I attended the benefit Laff-It-Off held in support of Antoine Brudduh Daddy Williams over the weekend. You all now I think Laff-It-Off is one of the best shows on earth and in heaven and this year’s offering did not disappoint.
Antoine, in his introductory remarks, chose to continue doing what he has done for a lifetime. He chose to uplift and demystify using his personal testament. Antoine dared to talk about cancer in a public place – not just cancer – his cancer. He beseeched men especially to go and get their tests done and pay attention to warning signs in their bodies.
After the show, as we all trickled out of the the hall, what I think is a very profound thing happened. People were talking to each other about their various illnesses. I heard whiffs of a woman saying she was going for a diagnostic ultrasound on Tuesday. There was a personal friend, whom I’d heard on the pipeline was ill but after the show, he opened up about his experience with illness as well.
Although there is much we still have to do to turn this society into a more caring and compassionate one that we can all thrive in, it was good to see what is such a sad and challenging occurrence touch people’s lives positively. Talking about something brings it from the realm of the surreal into reality. It takes a massive amount of courage to even get to that point.
Once a conversation begins with family and friends though, this is where we can garner strength, support and in many cases understanding. All these things are necessary to fight whatever medical battle we find ourselves facing. I know that Cancer Support Services of Barbados are probably completely inundated and underfunded but we are grateful for all the good work they do.
What I think may be useful, though, are some sessions for the wider public in what to say and how to deal with people who inform that they have cancer. It takes a lot of courage for the person ‘coming out’ to do so but then there is also a firestorm of emotions for the receiver of the information to deal with as well.
Often family members, friends or colleagues want to say the right things but often many simply do not know what the right thing is. Come to think of it, this project of sensitizing people to manage their reactions to other’s news of illness or adversity is work that not only Cancer Support Services should have a vested interest in.
Recently in the press, I noted that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was reporting more cases of individuals using their Psychiatric Services. This is really no surprise as Barbadians continue to find ways to cope with the recession and their changing life circumstances. Perhaps people with mental illnesses in Barbados have a doubly hard time with revealing the details of their conditions to family, friends and colleagues because of the perennial stigmas attached to mental illness generally and in Barbados specifically.
People with cancer stand to get more sympathy when they reveal their status. The changes in their bodies are visible, they attend hospital and do other things we associate with illness. Individuals with mental illnesses, on the other hand, especially those which do not cause visible body changes, always fight the uphill battle of persuading people that something is actually wrong.
They have to face the onslaught of comments about them just needing to ‘perk up’. They have to deal with being made to feel weak. Perhaps advocates of mental health and wellness can join Cancer Support Services in sharing the costs and related efforts to create sensitization activities.
Two other discussions are also, I think, good national foci for investment. They relate to diet and exercise and how they impact on physical and mental illness. We have established that our lifestyles in Barbados have changed. Yet, several people do not know what the readjusted food portions they should eat are. I am not sure that the average Barbadian can match a particular food group to the types of foods in the group.
We continue to invest all our time and energy on the management of illnesses and not the preventative measures. There are more people investing in gym and movement and this is wholesome but several more Barbadians still lead sedentary lifestyles. We need surveys to understand the causes of this.
Many people cannot get involved in movement due to prohibitive costs; others have work schedules which do not allow activity. Still others spend so much time waiting on buses or other ‘run of the mill’ chores that their available time is squandered. Perhaps if we can find some solutions to these problems we can really cut into the numbers of Barbadians coming down with various illnesses.
The other national discussion that can help with improved level of wellness is how stress and poor emotional management trigger illness. There are too many dysfunctional families in Barbados, too many dysfunctional schools, too many dysfunctional workplaces. We need to change the way we talk to each other – the way we construct and deconstruct relationships. We need to create a new ethos of work management and employment.
There is much to be done and Antoine Williams, even as he looks for healing for his own body, has offered further national service in starting this discussion. I hope we can keep it going.
(Marsha Hinds Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)