admit me fuh one night because dem say I didn’t have enough strength fuh do the surgery right away.
“Dem do the surgery later and den dem start the treatment,” she said.
I asked her what the treatment was. “Is like I does have to lie down in a machine like and that is the treatment,” she attempted to explain.
I believed she was receiving radiation therapy and my conversation with an employee later confirmed this. I was told that she had one more session to undergo and it was hoped that the cancerous cells would be killed.
“I does get to go home and suh after the treatment and when I go home is den I does feel bad, you know the vomiting and the diarrhoea and like I can’t eat nothing,” she said.
“And right now, I gat a infection and how this thing does itch, and I just does feel miserable but I still happy I alive you know.”
I asked her if she was scared when taking the treatment.
“The first one yes, but after dah I does just be thinking about what happening after. How a can eat and just vomiting, it is not a nice thing and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody else.
“I just happy that the treatment finishing just now, and I hope the cancer gone because I don’t want any more of this treatment, it not easy.”
I asked her if she ever had a pap test before.
“No, I never test fuh cancer I never really hear about it, you know, is when I start bleeding I know something wrong but nobody like never tell me about this cancer,” she replied.
Her answer confirmed my suspicion that even though there has been sensitization on cancer of the cervix there are still many women who have never heard of the disease. I could not help but think also about the many women who have heard of it but have not gone to get a test.
I asked her if she told anyone of the cancer and encouraged them to be tested.
“Yes, I tell me daughter and you know me relatives and suh, I tell them to get the test. Me daughter tell me she guh do it and she mek appointment. She fraid but I tell she not to be afraid,” she said.
“I just ask God to help me and for this cancer to go away and so I can live and enjoy me grandchildren,” she said when I asked her about her future plans.
“Me don’t wuk and suh and me and me husband does live alone and me just want, you know, to not dead now because me still young,” she said haltingly as if she was searching for the right words.
I asked her if she made any friends while going for treatment.
“Not really. People don’t talk, talk here you know. Everybody just want do the treatment and go home,” she said.
She never once looked at me throughout the entire conversation and the only time she smiled was after I told her the conversation was over.
“Me feeling really sick right now, suh me guh go and lie down,” she said as she got up and left the room quietly.
Ladies, this month is designated cervical cancer awareness month, take the opportunity and get a pap test done; it generally costs about $3,500. You can also have a Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) done.
The VIA procedure is simple. The health care provider simply swabs vinegar, that is acetic acid, on the cervix and looks for areas that change colour. Normal cervical tissue remains unaffected by the acetic acid, but damaged tissue – such as that found in pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions – turns white. The provider can then remove the damaged tissue on the spot or perform a biopsy for further follow-up.
If you are a woman and you have never done a pap test, please call the Cancer Institute of Guyana on 225-5701 or 225-5703 and make an appointment. The cost is $3,500. You can also have a VIA done and this is free of cost at the VIA clinic located in the compound of the Georgetown Public Hospital Cor-poration. There are also 14 VIA clinics located around Guyana and those in other regions can check the regional hospitals for further information.
Don’t hesitate, cervical cancer is treatable once detected early. Remember early detection saves lives.