Last Sunday evening, when Minister of Education Santhia Bradshaw dared to bear the startling news of her breast cancer diagnosis to constituents of St Michael South East and by extension Barbadians, the impact went far beyond her stated intention to be transparent and open with her people.
Her action, though described by the cynical as sort of political masterstroke, could more importantly change the face of breast cancer awareness in Barbados.
Just two days before Bradshaw’s revelation, coordinator of the Breast Screening Programme of the Breast Cancer Society, Dr Shirley Jhagroo, revealed that breast cancer was on the rise and she urged more people to come forward for screening.
“Breast cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in Barbados”.
“The number of new cases diagnosed per year continues to increase with a noticeable increase in younger women below the age of 50, and this is still a cause for concern,” said Dr Jhagroo.
In 2014, there were 426 total cancer cases, 98 of which were breast cancer while in 2015 there was a total of 430 cases with breast cancer accounting for 140, according to data from the Radiotherapy Department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The data from June 2016 to June 2017 indicated that of the 115 cancer patients who sought treatment at the radiotherapy centre, 28 of them were treated for breast cancer, ten of which were at stage two of the disease, said the prominent gynaecologist.
Clearly we still have some way to go to arrest the number one killer of Barbadian women.
There’s no mistaking that the Barbados Cancer Society, Cancer Support Services, and others have done a sterling job in educating the public about breast cancer.
We all can admit that the personal story of a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, a neighbour, a friend and, yes, the men in our lives who are fighting back against this disease, has an immeasurable impact.
The story of vibrant Bradshaw, just 42-years-old, really was a sobering dose of reality for women and men, especially those just as young and active as the politician.
“A few weeks ago I discovered a lump in my breast and I decided that I was going to investigate the nature of the lump.
“A couple days ago I was contacted by the doctors and I was told that they found cancer cells…the good news is that it is treatable because they found it early,” Bradshaw revealed.
As experts have cautioned time and again, cancer is no respecter of persons though there are some predisposing factors. It can affect young and old, black or white, rich or poor, the professional or the amateur.
Immediately we learn from Bradshaw – and one of her champions, Dame Billie Miller, a long-term breast cancer survivor – that we must be keenly aware of our bodies and act quickly when something feels wrong.
Too often women and men discover lumps or see other warning signs and allow fear to cripple them into inaction.
Early screening saves lives.
Women and men can also help lower their risk by making good life choices such as staying at a healthy weight, being physically active, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding tobacco. Monthly self-checks and yearly mammograms as required are vital to early detection.
Secondly, we learn there is no shame in coming forward.
Too many breast cancer patients suffer in silence when they most need, and can yet offer, a helping hand.
What has been particularly striking after Bradshaw’s revelation is the number of people who commented on our social platforms, not only expressing support for her speedy recovery but offering revelations that they too are suffering from the disease.
One writer said, “ I have been fighting this disease for three years. Get well soon.”
Another said, “After watching my mother died, I too discovered breast cancer, but I am a ten-year survivor.”
We really hope that more people will be willing to step forward and share their story to empower not only themselves but others.
Bradshaw has already signalled that she has the “responsibly to be the voice of men and women and families who are going through similar issues, to be able to let you know that even as a servant of the public that we too fall down and be picked back up”.
We salute Santia Bradshaw’s bold action, wish her every success in her treatment, and hope for a speedy and complete recovery.