Almost ten months after Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw broke the news to the country that doctors had diagnosed her with breast cancer in its early stages, she wants Barbadians to know that she has completed a major course of her treatment and is now on the path to recovery.
Bradshaw, who returned to the island last Friday having completed chemotherapy, undergoing surgery to remove the lump, and enduring an intensive seven-week radiation programme, is back on the job and thanking God that she was able to nip the cancer in the bud.
“They were able to remove the lump back in February when I did the surgery and over the next few months while I will have to return to Miami, for the most part, a major part of the treatment has actually been completed. I will still have to return for some infusions, and also to be able to do some check ups with the doctor from time to time.
“But I am anxious to be back at work and happy to be here. I am thankful for the support that Barbadians from across the political divide have given me. It has certainly made me more in love with my country and my people and the desire to serve has certainly become greater,” Bradshaw said, while speaking to members of the media at her ministry’s Constitution Road office this morning, minutes after delivering the results of this year’s Common Entrance Examination.
“I feel good. The thing about the last few months is that I have learnt that when I am tired, I need to rest. There are times during chemo and also radiation where you get tired and you would have no control whatever over how you felt at any point in time,” she added.
Describing her experience as one plagued with pain, fatigue, hope and fate, Bradshaw, who is in her 40’s, recalled that as she made the journey, which is still on going, she lost track of the many people who reached out to her to share their personal experiences with cancer, or simply to wish her well.
“But for the most part, my staff in the ministry kept me very busy. Education is not a ministry that you can tune out of. You have to constantly be on the ball.
“I have been able to keep in touch with the ministry’s staff in the various departments and all the various persons who interface with education.
“I have been able to use technology in such a way that would not have been anticipated before, or even used in the way in which it was used to keep up-to-date with what is happening in the ministry.
“So while I am back on the job, I am back on the job physically, but truthfully I have been on the job every day. Once I felt good enough to be able to engage, we would do a couple hours every day, schedule meetings in the conference room.”
Bradshaw joked that she worked really hard to become a politician, lawyer, or to pass examinations, but admitted that she did not put any effort into becoming a cancer survivor, because her mind was set to fight from the beginning.
A humble Bradshaw declared that she was now ready to become a voice for those struggling to cope with the condition which not only affects the victim, but also their families and entire community.
Encouraging persons to get their bodies checked for any kind of cancer will now become an important aspect of Bradshaw’s agenda, since she believes that early diagnoses could make a huge difference in someone’s life.
“I think that I have a greater responsibility to the country now to be able to say to people that early detection does save lives. I was fortunate that I caught the cancer early and that I was in a position to be able to get medical treatment quickly. Unfortunately a lot of people are scared of going, they don’t want to talk about their condition.
“Yes, it was risky telling the entire country and the world basically what was happening, but I feel better for it, because I feel that I have actually saved a lot of people from either dying, or getting diagnosed too late, and now being able to take the steps that are necessary to be able to get the intervention that they need,” she said, in a serious tone.
Her journey has now started, not only in terms of work, but also as it relates to creating awareness about cancer. She said that as Minister of Education, she has an even greater responsibility to make her charges aware of health conditions that could change their lives.
Causing people to fear the unknown is not what she is setting out to do, but rather to enable them to arm themselves with the tools necessary to fight for life if the need arises.
Those suffering from cancer tend to feel depressed and hopeless at times, a bright-faced Bradshaw remarked.
But the Minister said though she encountered people from all walks of life fighting to make it, she was impressed at the fact that some of them took time out to still wish her good luck, and urged her to maintain a positive outlook.
“It was encouraging to hear from people who have been on that road before, encouraging you, or who are in the early stages also, giving that support and that encouragement. I think that is something that is really important and it is something that we really need to do more of in Barbados.
“There is nothing I can compare to going through chemotherapy or radiation, but I think it is far worst to get diagnosed and be told there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. I would encourage people to not wait, procrastinate and delay the intervention that may be need.
“I don’t think we have as many support organisations on island, as we should. But just family support and friends’ support are so important for somebody who has been inflicted with cancer, or any condition.”
Bradshaw recalled that she did have her difficult days.
Trying to figure out how to pay for an excessive hospital bill was a huge obstacle she eventually got over.
She remembers facing challenges with insurance; discovering all the clauses within an insurance contract that she was not privy to beforehand.
“But not withstanding the support of family, friends and other people who stepped up to the plate, I was able to continue and complete treatment. I think that was probably the most difficult part of the journey. Knowing that I had to do this, but knowing that I didn’t have the time to shop around to see where I could get service at a cheaper price.
“I was already in motion when certain things happened in relation to the insurance, and I had to basically do a component of it through self-pay. So then I really started to sympathise with people who said to me along the journey, they don’t know how they are going to pay for the treatment if they are diagnosed.
“It was really telling because there are a lot of people who deny themselves the opportunity to find out what is wrong with them because they don’t know how they are going to pay for treatment, after they have been diagnosed.
“I think we need to look at that certainly as a Government. But certainly, I am going to do my part to ensure that what I went through, that a lot of other people don’t have to go through as well, in terms of fundraising and making sure that I am active in the movement to get persons tested.”